Why major video game publishers rely on sequels, prequels, remakes, adaptations, side stories, back stories and spin offs as a standard practice that is not going away any time soon
Lack of original IP’s in the video game space has become a constant. Most of you have probably noticed that these days not many new games are being released on consoles or at all. It’s only May in 2013 and already we have seen the release of Tomb Raider, DMC, Dead Space 3, Fire Emblem Awakening, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, Aliens: Colonial Marines, Crysis 3, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Dynasty Warriors 7: Empires, The Amazing Spider-Man, SimCity, God of War: Ascension, StarCraft II: Heat of the Swarm, Gears of War: Judgment, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, Dead Island: Riptide, Star Trek and Metro: Last Light (that is just to name a few).
All of these titles are not new IP’s (Intellectual Property). They all come as a sequel to an earlier game, a prequel to a franchise, a television series, a movie or a remake of an old series. This is not to say that there has not been some truly original and exciting new IP’s released this year, but more often than not the games getting most of the PR, attention and sales are not new IP’s.
Further evidence can be seen in this GameSpot article, where Brendan Sinclair breaks down new IP’s between Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. His results are below:
This article is not to debate whether the lack of IP’s is a good or bad thing. For the record, I am of the mindset that prequels/sequels are not a bad thing inherently. Any subject matter has the potential to be something great, its all in the execution. This article is more to understand and explain why the lack of new IP’s have become so prevalent in the industry.
The good people at Red Letter Media in reviewing the 2009 movie Star Trek discussed what they called “The Blurring Effect” which addresses exactly why this problem is so prevalent. Watch the video below starting from 6:20 to 12:40 where Mr. Plinkett discusses the Blurring effect. Just replace Hollywoord with the Video Games industry and you will be able to see how it applies to the major publishers today.
There are a lot of great insights (albeit comical) in this video but basically, the reason why we have no new IP’s comes down to this graphic:
This Blurring Effect does ring true to the industry. In a previous article, I covered why larger video game companies need to make sure that every game they release is commercial success and meets the company’s sales goals. Since video games have come into the mainstream, publishers have to compete not just with each other in terms of sales, but now every other medium who could take away their potential profits.
Video game companies have to compete with smart phones, tablets, movies, television, music and websites all with hundreds of thousands of content options that can directly compete with consumer dollars in relations to video game purchases. In the digital area, consumers have never had more options to choose from. Which is great for consumers, but bad for companies in terms of revenue they make.
In order to combat these risks, Publishers are less willing to invest in untested brands and thus stick to only brands that have been established as clear profit earners that investors can be comfortable. And nothing gives Publishers more comfort than releasing games that either pull from nostalgia or add another installment to a media empire. These games give publishers the marketability they need make sure it’s picked up by the press, the brand recognition to speak to consumers who already know what the product is and the potential to make the most fucking money.
We have to remember that video game publishers run a business, and have to turn a profit. A no matter how much we say we don’t like prequels, or are tired of sequels, or can’t stand remakes and that only new IP’s should be made, we have only ourselves to blame (well collectively). Publishers have no reason to abandon this practice because it’s working. Look at the top selling games in 2012 as reported by the NPD:
The top 10 retail video games in the United States in 2012:
1. Call of Duty: Black Ops II (360, PS3, PC, Wii U)
2. Madden NFL 13 (360, PS3, Wii, PSV, Wii U)
3. Halo 4 (360)
4. Assassin's Creed III (360, PS3, PC, Wii U)
5. Just Dance 4 (Wii, 360, Wii U, PS3)
6. NBA 2K13 (360, PS3, Wii, PSP, Wii U, PC)
7. Borderlands 2 (360, PS3, PC)
8. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (360, PS3, Wii, PC)
9. Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes (Wii, 360, NDS, PS3, 3DS, PSV, PC
10. FIFA Soccer 13 (360, PS3, Wii, PSV, 3DS, Wii U, PSP)
There is not one, original IP on this list. Not one.
At the end of the day, consumers are in an inverse relationship with Publishers. While we may crave for different flavors, if they can keep making money selling hamburgers, well I hope you remembered ketchup because its going to be hamburgers from here on out. Two things can make this change, either all the top publishers collapse and are forced to abandon their established franchises in favor of new IP or we as a culture decide that we want to experience new thoughts, stories and ideas with our media. My money is on the industry going down first.
DanimalCart’s Soapbox: 05/15/13