It’s been a while. My spleen needs to explode with splenetic juices. Oh wait…
A common criticism of many games companies is that, “They don’t do enough new IP.”
It’s a reasonable point – actually, that’s a lie because no, it isn’t. And people who make that argument are drooling fools who all need a good hard smack from the nerfbat of reality. Look hard enough – and by that, I mean open your eyes and look at the market a little more carefully and many companies often criticised for not doing new IP have, in fact, been trying to release new IP. Capcom had Remember Me and has the upcoming Deep Down, Square-Enix has Bravely Default, Nintendo has the Remix series, Tomodachi and several unannounced new titles in the works – guess what? Companies do make new IP. Hard as it is to think of WatchDogs as a new IP, considering how long we’ve suffered the promotional material and the bullshots, it is indeed a new IP.
So, companies do have new IP. And release new IP. And guess what? Not all of it sticks. Remember Me, for all of its charms and potential, has been canned indefinitely. Nintendo hasn’t got the market penetration for the Remix series to shine yet, but hey, it’s something to work on. We can go even further back in time – anyone familiar with titles like Beyond Good and Evil? MadWorld? Psychonauts? Grim Fandango? All of these amazing, inventive, innovative games died a death at retail. And why was that?
Because you people bought already firmly-established IP instead.
This is an easy thing to forget sometimes; established IP is a valuable weapon in a companies arsenal. Know why Capcom made another Monster Hunter? Look at Japanese sales – millions of copies sold and tons of profit made. Why did Square-Enix spend so much time and money remaking Final Fantasy XIV? Because the end result was huge profit margins. Same with Tomb Raider – people are familiar with the brand, if not the quality of it. Know why Nintendo are releasing another Mario Kart? The Wii version – Mario Kart Wii – sold 40 million units. The 3DS version, Mario Kart 7, has sold about ten million units. It’s a huge money-spinner for the company. And let us not leave out Call of Duty; Activision’s most reliable cash-cow, generating obscene profits year on year. These games get regular instalments because – surprise everybody – they’re successful, known brands that most people who aren’t ardent gamers know about, and buy into on a regular basis.
But there’s another good reason for this; they make profits. And profits often help to offset the inevitable realities that come with new IP.
New IP is very rarely profitable. It takes time to establish new franchises and new brands in a market often dependent on familiar, trusted content. When you buy a Call of Duty game, you know exactly what you’re going to get. And that’s why many people buy into it. The same goes with Metal Gear Solid. Oh, and by the by, Metal Gear is an older IP than Mario Kart by several years. Metal Gear began life on the NES. Mario Kart’s first showing was years later on the SNES. Just a point to mull over. When people buy a Mario game, they know what to expect. Guess what? That’s NOT a terrible thing. You might think it is, because you want something fresh and image-free to somehow justify a hipster gaming image that totally doesn’t work in reality, but even if it did, your new IP is often propped up – if not fuelled and funded – by the profits made from established properties selling well enough to allow for that money to roll into new ideas, new concepts and new worlds.
It’s a symbiotic relationship. For a company to have the willingness to do new stuff, they need money. And how, pray tell, do they get that money? Why, they get it from the Resident Evil‘s, the Final Fantasy‘s, the Call of Duty‘s and the Assassin’s Creed games. Whatever you may think of these games – and their relevance in today’s gaming world – they are major brands that people have heard of, major brands people are familiar with and major brands that, surprise, lots of people trust. It’s a funny thing, to describe some of the horrid releases as being justifiable because the userbase “trusts” the brand, but it’s a large component of their success. People are already invested into the games series and will very regularly spend their money on the next instalment, regardless of the quality, hoping the next one is better or spending hours trying to defend their chosen brands on the Internet.
These profits don’t always sit around for long – development requires manpower, which means wages. It requires talent, which means financial incentives. And it takes time, which requires thinking about overheads like electricity bills, water rates, furniture, office supplies and break-room sundries. Games don’t magically appear from thin air; complications happen. Sometimes a delay is necessary to make sure a release is as good as it can be. Sometimes, you need to draft in more people to get things moving faster – often requiring talent up and move from one location to the next, at vast expense. All of this requires money. And if you don’t have it, you can’t do anything new, let alone anything old.
Oh, and as I said – the market is littered with the remains of interesting IP that has been left in the dust. Why? Because, umm… you didn’t buy it? Maybe not “you” you, but generally the market gravitates more towards stuff that is already well established, whilst often waiting on newer things; either hoping they will be offered cheaper down the line, so the risks are minimal and they feel like it’s not such a huge waste of money if they don’t like it, or by hoping that through PS Plus or similar services, that they will get them for free. One of the most fun parts of the PS Plus service, that. It’s encouraged a whole new segment of the market to shut up and wait, so they can potentially get it bundled in with the cost of their subscription.
Now, let’s consider this. What if Miyamoto’s newest IP offering is, actually, really good? By which I mean, 10 out of 10 good. Here’s a question; is that enough to convince you that the Wii U is worth buying? You’ll probably umm and ahh about that for a bit, but I’ll save you from exerting your brain on this one: you won’t. Why not? Because when Nintendo releases good, fresh IP – hello, The Wonderful 101 – the criticisms from the market are, “Oh come on Nintendo! Where’s the new Zelda game? Where’s the new Metroid game? Where’s the new Starfox game?” You’ll want something more tangible, familiar and, shock horror, something you KNOW about before rushing to invest in a new console.
And guess what? That’s actually NOT a bad thing.
Because those games are actually reliably good. the Metroid Prime series was reliably good. The Zelda franchise has been consistently good. Starfox is legendary in how people love it. If Nintendo released all three in the space of twelve months, chances are you’ll probably forget your preconceived prejudices of the Wii U and buy one. And in doing so, and in buying the games you are familiar with, you’ll open up a world of new, interesting titles to play as well. There’s little point for Nintendo right now to wholly invest in brand new IP for the Wii U. It needs far more reliable attractions; it needs big-hitting names and things people know and love to get them through the gates. In essence, it NEEDS these old IPs to get you into the console in the first place. It’s THEN that Nintendo, as a company, can consider branching out with bigger, riskier new experiments and interesting new concepts. At a time when the company needs money, it’s not a surprise to see the company scramble for the things it knows people already like – because… well, you like them. You know what they are. And you’ll buy them.
It’s why when Sony showed the PlayStation 4, it had things like InFamous: Second Son on show, and why it’s re-releasing The Last of Us on PS4. It’s why Microsoft showed a small teaser for Halo. Because that’s what most people want to see. These are their bread and butter; their main events. They are now the core franchises at the heart of the console manufacturers. It’s why Square-Enix are building up for Final Fantasy XV; people want a new Final Fantasy (and to their credit, it really is time we moved on from Lightning. She got more character development in a couple weeks of a Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn event than she has in several years at the heart of Final Fantasy XIII!). It’s why Capcom are, yup, looking at another Resident Evil game. Sucky as Resident Evil 6 was, it still sold 4.9 million in its first showing. You can’t argue with those numbers.
And when we’re invested into these consoles with our familiar IP, we may indeed look up and say, “This is nice, but surely it’s also time for something fresh?” And they’ll have made enough – and have had enough time – to begin offering new IP. Even if most of it won’t stick for long, they will do it because they’ll want to begin new franchises, new ways to tempt you in and take your cash so they can look into the next idea for a franchise they want to toy with.
But the hilarious irony of it is, most of this new IP will be overshadowed sales-wise by the already firmly-entrenched franchises that have dug their heels in early on, and it will be harder to shift them. And that’s always been the risk of the games industry – relying on old IP to generate the money is great, but sometimes it means that you can cannibalise your fresh new titles of sales if you pin them too close to each other.
In order to support new IP, you actually have to BUY that new IP. It’s no good saying, “I’ll buy it when it’s cheaper!”, or “I’ll get it another day because I want to play Franchise Installment X066 first!” If you want to support new IP, then you have to support new IP. If you genuinely have no interest in buying the new IP day one, getting involved and showing the companies how much you want to encourage them to take risks and develop new ideas, then you can now forfeit the right to use the New IP excuse in future. You don’t get to use it. You’re the reason why companies still rely on older IP to generate the sales to buffer against the often inevitable realities that come with fresh new titles; dramatically lower sales and profit margins, if not outright losses.
If new IP was the ambrosia that so many see it as, we’d have seen more successes over the years; and when games did dare to do new things – like Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath – you didn’t buy them anyway. That’s the cold, painful logic of the industry. It is what we, collectively as consumers, have taught the industry. That we MIGHT buy new IP. We MIGHT buy new ways to see a series. But we will more likely buy the things we’re already emotionally and financially invested in. The things we know.
Not all new IP fails of course; Assassin’s Creed is a relative newcomer compared to some. It’s easy to forget that established IP often begins as new IP – it was fresh once, and had to endure to what you know and like today. But it’s often at that point most people will look for something new, just as a company is relying on another instalment to help provide the cash to play with another new franchise idea. And the cycle continues if the new idea survives a couple sequels. It’s not a horrible thing. It’s perfectly natural to want something new sometimes.
However, if you’re not buying that new IP – then what incentive does that company have to keep trying? You’re still buying that game they pump out on an annual or bi-annual basis? They’ll make more of that. Why? Because they’re a business. And they want your money. And if that means making another trip to old grounds in order to get their hands into your pocket, then that’s exactly what they will do.
This is not difficult stuff. You don’t drop something that’s making you a ton of money to do something that might lose you a lot of money. You’ll do the thing that makes a lot of money, so you maybe might have the option to do that thing that might not have any guarantee of success.
And as long as the old IP is good – and by that, I mean Super Mario 3D World 10/10 good, there’s absolutely no shame in sticking to a quality, established franchise that you know will get you your moneys worth anyway.
After all, they need to get the money for new stuff somewhere…