As publishers start to put successful franchises on hiatus, Sean Cleaver asks if this is now a new rush for new IPs
Ten years ago the video game industry had what many regards as its most renowned year. Critics and players alike will often cite 2007 as the best year in gaming. We were riding off the commercial success of the Nintendo Wii, entertainment hit new heights thanks to the advent of HD quality flatscreen televisions and games did something new, quite literally.
If we fast-forward to 2017 then you can see the indelible mark that 2007 made in gaming. In the last twelve months we’ve had a fourth Uncharted game, a remaster of all three Bioshock games and a new Mass Effect – all games that first started in 2007.
We’ve spent a few years quixotically praising the games industry for its ability to create, yet paradoxically bemoaned it for a steady stream of remasters, reissues and sequels.
If you look to 2016/17 then the most successful new intellectual property has to be Overwatch, certainly in being a commercial hit and being available across all platforms. But there has already been a big signal to the industry that change is going to come.
From the financial statements over the last few months, we’ve heard the reports of a new BioWare IP, which is now reportedly delayed. Playground Games are changing tack by looking at developing a new, non-racing IP. Milestone, who produce the MotoGP games amongst others, are starting their own IP. This is not a coincidental mass of studios just deciding to do something new – this is the new oil rush.
From what we’ve heard from news sources, some of the most critically successful franchises are now on the shelf. Deus Ex, Mass Effect and now Hitman all look to be taking lengthy hiatuses. Assassin’s Creed took a year off last year as well and Halo’s ever expanding universe is sat, patiently waiting for the sixth and presumably final instalment in Master Chief’s story.
So the rush to new IPs isn’t just a refresh, its essential to the future of the industry. People tire of what is popular after a while and resentment will come. I get it all the time watching TV. Game of Thrones, Doctor Who (yes, don’t hate me) and shows that have been entertainment’s main staples over the last eight to ten years are now things that I just want to end. I’m looking for something new. Games are no different.
On the critical side of the industry, we’ve spent a few years quixotically praising the games industry for its ability to create, yet paradoxically bemoaned it for a steady stream of remasters, reissues and sequels. We no longer have the excuse of ‘learning the ropes’ anymore given that we’re fairly deep in to this console generation and already looking to its next iteration in 4K and HDR quality visuals and the ever lofty goal of 60fps gameplay.
It is not only important, it is essential that new IPs are created, as a lack of creativity will only breed stagnation in the industry. Once the well is tapped too many times of a franchise, you run the risk of diluting the nostalgia that a franchise can have. You could argue that has happened to Sonic the Hedgehog, with the franchise only really finding its feet recently with the Sonic Generations release and the promise of Sonic Mania.
It’s tricky as, demonstrated by my last statement, everything that revolves around appreciation, fandom and therefore reception is entirely subjective. And as we start the oil or gold rush, whichever boom or bubble metaphor you prefer, the risks are far greater than the industry has previously experienced.
The cancellation of Scalebound by Microsoft is a great example of this problem. Whilst the reason is not known for the games cancellation, there are some things you can comfortably guess. Firstly, the development of the game must have cost Microsoft a lot of money. When you create a first party title, you run the risk of ploughing lots of money in to a black hole and for the game to be stopped when it was certainly suggests that a lot of investment is unlikely to be returned.
Secondly, there’s the impression of the brand. In the never ending marketing battle of one-upmanship between platform providers, having a strong exclusive line-up is critical. If the game is a new IP then its even more critical as it needs to stick in the memory of the gaming community. You wonder if Microsoft thought about this when they axed the project.
Sometimes, of course, this pays off and you only need to look at a game this year that has been a critical and commercial successes and a new IP. Horizon Zero Dawn was nothing short of a massive gamble for Sony and Guerrilla, and Sony had a lot of faith in the marketability of Aloy. The Guerrilla Cambridge studio's venture in to VR with RIGS didn’t pay off and that studio sadly closed its doors. Thankfully, Horizon got the magic formula right, but until that game is in the wild, you can never truly know.
But with great risk comes great reward. The discussions now, and in the preceding years that Horizion Zero Dawn was in development, surely were not a million miles away from the same discussions that were had in 2007 and the years preceding the releases of BioShock, Uncharted and the like.
The start of new games, new heroes and new representatives to hold aloft as the bastions of gaming success must start at the creative level. Their allowance to live must start at the corporate level that, for the last ten years at least, has relied up on its previous successes. So we need to rush head long in to the desert for this creative oil to power the future of gaming.
Until Super Mario Odyssey comes out, of course, and then we’ll be singing the praises of a 37 year old icon again.