Don’t Blame Publishers For Lack of New IPs

Everyone wants new IPs, but it isn't the publisher's fault that we don't have enough innovation.

It’s a common cry among gamers: “Give us more originality, freshness, and innovation!”  In short, this typically translates to “Give us more new IPs!”

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In fact, if you line up ten hardcore gamers and ask them if they believe the gaming industry is in dire need of more new IPs, I guarantee that nine will say yes.  Maybe all ten.  But, two important things to consider:

1. We’re obviously not all calling for new IPs.

2. It is happening, only on a smaller scale.

Let’s start with the first point.  

It isn’t true that everyone is demanding freshness and innovation; as is always the case in all business, there is supply and demand.  If we were demanding it and we weren’t getting it, games wouldn’t be selling.  Obviously, that isn’t the case. The reason for this is because those who are demanding it are now in the minority; i.e., the avid, “hardcore” gamer group.  Analysts currently estimate that around 80% of the entire game-purchasing public falls into the “casual” group.  This is the case with all mainstream entertainment, in fact, and that is what gaming has become.

The bottom line is that the hottest sellers are almost always, as a rule, familiar.  The biggest selling franchises of the past generation are Call of DutyGrand Theft AutoAssassin’s Creed and Battlefield.  Of course, AC began its lifespan as a new IP in the previous generation, but it wasn’t a blockbuster until it became a franchise and indeed, an annualized franchise.  It’s not at all surprising that despite most gamers supposedly despising the practice of annual releases, these are precisely the titles that routinely top the sales charts.

The correct analysis is some of the hardcore gamers really do want more freshness and they’re sick of the same ol’ same ol’.  But they’re in the definite minority and they do not dictate business trends.

As for the second point…

We are actually seeing quite a bit of originality and innovation, only on a smaller scale. If you want to see really cool new ideas, you need to get into the downloadable/digital game market; you need to check out the PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Marketplace and Steam.  There are some surprisingly innovative games on there, and it’s great that smaller developers are getting a chance to strut their stuff.  

So, why aren’t we seeing such an explosion of originality at the higher end?  Why don’t the big blockbusters feel fresh?

The answer should be obvious, shouldn’t it? Publishers aren’t about to risk it.  A new IP is one of the riskiest endeavors any developer or publisher can undertake, and that’s because – again, contrary to supposed popular opinion – consumers are, and will always be, afraid of something new.

You can’t really blame them, either.  They don’t want to spend their hard-earned money on a gamble; they want to buy something they’re guaranteed to enjoy.  The only way it’s a guarantee is if you know exactly what you’re getting.  That is never the case with a new IP, which is why they’re so difficult to promote.  Name-brand recognition is a big hurdle, of course, as is release timing.  But those are secondary factors.  The primary factor: cost.  The cost of creating, producing and promoting a massive blockbuster like a new Assassin’s CreedGrand Theft Auto, or Call of Duty is insane.  If you were in business, wouldn’t you want to be damn certain of getting your money back and then some?

On top of which, if people keep buying them, how can you possibly blame the publisher for not producing new IPs?  How can you blame them for not encouraging developers to try new things?  The publishers are merely responding to the demand.  You created that demand.  We all did.  And so long as we continue to buy those huge blockbusters, we continue to support what’s happening; we continue to say one thing and do another.  Even the hardcore gamers who keep saying they want innovation want to play great games. And in fact, titles like GTAV and Black Flag are pretty damn great, so why wouldn’t we want to play them?

Bottom line: Don’t scream at publishers.

They’re only responding to you. They want to make money.  If you weren’t buying their games, they’d have to try something else; because you continue to buy every new installment in those big new franchises, they will keep putting them out.  And from their angle, why encourage a developer to try new things when the market is screaming, “don’t try new things; we want the familiar…”?


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Fathoms_4209
A gaming journalism veteran of 14 years, a confirmed gamer for over 30 years, and a lover of fine literature and ridiculously sweet desserts.