I think I’ve finally snapped. I checked the gaming headlines the other day to find out that Bethesda was doing a “reimagined” Wolfenstein game set in a version of the 1960s where the Nazis won World War II and ruled the world. I’ve played a bit of Wolfenstein 3D and was thought it okay but I didn’t particularly care much about it even though it’s the grand-daddy of modern first-person shooters (well, pre-console revolution FPSs).
Yet, when I heard about the upcoming Wolfenstein: The New Order, I snapped (or the blogger facsimile there of). As this console generation has slowly ground on, the influx of new intellectual properties being developed seems to have almost stopped. What new multi-platform IPs do we have to look forward to this year? Fuse, Remember Me and Watch Dogs? That’s it?!
It’s tough for me, and I’d imagine many gamers, to be excited about the near future of gaming when there is so little to be excited about. We’re stuck with publishers giving us a series of franchise reboots, remakes, reimaginings and sequels to put some money in their pockets. Quite frankly, it’s wearing me out.
I’m not trying to single out the upcoming Wolfenstein with this post. Mind you, if Bethesda had carried on with another classic Wolfenstein FPS in which you stopped the Nazis from tipping the balance of World War II, I probably wouldn’t have paid this issue a moment’s notice.
What Wolfenstein: The New Order does accomplish is two things. It shows the lack of new intellectual properties that the gaming industry is developing right now and the reliance that developers have put into franchises for their business model.
If you look at some of the bigger new IPs that have been launched or attempted to be launched over the last couple of years, it’s easy to understand why publishers would be wary of launching new IPs. Team Bondi and 38 Studios both collapsed into bankruptcy after the financial failures of developing L.A. Noire and Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Most recently, Square Enix noted the under-performance of new-ish IP Sleeping Dogs (originally developed as a True Crime game but branded as its own game).
That’s not to say that it’s just the new intellectual properties that are struggling. Some franchises aren’t succeeding at the check out. Square Enix’s terrible 2013 featured missed sales targets for the latest Hitman game and the Tomb Raider reboot. EA missed with Dead Space and Medal of Honor: Warfighter (so badly with the latter that Battlefield is now an annual franchise rather than trading off with MoH).
That isn’t to say that franchises are failing. If you check the retail sales charts, you would understand why developers and publishers focus on franchises. In 2012, seven of the top ten best-selling games were part of annual franchises and all of them were part of a franchise. If you go back to 2011, six of the top ten were annual releases and all were in franchises. The money is in franchises that get pumped out year after year.
As consumers, we aren’t rewarding the creation of new intellectual properties by buying those games. Sure, that might change this year with the likes of Watch Dogs and The Last of Us likely to get a bit of interest on the shelves but two games are a drop in the gaming pond.
And this is where my fatigue comes in. When more than half of the best-selling games are part of annual franchises, it’s easy to get worn out. Most of these franchises come every year with very few changes. There might be a change in setting, a roster update or a new lineup of songs but that’s it. For the most part, the assets used are the same as the last year but these annual games are still $60 even if little has changed.
It appears that the mantle of creating new IP has been taken up by the indie developers. They need to take the risk on new ideas to get their games out there and selling. For the most part, it’s the little guys who are coming up with new concepts and fresh ideas.
Meanwhile, the big dogs play it safe with their franchises. They make one game that people want to buy and slap that franchise name on a series of subsequent games so they can keep selling the game on the power of the franchise. Sometimes these games are straight cash-ins. Sometimes these games have time and effort put into them. However, publishers always have these games made with visions of dollar signs dancing in their heads.
Maybe all hope isn’t lost yet. Yves Guillemot, CEO of Ubisoft, says that there is less risk to releasing a new IP at the start of a new console generation because people are more open to new ideas on a new console. He also points out: “If you can’t take risks because people don’t buy, you don’t innovate. And if you don’t innovate, customers get bored.”
It’s almost sad that we need a massive step forward in technology to reinvigorate developers to try something new and convince publishers that there is less risk in funding development of a new IP. However, maybe it’s that big and fresh new game that reinvigorates gamers and the industry.