The nuts and bolts of the IP conundrum

So when a retailer declines a new release, it’s just a polite way of saying ‘not right now’ or ‘no one’s going to be interested’.

After all, book stores don’t stock every book in print, right? And music stores don’t stock every album available, do they?

Well, of course they don’t – but games cost more per project, and offer their makers less chances to recoup that expense than other entertainment.

They require significant cash from the first day of production right through to the last day of the marketing campaign. Retail is a key part of the elaborate mechanism that has been built up by this industry to help find a return on all that investment.

By ducking out of the equation, stores reluctant to take a punt perhaps leave the impression that the entire model is just a massive racket; only support the mega-titles, cream off the top when those releases boomerang back as trade-ins, and leave no room for the little guy.

That’s a gross, distorted simplification, yes – but it is how some of the smaller players are starting to see things. When this week’s All Formats chart boasts only three original IPs – only two of which (Brutal Legend and Scribblenauts) were released this year – it’s hard not to sympathise.

Amongst the shadow of a recession it has become conventional wisdom that there is no room on the market for new properties. But who decided this? The industry – both cash hungry publishers and playing-it-safe retailers – needs to make sure this doesn’t turn into a self-fulfiling prophecy where only franchised games and sequels survive.

All franchises need to start somewhere, after all.

So take Martin DeFries comments not as stone throwing, but as a warning.

If retailers want to start being picky about what games to have on their shelves, they can’t moan when publishers start being equally choosy, and cut them out in favour of digital downloads, or exclusive deals with supermarkets and mail order specialists.

If you want proof that taking a chance on a new IP pays off, look no further than Assassin’s Creed II, which returns to retail next month.

Ubisoft put a lot into its first episode, and even more into the follow-up. But it has also made an up-front confession that if felt there was room for improvement on the original game – even when it sold over eight million copies.

Which goes to show that even if a new IP isn’t perfect, with the right support it can do the numbers first time around – and even come back for seconds.

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