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Defending the Right to be Original
This morning Stéphane D’Astous, the General Manager of Eidos Montreal, told Gamasutra “Games are more and more sophisticated; it’s less based on one or two mechanics. I think this replaces the necessity of having new IPs.”
Certainly, with series such as Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty becoming annual events while excellent new IPs such as Enslave are being cruelly ignored at retail it could be said that he makes a good point. D’Astous however, ignores the fact that many of the biggest games in existence only began during the current generation of systems.
Uncharted, Gears of War, LittleBigPlanet, Mass Effect and more have only graced seventh gen consoles. The same is true of Assassin’s Creed. Had the studios behind them not being willing to take the considerable financial risk entailed some of the best games of the last six years would never have been made (though we would all probably be significantly richer).
After all the PlayStation 3 only really started to take off once Drake’s Fortune and LBP landed on the console. A counter point would of course be that Uncharted Golden Abyss was easily the Vita’s best-selling launch title. I’m not trying to argue that continuing existing IPs is a bad thing, of course it isn’t, simply that continuity without originality is a road to nowhere.
Even Darksiders, which was essentially a love letter to Zelda with a touch of God of War, was at least a new IP with a world, characters and mythology of its own.
Last year Eidos brought back the Deus Ex series to commercial and critical acclaim and are currently working on a new Thief. D’Astous argues that by bringing back old classics in conjunction with the annual or biannual updates of games there’s no need for new franchises, he is utterly and uncompromising wrong.
Firstly, there is the matter of what is meant by more sophisticated. Does D’Astous mean in terms of technology? Or is he referring to narrative development?
Technologically many games still struggle to do ladders correctly and no enhancement in graphics can mask the fact that the gameplay, which above and beyond everything else is by far the most important aspect of game, is growing stale.
Assassin’s Creed is an example of this, there was an obvious and appreciable improvement between Assassin’s Creed and Assassin’s Creed 2. The combat received some much-needed changes in Brotherhood but by Revelations Ubisoft was reduced to those awful tower defence and Animus white room sections.
On the narrative side storytelling in games is still a remarkably mixed bag in terms of quality. There are plenty of positively cringe-worthy game scripts but there are also game writers out there whose work can make people laugh, and cry, and scream.
This is only another reason to promote new IPs. Both as a means for writers to create stories for us to love, or hate, and for us as consumers to have more choice in our favorite media form.
Secondly, there does seem to be evidence to support his assertion in terms of the games we most want. Media research group Nielsen’s research shows that the 2012 releases most American gamers are anticipating are sequels, such as 343 Industries’ Halo 4.
Even the widely anticipated Bioshock Infinite (and I include myself on the list) will shift huge numbers of copies simply because of the name. You could argue that given the radical departure Infinite is almost a new IP but ultimately it remains an FPS based around an idea, which is more than most FPS’s are based on I’ll grant you, but a Bioshock nevertheless.
The sensible business argument would be to give the people what they want, but for every innovative new title like Gravity Rush by Sony’s Japan Studio, or a continually successful series like Call of Duty there’s a Rock Band or Tony Hawk that were ridden into the ground and are now being resurrected by MTV Games and Activision Blizzard respectively.
Every media form has copycats, plagiarists, and outright thieves. Notably in gaming, this is evidenced by the abundance of clones on iOS and Android platforms. Equally, every type of art has seminal works that were only possible because of the inspiration of past artists in that and other fields.
Hollywood has been much maligned for a lack of originality in recent years, regardless of whether or not that’s a fair accusation, ask yourself, would you want to see the games industry follow suit? No, of course not, I would hope.
Yes, there will probably always be Space Marine Game Number 27 and Brownest Shooter of the Year (and as long as they continue to entertain that’s not necessarily a bad thing). Just as there will always be gaming classics that should be brought back, even if only in the form of a HD collection such as the recent excellent Jak & Daxter Trilogy update.
But for the games industry to ignore new IPs can only stifle innovation in the long run. Eidos generated some fantastic new ideas for Human Revolution, but that’s all that game was, a revolution, of sorts. For games to evolve developers and publishers need to allow themselves to paint on a fresh canvas. Naughty Dog are doing it with the Last of Us, many other studios are preparing new IP for the next generation (here’s a list of some of them), speaking personally I’d rather have ten Enslaved’s for every one Call of Duty.
It may be unlikely but is anyone with me?