We’re now ten weeks into 2013 and so far it’s been a dreary start to the year.
Plenty of new releases have topped the charts, but they haven’t performed well enough to stop total sales declining by more than 20 per cent year-on-year.
Obviously retailers still have long-tail sellers like Black Ops II and FIFA 13 to keep tills ringing. But the truth is that, after their first few weeks on sale, these blockbusters can only slow decline rather than drive growth.
Why, in a year where we have already seen the release of DmC: Devil May Cry, Dead Space 3, Aliens: Colonial Marines, Crysis 3 and Metal Gear Rising, are consumers not flocking to shops?
“Gamers suffer fatigue from sequels and more-of-the-same experiences,” says Deep Silver’s international commercial director Menno van der Bil. “As an industry we have to be more courageous and proactive in finding new exciting forms of interactive entertainment.”
Michael Denny, VP of Sony Worldwide Studios, agrees: “Consumers crave new experiences and ultimately, new IP is the life-blood of the industry; without which, the market would stagnate with gamers having only a shallow pool of experiences to draw from.”
Fortunately, there’s a wealth of brand new games properties on the way in the next twelve months (see the graphic below).
The hunger for new games brands is nothing new. It wasn’t Call of Duty and FIFA?that got the industry talking at E3 2012; it was Ubisoft’s open world thriller Watch Dogs and Sony’s cinematic paranormal adventure Beyond: Two Souls.
Meanwhile, the few new IPs we have seen over the last year, such as Dishonored, Sleeping Dogs and Ni No Kuni, have found an audience.
The important thing is that the industry continues to explore new ideas. That’s easier said than done, of course – investing in the development of new IP is risky when you cannot guarantee success.
Countless new brands have failed but many publishers have shown determination in the wealth of fresh properties they have created – and Sony is chief among them.
"We’re proud to be in a position where we have an
unprecedented number of exclusive new titles coming
to PlayStation platforms: The Last of Us, Beyond,
Puppeteer, Wonderbook, Until Dawn, Rain and
Tearaway will all offer compelling and innovative
new ways to play.”
Michael Denny, VP of Sony Worldwide Studios
“At this stage in the hardware’s lifecycle, publishers tend to rely on established franchises,” says Denny.
“But we’re proud to be in a position where we have an unprecedented number of exclusive new titles coming to PlayStation platforms: The Last of Us, Beyond, Puppeteer, Wonderbook, Until Dawn, Rain and Tearaway will all offer compelling and innovative new ways to play.”
The stage in the console lifecycle in which a new IP is released is certainly a factor.
In 2007, in the early months of the current cycle, we saw the debut of BioShock, Assassin’s Creed, Portal, Uncharted and Mass Effect, which thrived with little competition.
Fast forward to 2012 and the only new IP released is Sleeping Dogs, Dishonored and Dragon’s Dogma, but these faced tougher market conditions, competing with both established franchises and those still-growing 2007 brands.
“It’s difficult when you’re coming to the end of a console cycle,” admits Ubisoft’s IP development director Tommy Francois.
“When a console launches, the line-up gamers have to pick from is smaller. If you want to make a bang later on in the lifecycle, not only do you need to innovate, you need to stand out from the competition, and that becomes harder with the technology constraints that we have.”
This was more than proven at the PS4’s reveal, where six of the eight titles showcased were new properties.
Even Street Fighter creator Yoshinori Ono told MCV he wanted to experiment with the PS4’s capabilities “without the constraints of working within an existing IP”.
Wii U has also introduced new brands like ZombiU and the upcoming Wonderful 101, and no doubt there are surprises in store for the next Xbox. New hardware makes both gamers and developers more receptive to new ideas.
“Once [new] consoles come that we can let creative people take more risk, and they feel they can take more risk because they know consumers can be more open,” says Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot.
“When you come out with new machines and new possibilities, and you give talent the chance to express themselves using them, you will see a huge surge in creativity and engagement from gamers.”
Even incremental advances in technology can open the door for new IP. Kinect and PlayStation Move saw the arrival of Dance Central, Child of Eden, Wonderbook, Sports Champions and so on.
It’s the same with other entertainment industries, says Francois: “Pixar works like that. Every new IP, every universe they create originates from new tech: 3D software, rendering software, and so on. Monsters Inc happened because they found they could do new things with hair and fur.
“I think we’re very much like that with new technology. It comes with more power, new features, new input devices like Wii and Wii U did.”
Most experimentation with new brands and ideas occur away from the traditional games platforms and publishers. Open platforms like smartphones and tablets have seen the re-emergence of indie studios and bedroom coders, none of whom have licensing deals or established franchises.
Even the slightly larger studios have embraced the almost risk-free digital marketplaces. Some of the most acclaimed download games of the last few years – Journey, The Unfinished Swan, Bastion, The Cave – have grabbed as many headlines as triple-A blockbusters.
“If you look at the overall market, you can see plenty
of new IP on iOS, Facebook and different places that
play games. There’s more than ever. To me, that’s
the interesting thing: the new ideas are just in different
places, and these are still part of the industry so we need
to look there for opportunities.”
Tommy Francois, Ubisoft’s IP development director
“If you look at the overall market, you can see plenty of new IP on iOS, Facebook and different places that play games,” says Francois.
“There’s more than ever. To me, that’s the interesting thing: the new ideas are just in different places, and these are still part of the industry so we need to look there for opportunities.”
Ultimately, fresh ideas are not enough. Quality is the key to winning over consumers with a new property. While larger franchises can depend on lingering loyalty from past outings, newcomers must work harder than ever to distance themselves from generic gameplay and ‘me too’ settings.
“The lack of good new IP is a problem,” says Gameseek boss Stephen Staley. “We want a new experience. Watch Dogs is going to be huge and that’s what we want: good innovative new IP as well as reliable old IP.
“I am sure Grand Theft Auto V and the next Call of Duty will be hits. But there is also room for Watch Dogs, The Last of Us and the rest of the new IP.”
2013 is shaping up to be another tough year, but the hugely promising new games on the way, not to mention the next generation consoles, are the light at the end of our tunnel. If the current generation is anything to go by, future ones will be longer than the usual five year and we mustn’t be afraid to push new ideas when excitement for the hardware is waning.
Deep Silver’s Van der Bil concludes: “We are wrong when we solely blame retail or the lateness in the console cycle or browser games for lower than expected sales. In many cases our games simply bore gamers.”