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Monday, August 08, 2005

Comments

Alan Dennis

I wouldn't hold my breath either. From my standpoint, creating something original goes against the very nature of publishers - since their business is one of investing in the work of others and then hoping for great ROI. There's no creativity in that.

Publishers have bought the majority of game developers, thusly making the publishers the developers and effectively extinguishing a large amount of creativity that used to exist. The publishers weren't creative before, aren't now, and now that they control/own/extinguish those who used to fuel the creativity in the industry, where can else but Hollywood could they turn for that much needed "creativity" they need in order to create their games?

You pointed out THQ and I think that's an absolutely perfect example.

THQ made Freespace, which was a pretty creative game. (It could have been better, but wasn't bad.) They also made Summoner and Red Faction, both of which were original to a certain extent. Then THQ completely purchased Volition and the last couple projects they've had were Punisher the video game (which was horrible) and some GTA rip off called Saint's Row. (Apparently THQ needed a piece of the GTA clone pie.)

Well, ok... Maybe not the "absolutely perfect" example, but I think you know what I mean. :)

madsax

Someone at Siggraph had a slide showing that in the past year, original IP had just 7 of the top 40 titles (or something like that). So I would suggest that the 1995 year might have been chosen to make a particular point in the article. Looking at more recent trends I think you'll see that original IP is losing out to licensed IP big time.

Perhaps someone else was at this talk and remembers what is just vaguely intruding on my consciousness from Siggraph. I think it could have been Dan Arey and Bob Rafei's talk.

Jay Barnson

While the top scorers over the last ten years might be original IP and sequels of the same, I'm guessing the bottom 65% or so of the ROI bin is also original IP. That's what we're talking about - risk. You do a licensed game with an established audience, you can almost guarantee a certain level of market penetration with a minimum amount of marketing. You can look at the demographics of the IP audience, and the demographics of gamers, a little bit of historical data, plug it into the calculator and let the math take care of itself. Publishers really, really WANT to be that kind of machine with predictable results.

On top of that, you get your return pretty immediately on licensed property. But most of the time, it's the sequels of an original property that sells. GTA 1 and 2 were forgettable - it wasn't until GTA 3 that the thing became a phenomenon. Warcraft 3 (I think) out-did Warcraft 2, which in turn totally blew away Warcraft 1. I could go on. But "Enter the Matrix?" Or something with "Star Wars" in the title? You could slap those licenses on a text editor and sell a quarter million copies.

Apar

I am fairly new to this industry so I dont know how the statistics are compared but one of the things that Jay mentions strikes a familiar chord. there is this constant pull between being creative and financially rewarding I am not saying that the two cannot get go hand in hand but just that they are two separate goals one important to the developer making the game where they are trying to introduce new elements of "fun" (dont want to just use the terms gameplay) where as the publsiher is worried if that thing will ever sell and how much will they get back. I remember being part of a developer team where in the the VC actually made a statement to the affect "...you guys are a team of 20 so you develop 7 games a months (casual games for the web) so if we got 40 people you should be able to deliver 14 games each month and based on that rate deliver 168 games in a year" I dont know why this sounds ludicrous to me

But coming back to the article and the statistics I dont know this and what would be interesting to compare is how many original IP's were launched since 1995 and how many actually succeeded and during the same time how many licensed games were released and succeeded. Finally if you compare the top 10 Original IP games of all time and top 10 licensed games of all time (1995 as a benchmark) what was the total collection of those. I havent read the entire article but from the little description I got I think its very easy to get skewed numbers. But then what do I know :)

gf

Those statistics focus on how big one individual title is, I wonder how much money licenced IPs, chunked together, made them, compared to original IPs. Throw out 50 junk games with shorter dev cycles based on licenses vs. 5 (or whatever) original IPs, which will make them more $ at the end? I have no idea whether it's one or the other, I just wouldn't be surprised if they make a lot of cash by pumping out more licensed crap, because those have favorable sales-potential:investement ratio. Quantity over quality.

Mark Ventura

Isn't it a little ridiculous to go all the way back to 1995 for stats like these? The industry has changed. Most of the top selling brands you list took advantage of market conditions to become what they are--for example, everybody who had an NES played Mario and Zelda (Mario came with it!); there just wasn't much variety available. And the early licensed games were pretty terrible. (And isn't Pokemon a licensed IP? I think the anime came first.)

"When it comes to licensed IP, other than kids licenses and sports licenses, there are fewer than a dozen licenses from the entire library of novels, TV and movies that are worth exploiting in the game world. That's right, less than a dozen. "

I'm sorry, Scott, but that's just ridiculous. There are millions of novel, shows, and movies. I bet I can come up with a dozen success licenses that have already been exploited.

1. Star Wars
2. Lord of the Rings
3. Chronicles of Riddick
4. Dune
5. The Matrix
6. Spider-Man
7. X-men
8. Tom Clancy
9. Star Trek
10. Harry Potter
11. Batman
12. James Bond

Don't get me wrong, I think original IPs are better, too, but I don't think you're being honest with yourself.

Jonas Antonsson

There has to be a balance. Licenced games can create a stable ground which can, in turn, be the basis of innovative (and more expensive) original IP development. EA Games uses this formula, to some extent, but I don't think many gaming houses do though. Original IPs are becoming more expensive and harder to market - this adds to the risk factor so it becomes hard to sustain a gaming house on original IPs alone (save ID Software).

J#

Jose Zagal

Quake came out in '96, so iD haven't created any new IP since then! And from the list of top IP you mention pretty much everything on that list is more than 10 years old! (except Halo and Driver?) So, the question is what original IPs have we seen in the past 10 years that have been very sucessful.

The answer is not that many, and one of the reasons is probably due to the fact that the industry/marketplace can't support that many. So, how many original IP "brands" can the game industry maintain at a given moment in time and what does the industry need to do so that it can support more brands?

Scott Miller

I just clicked on the Video Game Buzz Index (link on the right side, under Blogs & Links), and of the 20 game titles getting the most buzz on Yahoo, only *one* is a licensed game, Madden Football.

Regardless of the validity of these statistics -- and they are somewhat valid -- there can be no argument that the game industry needs to favor the development of original brands over licensed ones. Publishers (and studios like Id, Valve, 3D Realms, Remedy, etc.) gain so much more value and control over their future by working on original games (or their sequels), instead of licenses owned by other media branches.

-- "the question is what original IPs have we seen in the past 10 years that have been very sucessful."

And likewise, the majority of the licensed IPs listed by Mark are 10+ years old. But more to the point, your comment perhaps indicates that in the past the game industry was much more open to making original games.

-- " There are millions of novel, shows, and movies. I bet I can come up with a dozen success licenses that have already been exploited.

Mark, your list pretty much nails the top licenses that work in the game industry, and that's about it. And I'd even argue that Batman and Dune do not belong on that list, and that Tom Clancy isn't really a license, either. People think of Splinter Cell or Rainbow Six as the brands, not Tom Clancy. For example, Splinter Cell is essentially an original brand, and not a license.

Even The Matrix is misleading, and I wouldn't consider a successful license. Enter the Matrix is an exception simply because it was released day & date with the most anticipated movie of all time. I really doubt future Matrix games will be successful. And Harry Potter is a kid's license, and I've already said that kid's and sports licenses are exceptions, because kids are MUCH more prone to go for brands they know. And sports licenses are merely stamps a authenticity to the sport.

Tadhg

I think these things wax and wane, as games are not the only medium currently engaged in this sort of IP mining by any means. It's all over the movie industry, with films based on comics, old tv series, books and true stories far outweighing original stories. The music industry seems to wholly consist of covers, remixes and such. Factual books, history and biographies have never been so popular.

We are, as a culture, very focussed on the past and recognisable brands right now, and business responds to that. The reason that the publishers have plumbed for known IP etc is because they know it worka. You can wave as much evidence of long-term growth in their face as you want, it doesn't matter. Quarter-to-quarter, chart-to-chart, they see the likes of the Incredibles at the top and that's what matters.

No business on earth is entirely rational, it is always based on perception (this is why we have boom and bust economies to begin with), and right now the perception is that that the past sells. Recognisability sells. People lose their jobs or get promoted based on first week performances in the charts. That's what's important.

There are two things you can do in this scenario: Get on board or innovate out of the way. The one thing that blogs and such aren't going to do is change it though.

Scott Miller

Tadhg, unquestionably, blogs aren't gonna change a thing. In fact, it benefits 3D Realms that the industry is such as it is, because it makes it a LOT easier for my studio to keep creating original brands, like Max and Prey. If everyone else was doing it, there'd be a lot less fertile area to explore and exploit. But while the industry's strong reliance on licenses is a plus for 3D Realms, it's a net negative for most other developers, who are never given a chance to bust out of their rut. It's also a net negative for the industry, which needs to be seen as a stronger creative force and as having its own strong creative identity. And, as I said, publishers make more money from hit brands they own, than from hit licenses, where profits need to be split with the licensee. Not to mention, when a studio or publisher owns a hit brand, they get to exploit it outside the game industry, a la Tomb Raider, Doom, Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, etc. (Sure, these exploitations haven't always been successful, but that's another issue. Just as very few movies will ever work as good games, the reverse is true.)

Tadhg

I agree with you Scott. But the thing is that while the industry is so convinced of its chart-dependency and so on, developers will never 'be given a chance'. Evolutionary capitalism has it that only the innovative survive, so roll on online distribution and far more efficient tools, utterly different marketing strategies and artistic aspirations. Those are the things that will generate success in the long run.

PaG

Other industries, particularly entertainment industries, use a trick that is seldom used in gaming: they market the creators too. There's probably millions of new books published each year, but if one is written by Tom Clancy or Stephen King everybody takes notice, even if it's something completely new. If Steven Spielberg releases a new movie, people take notice because they know him. A new CD by U2 will sell millions just because of the fans of the group even though the actual CD is unrelated to some other IP. Even in gaming: I took interest in SimGolf because it was by Sid Meier, if a no-name developer made it I certainly wouldn't have cared.

Why don't publishers market the creators? I have no idea who the lead designer on GTA: San Andreas was. He did a great job, I work in his own industry and yet I don't know who he is. Publishers should at least market the studios: it did a lot of good to iD and Blizzard, yet most development studios remain unknown. The publishers try to get attention on themselves, but that doesn't work, people aren't stupid. Would you buy a book because it was published by Berkley Publishing Group? No, but you'd buy a book written by Tom Clancy. Why should player care if the publisher of a game is Take 2 or THQ?

Marketing the creators of games would reduce development risk, allow development of succesful new IP that have high long term value and would help keep the best talent in the industry (everybody loves to be famous...). So why won't publishers do it?

Tadhg

PaG,

That's true. But the problem in doing that is that by marketing a person you are giving them the power, and for the franchise-minded business of today, that is dangerous. Authors can move, make demands and so on. However, an author has much more lifespan - especially if they reinvent their work regularly - than any franchise because they have personality, can be interviewed by journalists and so on.

It used to be the case ten years ago that development companies filled this author niche, because they were small and quite obviously individual. Teams of 2-10 people have a voice and a close working relationship, like a band. However, nowadays a team of 100 is just another division inside a larger business. The more people come on board, the less distinctive the voice becomes, the less interesting the work, and so developers have lost out that individual sense. They need a strong personality to be the author figure, to direct the efforts of the team and so on. There aren't many people in the industry who have the ability to do that, but they are beginning to emerge.

Jose Zagal

-- And likewise, the majority of the licensed IPs listed by Mark are 10+ years old. But more to the point, your comment perhaps indicates that in the past the game industry was much more open to making original games.

Well, there is a difference between making original games and developing original IP. (and yes, sometimes they mean the same). I think that Nintendo is a particularly good example of having both its own IP, milking the heck out of it and also making original games...

For example, the following games all feature old IP (as in, already known when the game was released) coupled with original games:
Wario Ware, Kirby's Canvas Curse, Super Mario Kart, Super Smash Brothers, Pokemon Snap

I agree that it is vital for dev companies to retain their own IP and that, once established, they can use said IP to experiment with novel gameplay. (I would bet real money that Katamari would have sold 3x as many copies if it had been KataMario...maintaining the same gameplay)

cliffski

Tadgh is right again (shock!) when he mentions the fundamental difference between the good old 2-10 man teams and the modern cubicle farms that are 'triple A' development teams. I would go so far as to suggest that your ideal team size is 1. Occasinally that means your whole team are totally offbeat or even clinically insane, but its from that environment you get the real good ideas, and likely, the good new IP. Nothing creative comes out of huge teams, unless they are working on IP created previously by a lone creative mind (like The Lord of the Rings). The larger the team, the bigger the chance of 1 or more of the team suddenly standing up and saying "why dont we make it more like game 'X'" with 100 people to 'keep on board' any interesting idosyncrisies in your IP will soon get dropped. The chances of Max Payne being anything other than a chisel jawed white guy were always slim. It's no suprise that the reasonably proportioned black female lead in 'Urban Chaos' came from a small company (mucky foot).
As far as I can see there is really only one person in game dev who has really seen the light here (apart from me obviously) and that's will wright with spore. He has spoken out against the cubicle farm overblown development process of modern games. Lets just hope he really means it.

Mr.DJ

This project needs support: https://www.projectoffset.com/news.html

So, what do you say Scott...any predictions? :) And could 3DRealms help perhaps?


Cheers!

Robert Howarth

If I was a publisher, I'd push original IPs like you suggest, but I'd also own them (and the developers) and push in-house studio development.

If I was a developer, I'd also push original IPs, retain them and do sign publishing deals on a per project basis.

Problem is many developers aren't good enough to have hit games time and time again, so they fall into the publisher dependence trap and make licensed products.

Greg Findlay

To me, the model that makes most sense as a publisher would be to use the "more finacially secure" licensed games to fund development of one or two original IP's to the point where development of those games could go on indefinitely (indefinitely isn't realistic but at least secure enough that you aren't going from milestone to milestone wondering about finances). Then spend a great deal of time and effort making sure that those original IP's are extremely high quality with potential for expansion. So why aren't any publishers doing that (and if there are who are they)? Is it to difficult to get enough successful licensed games?

PaG

It's certainly true that the marketing of creators gives them power and thus reduces the control of the publisher. I believe however that the gains are much greater than the loss here. If it wasn't the case, then other entertainment industries would stop marketing their creators. They don't because it pays to have famous creators working for you, even if they could potentially work for somebody else. Can you imagine the book industry not putting the author's name on the top of books anymore, or the movie industry not using big name stars? It would seem ridiculous, yet that's exactly what game publishers are doing­.

Cliffski is also right to point out that design by committee doesn't work. If you have 100 people working on a project and all of them have a say on what the game is like, you lose clarity of vision. Too many cooks spoil the pot. Movies -- that often have teams much bigger than the biggest games -- solved this problem by giving a lot of power to a few people at the top: the screenwriter, the director and the producer. While having few people in control kinda sucks for the rest of the team, it also ensures a higher quality product. Having a single person in control would be dangerous however, because that person can do stupid mistakes without anybody to point it out (trust me, I know: I did some terribly stupid stuff when I was working alone as an indie developer).

I guess the best way for developers to get their names known is to take the matter in their own hands. Instead of waiting for the publisher's charity, the team makes them an offer: if they get their name in big letters on the front of the game box and above the title, they ask for 5% less money for the development of the game. That's a good deal upfront for the publisher, so their likely to agree. It's also a good long term deal for the developer, since it strenghtens their brand a lot. I guess individual designers or producers could do this too, but their weight in the budget is much smaller so it's less convincing.

Scott Miller

PaG, I suspect you're overplaying the marketing of creators in other industries. In the music industry, the band is the brand, and so there's little choice but to market the band (the creator). Also, in many, many cases, studios sign up a singers for so long that it no longer becomes risky to promote them, because they cannot leave.

In the movie industry, only stars get promoted, as well as only a handful of directors--directors who have become so well known due to the popularity of their work. Other than a very limited number of directors, no creators are known. Who can name a script writer (the true creator in the movie industry), for example?

For novels, creators are known, but hardly promoted, except a limited few. About the only PR a novelist will get is a book tour, and that's really just a book selling method more than anything else.

In the TV industry creators are hardly known, and promoted even less.

So, by my analysis, our industry is no different than most, save the music industry, which is a special case.

Tadhg

"Who can name a script writer (the true creator in the movie industry), for example?"

Er, no. :)

It took me a long time to realise this (having screenwriting aspirations and all) but a film director is actually the true creator of the film industry. You cannot make a good film out of a bad script, but a script is just writing on paper without a director to interpret it and give it vision. There's so much in a film that doesn't appear in the script (and is largely regarded as unwelcome if it does), and there is a monumental difference between scribbling an idea down and trying to figure out how to do it and how to best tell the story visually.

This is where films differ from theatre, and why film writers get less respect compared to directors than playwrights do to theatre directors. The theatre is a more static form and the art of a play is very linguistic. It requires interpretation and direction, but with a play the voice of the playwright is what comes through. In film, it's different because the artform is much less linguistic and much more fluid.

This is also the key difference, in my mind, between a game designer and a game director. I used to think that a game designer could, given time and the right tools, produce his vision on paper and have a team create it. I now realise that that is fantasy, not least because most people only absorb 20% of what they read, but because the number of issues and potential discoveries that happen throughout the life of a project need someone central, focussed on the vision, steering the whole thing.

In music, the band is the brand.
In movies, the star is the main brand, but the director is also the brand ("a film by").
In books, the author is the brand. There are a lot of authors so only a few become well known. But you can say the same thing about music and movies, as there are 100 unknown bands and actors out there for every successful one. In TV, like-wise.

So the pattern is the same throughout. What is apparent is that people matter to branding in all these media, because they have 'legs'.

Compare this to comics. In the US and UK, comics are franchise-led. They were more franchise-led in the 70s than they are today, but they are still largely governed by the superhero comics despite the rise of a few authors (Moore, Morrisson, Gaiman etc). The result of them being franchise-led is that creatively stalled for a long time, and they financially stalled as well. It was only a few short years ago that Marvel were filing for Chapter 11, remember, until the movie industry basically saved their bacon.

In France, on the other hand, there is more respect for authors than just for titles, and the French industry is more robust, broadly appealing and healthy as a result.

Franchise-led creativity is bad. It's bad for IP, going back to the original point, because it leads to 'more of the same' thinking on the part of the bean counters. It's bad for the medium because it discourages experimentation (I'm thinking of your previous post about Ico here), and it discourages a wider audience because all they see is very heavily single-market catered tat. There's no vitality in franchises.

There is vitality in author figures, in what I'm calling the emerging class of game directors, in true independent dev teams working away in the darkness of the web like the bands of old. It's people, in the end of the day, that sell a medium and sell an artform, not brand labels, over the long term.

We need to get to the point of seeing "a game by" on boxes. Viva la revolution etc.

Scott Miller

Tadhg, while you're right that the director is the visionary, it's still the script writer that is the creator. As you know, nothing moves in Hollywood until a script is written, and that's when a director or star or top producer gets attached to it, and drives it to production.

I think eventually we'll see more games that are driven by a director-like game designer who is the recognized visionary, and these people will become better known. But, I think only 5-10 will ever become well known, just as there are only 5-10 movie directors that are well known.

PaG

My original point was that if you market the people, then you get something stable to use as a brand. That way, you don't have to use the franchise as the already-liked element, you can use the people. It doesn't really matter if those people are the true creators of the thing or not, on a marketing stand-point it's the brand that matters. That's why the star system works in Hollywood: a lot of people go see movies just because Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise is in it and not because of the franchise. If you create an entirely new movie it's going to be much easier to sell if it's got a big star in it. Sure, you could argue that the real creator is the scriptwriter, but we're talking about marketing here and not rewarding the real creators.

Tadhg

"Tadhg, while you're right that the director is the visionary, it's still the script writer that is the creator. As you know, nothing moves in Hollywood until a script is written, and that's when a director or star or top producer gets attached to it, and drives it to production."

Indeed, the initial idea will often as not come from a screenwriter, but whether that consists of 'true creator' given that the script is only 10% of the creative work of a film is an argument of opinion, especially when it is very common for directors to re-write, re-edit and hire wholly different writers to work on the script.

Back before the mid-50s, incidentally, film directors were not considered as such. It was thought that they were simply there to coach the actors, and that the real creative force on any film was the producer.

Sound familiar anyone? :)

"I think eventually we'll see more games that are driven by a director-like game designer who is the recognized visionary, and these people will become better known. But, I think only 5-10 will ever become well known, just as there are only 5-10 movie directors that are well known."

Probably.

But my hope is that, as in film and theatre etc, those high profile figures will have the ability to raise the standards for everyone else, through co-ordinated efforts etc.

Scott Peterson

I agree with Cliffski that smaller development team sizes are better. One game that took the world by storm that I haven't seen mentioned yet is Myst. If I recall correctly, this game was produced by a few guys in Eastern Washington who came up with a novel look, feel and style of gameplay.

Scott Miller

-- "That's why the star system works in Hollywood: a lot of people go see movies just because Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise is in it and not because of the franchise."

PaG,

o Stars become stars become they get face time. This was discussed quite a bit on this blog in the past. Familiarity breeds stardom. What has Paris Hilton done (she clearly has no talent -- well, maybe one *wink wink*), yet she has gotten lots of face time, and now she's practically as well known as most movie stars. So, until game devs star in their own games, we're not going to see the same breeding of stars that we see in Hollywood. And this is why there are so few well known directors: no face time.

o Also, it's false to believe that movie stars sell movie tickets to any significant degree. I've done consider personal research into this, and have found no meaningful correlation between stars and successful movies. An actor can appear in a mega hit, and then their next movie is a flop. This has happened many, many, many times. Movies make stars, not the other way around. There have been a very few actors that have been very good at picking movie projects that have had a high success rate, like Tom Cruise. Actors like this are like the Blizzard of the movie industry, with the stellar ability to both pick good movies to star in, and likely they also add some creative direction to the movie to. But no star can put people in seats if the movie itself is bad. It's the movie that matters, not the star. Warning: I've only found a few people in Hollywood savvy enough to know this, or admit it. Most believe 100% that stars are what sells tickets.

PaG

I actually agree with both of your point Scott, but I don't think they contradict mine.

You're right that no game developer will get as much recognition as a movie star; what we should have though, is game developers who are as famous as best-selling writers. They don't get face time either, yet some book authors are much better known than game developers. I couldn't recognize Stephen King if I met him in the street, but I know who he is. The fact that I know his name helps market his books to me. If the book sucks, I may not buy it but at least I'll have taken some interest in the book which I may not do with a book written by a no-name.

This also applies to your second point. You're absolutely right that a bad movie with a big star will tank. This a basic of marketing, really: if you put a big brand on a bad product, it still won't sell. If you have a good movie though, having a big star in it will help market it compared to other similar movies.

The same applies to games. If I see 2 games of similar quality, one created by a studio I never heard of and the other by Blizzard, I'm going to pick the game by Blizzard because I know they make good stuff. On the other hand, if Starcraft 2 sucks then it won't sell well even if Blizzard did it.

My point about promoting games creators is basic branding. You just create an additional brand, the creator, which you can attach to his projects regardless of the license of the project. By using the creator as a brand rather than the franchise (or in addition to it), you reduce the need to rely on a franchise for success and thus promote originality. Of all people in this industry, Scott, you're the one who should understand the impact of this type of branding the best.

Scott Miller

PaG, I'm not in favor of branding a single creator because it undermines the many people behind the game. And, I think studios are nearly as adequate for branding purposes. Most of us don't care, for example, who directed a Pixar movie, we just care that it's coming from Pixar Studio.

A few studios like Blizzard and Bioware have this level of branding.

In the movie industry it's easier to pull off because everyone is hired on a project-by-project basis. But so far in the game industry people stay at a studio for multiple projects, and so they are much more invested in the studio from a career standpoint, and emotionally. It wouldn't be fair to give all the credit to one person in the company, and it would hurt morale.

James O

However, studios in the game industry may have multiple lead devs and work on more than one project simultaneously. A lot of the branding from one title in a company portfolio may be unrelated to other titles in their portfolio. Look at Hideo Kojima - most people that I know don't buy Konami games, they buy Kojima games. Kojima is a recognizable auteur in the field; Konami makes so many products that is doesn't have a distinct flavor. Yes, to some extent it masks the hard labor of the others on the team, but Joe Artist at Pixar isn't any better known in the field just because Pixar brands the studio moreso than the director.

Ultimately, its the dream of individual recognition as an auteur, rather than collective recognition as part of a team, that drives creativity (in my opinion.) I think more programmers would rather be known as "the next Carmack" rather than "the next senior programmer at id." When it comes time to give impressive keynotes at the GDC, Maxis isn't the one that comes on stage and wows everyone, it's Will Wright. Ultimately, the studio is going to be stronger helmed by a recognizable creator with a unique vision, rather than a well-known studio.

Regarding face time: I don't ever see Spielberg in the movies, only on making-of specials and award shows. There's no reason that can't work for devs - the GDC, E3, and making-of videos in games provide ample face time for devs. Likewise, authors don't get literal face-time, but they DO have their name plastered on the front, back, and spine of the book. Hideo Kojima is known for doing this - all his boxes proudly say "Directed by Hideo Kojima." Unsurprisingly, many gamers recognize the name readily, if not the face.

Also regarding star-power, while it can't save a bad movie all the time, it can propel a movie in the initial phases. Will Smith is known as a the most bankable star in Hollywood, and his films continue to perform well despite sometimes poor critical reaction. I'm pretty sure that "Dukes of Hazzard" was helped and not hurt by Jessica Simpson's presence. I know I, for one, will automatically buy a title with "Sid Meier" or "Will Wright" written on it.

gf

I know I, for one, will automatically buy a title with "Sid Meier" or "Will Wright" written on it.


on the flipside, I would be pretty annoyed if I worked on a title and busted my ass off as much as the next (non overtime paid) guy and it said "Joe Smith's: SomeGame". Like Scott said, not sure if that kind of branding is good for team morale in smaller companies. (My bias even makes me less likely to buy one of those games because it p*sses me off :), of course that's of no relevance for marketing in general.)

James O

Well, when we see a Spielberg movie or what not, it's very clearly labelled "A Spielberg film" or whatever. It seems to work there. Perhaps it works better for huge teams vs. small teams, but the developers who would achieve name-recognition status would likely be the ones who could afford to hire large teams for content production. It would be disenfranchising to an extent yes, but the commercial benefits are substantial, and building these industry luminaires is ultimately beneficial to the industry, certainly much more so than making individuals lurk in obscurity while the studio collective is pimped instead.

brian

maybe one way to get developers more face time would be to have as easter eggs/outtakes commentary and production video shots of the creator and how the game came into being. Most people didn't know who Peter Jackson was from the Lord of the Rings, but the DVD extras provided a way for the viewer to get to know him and his thought process in directing the trilogy. Now that King Kong is coming out, I'd guess a few fans will watch it because it is directed by Jackson.

brian

Another thing hindering the industry is that in the mainstream media, games receive almost no face time with the reader/viewer so we don't get to know the people behind the games. Books have weekly book review sections in newspapers, movies have celebrity rags and TV shows, musicians have their own publicity media--radio and HAD MTV. All we have is the niche G4 channel, which is pathetically produced to boot.

mythusmage

A license has the advantage of being pre-sold. There will be people looking for almost anything bearing a recognized name, and willing to purchase it. A license has the disadvantage of being transient. Once the buzz over the original fades away anything identified with it fades as well, and could fade even faster and more precipitously.

Consider Pokemon, Wizards of the Coast, and Hasbro. Hasbro bought Wizards largely because Wizards had the Pokemon TCG license. But Pokemon faded, and the TCG faded with it. With license fees dropping off Nintendo decided to produce their own Pokemon TCG in order to maximize what income was left from the property.

The disadvantage of original work is that it must be sold. A greater effort has to be put into promoting it. You have to build an audience for it. The advantage of original work is that you own it. You can sell the rights to another party, but no one can take it away from you. Furthermore, an original is more apt to become evergreen. A continuing seller. It doesn't rely on another product's continuing popularity for its continuing success. In addition, without the financial burden of licensing fees an original doesn't need to sell nearly as well to be a success.

If companies thought and planned long term you'd see more original projects. But thought and planning tends to the short term, so licensed products are favored because they last just long enough to make a quarterly balance sheet look good. Whereas original projects very often don't see anything like a substantial return on investment for some time. The result is an emphasis on immediate return with a consequent de-emphasizing of long term investment.

The nigh pathological demand for 'cutting edge' graphics and neat toys don't help much. These days a Castle Falkenstein wouldn't even reach distribution. Far as I can see the demand for look has swamped the demand for play, and thus has meant a degradation of play quality to the detriment of computer and video gaming as a whole.

Maybe what we need is a collapse of the market, to drive away that element of the gaming public that fixates on flash to the harm of substance. But that aint gonna happen until something new comes along that'll keep them enraptured better than games currently do.

Chris

Manual trackback (couldn't get the automated trackback system to work):

https://onlyagame.typepad.com/only_a_game/2005/08/the_power_of_br.html

Tadhg

"PaG, I'm not in favor of branding a single creator because it undermines the many people behind the game. And, I think studios are nearly as adequate for branding purposes. Most of us don't care, for example, who directed a Pixar movie, we just care that it's coming from Pixar Studio.

A few studios like Blizzard and Bioware have this level of branding."

I think this used to be the case more than it is now though. What you're talking about is essentially the 'band' model, where fans gather around a creative group and love its output. Bullfrog, Blizzard, Bioware, for example.

However, games teams have grown well out of the size of band-level efforts nowadays, and they have become increasingly anonymous as a result. Blizzard is a classic example. The people at the core of Blizzard left a long time back. So who exactly ARE Blizzard any more, if not just a front name for a large generic team. I think that the gamer public are becoming aware of this, and so trusting 'developer' teams less as a hallmark of quality.

The advantage, however fair or unfair it may appear, of singling out an author figure is that that can't happen. You can't replace Michael Ancel with someone else and still retain his brand. This leads to the good (like Ancel, Wright, Miyamoto) and the bad (Romero), but at least it retains a common thread of distinctiveness and personality, which increasing corporate entities are just unable to keep.

"In the movie industry it's easier to pull off because everyone is hired on a project-by-project basis. But so far in the game industry people stay at a studio for multiple projects, and so they are much more invested in the studio from a career standpoint, and emotionally. It wouldn't be fair to give all the credit to one person in the company, and it would hurt morale."

Yes, but the games industry is drifting over to project-to-project basis more and more, because it costs less. Most artists and animators especially can't get permanent work for love nor money any more, and the trend is creeping over into other areas. Game development companies are too inefficient and with uncertain goals. The game production company is the future.

Brian 'Psychochild' Green

I think the biggest problem most people are ignoring: it's hard to be creative. Most of us here have a talent for creativity, so we tend to ignore this fact. But, for most people, creating an original IP is really, REALLY hard. On the other hand, implementing something based on a licensed property isn't quite so hard. That's one of the main reasons why original IP is so valuable: it's relatively rare. If anyone could do it, we wouldn't see whole industries making money off of these IPs.

In addition, it's hard to create original IP even if you are creative. If you accept the postmodernist theories, then everything original has already been done; we're just re-arranging pieces of previous works. Yeah, I don't buy that, either. But, you have to accept the fact that it's hard to be truly original without treading on someone else's previous work. And, sometimes you have to accept some creative re-interpretation as being "original"; after all, even Duke Nuk'em was a caricature of dozens of macho-men archetypes.

This is the reason why we see licensed IP, especially IP that has shown some staying power. It's much easier to take those IPs and make other products out of them rather than making new products out of completely new IP.

zarryo

"Owning an arm's length list of home grown IP should be the goal of every publisher, because it gives them ultimate control of their own destiny and revenues."

Excellent point. So what's the stopper from the publisher's end?

I agree with Brian Green... "It's much easier to take those IPs and make other products out of them rather than making new products out of completely new IP."

Charles E. Hardwidge

It's okay to cherry pick a few licenses now and then, but if I ran a publisher (fat chance!) I'd be focused on creating original brands that I fully controlled, and could exploit across other media.

If you look at development and distribution, as two halves of a single strategy, what we're dealing with isn't anything special, it's just a matter of resource deployment. As any army knows, you can have the best soldiers in the world, but it's logistics that really wins the war. And if the Generals are losing the war, replace the Generals. That is, I think, the crux of your argument.

Looking back over history, I'm sure there's plenty of lessons littering the place that show what a contribution experimental projects have made to war efforts, whether it's Ironclads, V Rockets, or the Special Air Service. The great philosopher Bertrand Russell, the great author Arthur C. Clarke, and great spiritual leader Guatama, founder of Buddhism, all knew the value of welcoming change.

The theory here, and it's one Scott might be able to fill in from his knowledge of marketing, is that a measured amount of forced change may help bring in just enough creativity to add a more vital spin to the industry as a whole. Some individuals do it, some development companies do it, but the average corporation needs to set aside a budgeted amount for special projects to make the otherwise ignorant and stupid dinosaur evolve up the food chain. They systemize creativity.

I'd propose 10% of a publishers budget should go on novel projects. Any takers?

Charles E. Hardwidge

Regarding face time: I don't ever see Spielberg in the movies, only on making-of specials and award shows. There's no reason that can't work for devs - the GDC, E3, and making-of videos in games provide ample face time for devs.

Yup. I don't buy that 'face time' argument. Sure, it's important, but it's not the only ingredient in the mix, as other discussion has shown. I think, the real secret is whether that person has qualities that resonate with an audience. Their work, their face, news reports? It's all the same spirit.

Evolutionary capitalism has it that only the innovative survive, so roll on online distribution and far more efficient tools, utterly different marketing strategies and artistic aspirations. Those are the things that will generate success in the long run.

One thing I've learned is that the more things change, the more they stay the same. In this, I think, is the difference between theatre and television, and is an interesting contrast between where things are today and where they might be tomorrow. It's a cost, accessibility, and content progression.

We've all seen comparisions between books, films, music, and games. Another comparision I've considered is the pharmaceutical drugs industry. They have their 'blockbusters' which cost zillions to produce, rushes of copycat products, a generic market, and strange alternatives from unexpected quarters.

As much as we all share the same desire for better games, because they're more interesting to produce and experience, and however much Scotts topics and follow-up commentry are interesting and informative, it could be that we're a little too focused and that it will come in time, whatever we say or do.

I've long since retired, my son has moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said "Id like to see you if you dont mind"
He said "Id love to dad If I could find the time.
You see my new jobs a hassle, and the kids have the flu.
But Its sure nice talking to you, dad, Its been sure nice talking to you."
And as he hung up the phone It had occured to me
He'd grown up just like me, my boy, was just like me.

Sometimes, waiting produces a result if you give things a good start and a firm push.

J.

FYI, THQ is gambling that a little startup in Boston called Iron Lore will produce their next cash cow, a prettied-up roguelike called Titan Quest.

Dave

Nothing personal, but I think this is the usual sort of publisher bashing I have seen around many forums and blogs. Some of the problems with your argument simply stem from not really knowing what publishers _are_ supporting - for instance THQ, EA and others.. while having alot of franchised IP titles.. also invest heavily in new IP. The problem is, that the majority of new IP developers cant actually create a title in the production time-frames that are usually required. So the developer misses milestones, and wastes money hand over fist (often the publishers are very tolerant imho, and let milstones slide quite a bit).. and then once the publisher realises that it was a bad investment and time to pull out, its often too late - usually 8+months.. and most often over 1+ million USD down the tube..

So as other people say, its alot to do with risk management. And also to do with sticking to companies that can meet production deadlines. An original IP game has a large amount of risk involved, and is usually developed by people who are 'first timers' in the industry.. this is just a bad combo.. Stalker anyone..

gf

Just would like to point out that the general publisher bashing on the net is about lack of original gameplay more than it's about original IPs. An original IP doesn't have to be innovative w.r.t. gameplay, likewise a licensed IP could in theory be innovative.

As for the first time devs, most of them will likely not even own the IP they created (since publishers don't like that), original or not, and if a dev doesn't own it I find the whole thing moot. At least personally I don't care if a publisher would make more cash of original or licensed, if it does nothing to improve the situation for the devs :)

Tom

John Carmack has said this in his QuakeCon keynote:

"One of the kind of interesting statistics that Todd and Marty told me just earlier today, is that the entire Quake franchise, all the titles that have been produced on it, our titles, our licensee titles, have generated over a billion dollars in revenue worldwide."

That's about ten times as much as I would've expected...

Viridian

Sorry, but I feel I must point this out: Wolfenstein was not an original IP for Id. They licensed it from the "Castle Wolfenstein" and "Beyond Castle Wolfenstein" Apple II games by Silas Warner. On the other hand, all of their previous 2D games WERE original IPs (the Commander Keen series), though the gameplay was obviously Super Mario Brothers-inspired. Perhaps a studio could do best by doing a licensed IP well first, making some money off of that, and then branching out into their own stuff? I can't help but wonder what cool original stuff Treyarch could do, for instance, with all that cash from their Spider-Man 2 game...maybe we could finally get a sequel to Die by the Sword.

Jare

>> "The people at the core of Blizzard left a long time back. So who exactly ARE Blizzard any more, if not just a front name for a large generic team. I think that the gamer public are becoming aware of this, and so trusting 'developer' teams less as a hallmark of quality"

"Blizzard", "Pixar", "Bioware" are also a development ethos of delivering the absolute best, every time. If they start to fail, people will lose confidence in the name. As long as they keep producing stuff that people love, emphasizing the name behind those products is a way to improve marketing.

On the other hand, attaching licensed IPs to a brand name can be way to dilute the power of that brand name. It worked out great for Bioware because they created the only good Star Wars game in ages, so it's not a clear-cut issue.

I don't see why this can't work for game directors. The first thing I tell any new recruits is that they're going to spend many years in the trenches, until they accumulate the expertise and prove they have the talent necessary for someone to entrust them with the responsability of directing a game. How many people put out enough consistently great games for their names to be worthy of attention? I think we know who they are.

Harry Kalogirou

IP is just like anything else that can be bought. For example companies buy game engines since is cuts of the burden of creating it from scrach and removes the chance that the internal developed engine sucks so the game hits the bottom. Yes if they develop a powerfull engine they make their game and they are also left with an engine that can license to others and capitalize on.

The same goes with IP. You can make you own IP, ricking that it will be non-original and non-innovative. Or you can go with a licensed IP that is a sure bet.

It is all about rick...

Charles E. Hardwidge

The first thing I tell any new recruits is that they're going to spend many years in the trenches, until they accumulate the expertise and prove they have the talent necessary for someone to entrust them with the responsibility of directing a game.

We can all think of publicly discussed examples were what you say is proven to be a good policy. I'm a great fan of the idea of apprenticeships, which have gone hideously out of fashion, but apprenticeships were created for a reason. They enforced a junior role while knowledge, experience, and attitudes were imparted from people higher up the food chain. Financial and economic pressures squeezed apprenticeships out of British industry, but it came with a price, which you very carefully observe.

Looking at the bigger picture, changes in this area have been mirrored in the media. Long established newspapers, and newly established television broadcasters, were ruled and staffed by a well-educated and patriarchal old-boy network. The 80's boom saw rapid changes in work practices, ownership, and a huge expansion. The old elite became unfashionable and were replaced by the hungry young. Influenced by and influencing change, the quality of talent sucked in dropped as the quantity of output rose.

Today, we have an over-supply of everything, with a just good-enough production quality, and the lack of integrity and relative thinking behind this has helped create a very uncertain, amoral, and unsatisfying experience, with knock-on effects that fuel an already poor situation. Initially, it might sound like I'm pulling a prophet of doom routine, but there's a silver lining to this cloud. The relaxing of barriers has put more people in play, and a reexamination of fundamentals can shape a better alternative.

Now, the way I see this happening, and Scotts topics and the follow-up comments in here play a part in this, is most people have a pretty good idea what's what, even if they need a prod from time to time. Really, I don't think most people want to do a bad job, if for no other reason than they want to respect themselves when they go home, and talking about these issues and ways forward does make an impact, however slight. By identifying the problem, producing a solution, and making people belive it's possible, you make crisis manageable and recovery achievable.

The impression I get is most people know what's wrong, a few notable people make a speech from time to time, then everyone ducks their heads back in the sand because they're too scared to make a move on their own. A great deal of that is down to, I think, the general drift of popular topics and discussion. Typically, most developer interviews and public discussion revolves around technical and creative subjects, or financial affairs. It very rarely attempts to influence character and relationship aspects of the game industry. Being more assertive would put it on the agenda. And peer pressure is a powerful thing.

Charlie Cleveland

The thing that gets me here is that good IP isn't that hard to create. I'm not saying anyone can do it, but it's definitely not rocket science. If you look at something like Half-life, what exactly comprises the IP? There wasn't a lot of backstory that was written for it (not if the Making of Half-life book is any indication), and if there were, they weren't given to players. Tons of work went into the concept art, feel of the levels, sound effects and music, but most of that work is going to be done whether or not you're creating new IP.

For Natural Selection, we have an embarassingly-small amount of assets that I think constitute the core of our IP. It's definitely not the most valuable thing in the world, but it definitely has some value, most of which is built from less then 10 4-page stories (which most players never read), maybe 30 pieces of concept work, and then all our usual final assets. I think that creating a new property and giving it away for free is a fantastic and fantastically-cheap way of creating properties, and deciding which ones are worth putting the resources of a full AAA title and ad campaign behind.

I think publishers are crazy not to learn from the mod movement here. Create something new. Give it away for free. See if it sticks. If so, throw your full money behind it and make money off the sequel.

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