Christmas can be a dark time for games.
For every FIFA or Call of Duty nestled under the Christmas tree, there’s a long line of games left out in the cold. A Beyond Good and Evil or Brutal Legend or Wii Music that couldn’t get heard over the noise made by the big sequels.
But publishers still try to make new IP work during Q4, and for good reason. Because get it right and they could have another hit franchise on their hands, like Valve did with Left 4 Dead or perhaps more notably, Ubisoft with Assassin’s Creed.
“There is no getting away from the fact that Christmas is the busiest period for games purchasing and new IP has a key role to play in that,” says Sega’s senior product manager Ben Walker.
“Core gamers have an appetite for innovative and high quality product, whether it’s a new IP or established sequel is less relevant to them; it’s all about the game and if it’s good they will advocate it to the broader audience.”
There are a number of new IPs due over the next three months, from Rising Star’s Ivy the Kiwi to the launch line-up for Kinect. The two biggest new core games heading to market are Namco Bandai’s Enslaved: Odyssey to the West and Sega’s Vanquish. So how are these companies making sure their titles can compete in what is a notoriously hostile few months?
“We have put a lot of time into this project from a PR and marketing perspective – honestly I have never presented a game as much as this,” says Namco Bandai’s UK marketing and PR manager Lee Kirton.
The key is being heard amongst the noise, he says: “We have been working very hard with gaming communities, as well as our own community links. Trying to convince gamers that they should buy this rather than FIFA and Call of Duty is not something we can do on our own.”
Once gamers are educated to new IPs they are hungry for them, says Kirton.
“It’s always going to be risky releasing new IP, but if you didn’t start working on new innovative games then gamers would just have sequel after sequel to play. There was once an Uncharted and there was once an Assassin’s Creed – these went on to become successful franchises.”
Walker adds: “Our confidence in Vanquish is demonstrated by the fact that we released the demo almost two months before launch and the reception we have had has been testament to that decision.
“We’ll be looking to broaden and consolidate this with creative, well targeted marketing. We have some very innovative plans in place for the product which we believe will ensure strong stand out both amongst the core and a broader audience.”
The games that dominate Christmas may look to be the same year in, year out, be it FIFA, Call of Duty or Need For Speed. But Q4 has always been filled with new, innovative experiences for gamers.
In fact the presumption that new IP struggles at Christmas is somewhat of a myth. As well as the aforementioned Left 4 Dead and Assassin’s Creed, there has been Just Dance, Dead Space, Rayman Raving Rabbids, Borderlands, Dragon Age, Professor Layton and the Curious Village and more that have all become hits.
“Consumers expect to be spoilt for choice with good games at this time of year,” continues Walker. “It means they’re hungry for information in the media and the footfall in store is bigger than the rest of the year.”
Kirton concludes: “New IP can be risky of course, because you haven’t got the previous title to look at to help gauge your sell in and sell through.
“But it’s important in this industry to have innovative new titles. Without these the games market would become stale. We need great quality gaming experiences, so why not invest in new franchises to the level that most sequels have? With Enslaved this is the case and it’s a big company statement to do this.”