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Hiding Behind The Brand

It’s no secret that executives in most industries are highly risk-averse, and the ones in the game industry are perhaps some of the most risk-averse of all. On one level, it’s difficult to really be angry at them for this, what people know sells, and it sells big. By this point that’s basic stuff. On the other hand, I do not want to see mainstream gaming go the way of Hollywood. Endless franchises and a depressingly small number of new IPs. Just recently we’ve had the latest Transformers and Mummy films, neither of which can be considered artistically worthwhile. I wonder how many good scripts were turned down in order to churn out those two train wrecks? There is, however, a problem that this safety first approach has presented only for games, and it’s kind of a strange one.

While the game industry has also seen more than its fair share of remakes, reboots, and remasters, I have noticed something slightly more subtle going on. There now seems to be a tendency for big developers to slot games into franchises they simply don’t need to be a part of for fear of a new, unknown IP falling flat. This has led to several games being hamstrung immediately by an obligation to be something they aren’t. With franchises today growing out of control and not showing any signs of slowing down, this could start to occur more and more regularly.

Ask yourself, what actually made Assassins Creed: Black Flag fun? What was it that made it stand out from the previous games? I can speak only for myself of course but what I enjoyed about that game was all the stuff to do with the ship. By comparison, the parts of the game where I actually had to be an assassin were breathtakingly dull. Tailing some nobody through a fishing port simply does not compare to a rip-roaring battle on the high seas. This being the 5th game in the series the usual Creed combat and gameplay was beginning to feel stale, while the sailing felt new and fresh. So consider this. What if Black Flag had been a straight up new IP with a pirate theme? Take out the story hampered by its series restraints, take out the annoying tailing missions, and double down on everything that made the game fun. I think that would have been a much better game. But no. A company like Ubisoft would never dare take that risk.

Battlefield Hardline was exactly the same, only even more clearly not a fit for the series it claimed to be a part of. The only reason I can think of for EA making Hardline part of the Battlefield series is so that they wouldn’t have to build too many new assets or animations. Or even come up with too many new multiplayer modes. Look at Hardline in comparison to every other Battlefield game. It sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s the only one not focused around traditional warfare and it obviously wasn’t a new direction for the series as Battlefield 1 went straight back to formula. So what was it? A spin-off nobody asked for. What could have been a fun new game centered around a crime capers and a cops and robbers motif, was instead a footnote in a series to which it simply did not belong.

There are numerous other examples of this particular trend of course. FarCry Primal really didn’t need to be part of the FarCry series did it? But of course, Ubisoft knew that the brand would sell the game, not the game itself. But like I said, can you really blame them? Currently, the major franchises are selling well and so, of course, we get to see them prolonged for as long as possible. That’s basic business, right? However, there is another side to this. I firmly believe that people don’t know what they want until you give it to them. Part of the reason for Call of Duty’s success that its competitors have all simply tried to copy it, rather than actually produce something unique and high quality. People already have Call of Duty, why would they be interested in Medal of Honor: Warfighter?

So while I understand the allure making your games a sequel, I wish that the power of new IPs was acknowledged more often by big publishers. Look at Splatoon. It came completely out of left field and has been hugely successful. It’s unique, not a copy of something else and a solid game, of course people are going to like it. A new IP has to actually be “new” in order to succeed. I dread to think how many WoW “killers” that have fallen by the wayside over the years.

So big publishers, take your best new ideas and craft something genuinely interesting. Don’t hide all your new stuff away behind your biggest franchises. Its good to take risks. Lets not go the way of Hollywood.

Robert Webb
I was born in Oxford in 1998 and have been gaming for almost my entire life. I want to see this industry evolve as a storytelling medium and deliver experiences that stay with people. Interactivity is a narrative device that only games can employ, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it can take us.

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