Thief and the Art of Reboots

James Batchelor
Thief and the Art of Reboots

New IP may be the talk of the moment, but the return of much older properties can evoke just as much excitement.

As Batman and Bond have proven in cinemas, reboots can not only spark fresh adoration from established audiences but also draw in a mass of newcomers and lapsed fans.

Games publishers are no stranger to reviving their long-running brands, and it pays off: just look at the success of last year’s Xcom, a brand that hadn’t been seen since the ‘90s.

Square Enix has shown particular prowess for striking it rich with gaming reboots, as we’ve seen with the best-selling new Tomb Raider and 2011’s acclaimed Deus Ex revival Human Revolution. Now the publisher is dusting off Thief, the classic PC stealth series that inspired the likes of Splinter Cell and Dishonored.

It’s been nearly a decade since 2004’s Thief: Deadly Shadows. In that time we’ve had four Metal Gear games and three Splinter Cells. Thief has some catching up to do. But why is now the time to step out of the shadows? When is the right time to revive a franchise?

“I think it’s always a good time to reinvent great
classic games. The next generation of consoles
and hardware technology is here, and it allows
us to provide a whole new level of immersion
and a superior production quality to the
franchise. We want you to see an experience
Thief like never before.”

Stephane D’Astous - general manager, Eidos Montreal


“Reboots are truly interesting, because they bring the prestige of a past legacy into present day, bringing it to the next level,” says Stephane D’Astous, general manager at Thief developer Eidos Montreal. “I think it’s always a good time to reinvent great classic games. The next generation of consoles and hardware technology is here, and it allows us to provide a whole new level of immersion and a superior production quality to the franchise. We want you to see an experience Thief like never before.”

Of course, Eidos Montreal is no stranger to revivals. The studio is home to the same team that produced the aforementioned Deus Ex: Human Revolution, as well the multiplayer on this year’s Tomb Raider. So D’Astous is justifiably confident that fans will embrace the new Thief, assuring them that it is receiving the same care and attention as Eidos Montreal’s cyberpunk smash hit.

“We showed what we can do for new and old fans alike when we released Deus Ex: Human Revolution in 2011,” he says. “The secret to our success with Deus Ex was largely in part because we started as true fans of the original games ourselves. I think it’s critical to respect and understand the DNA of a franchise and to truly understand what made it so special before you begin. Only then can you move forward.

“We’re taking the same approach on Thief. The legacy of this franchise runs quite deep, and we are incredibly honoured to be entrusted with this franchise.”

Revamping a long-absent franchise for today’s market is no easy task. Newer brands have changed consumers’ behaviour and expectations, winning them over with smoother mechanics and higher production values. It’s no wonder that Tomb Raider clearly borrowed from Uncharted, because Sony’s franchise clearly borrowed from the early Tomb Raider titles.

Similarly, Thief is going to have to compete with the very brands its earlier outings inspired – an obstacle that very few games throw in front of developers.

“Reinventing classic brands is a very challenging assignment,” says D’Astous. “It really pushes us to be closer to our fan community and to do our homework. Reinventing a true classic is a form of art. You need both good ideas and good execution. This is no scientific formula, obviously, but you need to understand what consumers are looking for, what they are hungry for.

“You also need to consider where the technological cycle is at and how you can innovate.”

“If you follow short-term trends too closely, you
run the risk of becoming diluted and limiting your
success,” he says. “Don’t be influenced by the
‘flavour of the month’. You can’t assume too
much – constant feedback and playtesting
are essential.”

Stephane D’Astous - general manager, Eidos Montreal


But D’Astous warns that studios can’t just bundle modern ideas and game mechanics into a revived classic. Thief still needs to be Thief, not Dishonored 2 or Splinter Cell: Steampunk Edition.

“If you follow short-term trends too closely, you run the risk of becoming diluted and limiting your success,” he says. “Don’t be influenced by the ‘flavour of the month’. You can’t assume too much – constant feedback and playtesting are essential.”

Central to this is speaking to the loyal followers that made the brand a classic in the first place, the ones that scour the headlines every day for the slightest hint of a new entry in their favourite series.

And vocal fans is something Thief has in spades.

While the game was only revealed properly this year, it was announced in 2009 as Thief 4. Since then, Eidos Montreal has been conversing daily with series fanatics via its forums.

“Our advantage is having an existing community of fans,” says D’Astous. “New IPs don’t have that – they need to build absolutely everything from scratch. We’re particularly fortunate to have a significant and passionate Thief community and an impressive legacy to build on.”

Deus Ex and Tomb Raider have already proven that gamers welcome new takes on older franchises, and the decade-long absence of Thief should be yet another example of how reboots can revitalise an IP for the next generation.

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Tags: square enix , reboot , thief , eidos montreal , the art of reboots

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