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"With respect to the franchises that don’t have the potential to be exploited every year across every platform, with clear sequel potential that can meet our objectives of, over time, becoming $100 million-plus franchises, that’s a strategy that has worked very well for us."
Above, you read the words of Activision CEO Robert Kotick, on the dropping of Brutal Legend and other titles after the Vivendi merger. We all hate to hear it, but there's something to his assertion that it made sense for Activision to drop Ghostbusters and others titles, due to the fact that they can't be spun into yearly franchises that will be consistent earners.
It may not appeal to our sense of artistry -- and Activision's focus on a "one size fits all" approach (can every viable game idea work on DS? Of course not) may well be overkill. But the game industry has been built on a foundation of franchises and sequels. They may not have to come every year, but they must come -- Nintendo isn't abandoning Mario and Zelda in the face of Wii Fit's success.
John Riccitiello, while still maintaining that quality is key to the "new EA" -- in fact, his company just formerly announced that it's publishing the orphaned Brutal Legend -- still agrees, in the face of a disappointing fall season: "...quality has not yet translated into enough sales," he said. Next year: titles with more "hit potential" than Mirror's Edge.
It's a tough line to walk: we're hoping that we can stay on the more appealing side of it. But there's no ignoring that repeatable success is key to keeping companies in the business of publishing games -- and bankrolling the less sure thing.
It used to be that making a hit game was enough. At this point, it's not about the game -- it's about the franchise. And that franchise had better map beyond games to comics, films, viral marketing campaigns, tabletop RPGs -- whatever.
The importance is not just in creating something with recognizable characters or situations; it's creating a world with a richness that maps well to multiple media, something with texture that can be expanded without veering away from the core integrity of the original product. When Microsoft sent game reviewers Gears of War 2, it came packed with a graphic novel and a prose novel. And witness Dead Space's animated movie debuting alongside the game.
Final Fantasy VII was never intended, in 1997, to be more than a single game, but has swelled to encompass several, and a film too -- and now 2009's Final Fantasy XIII was fundamentally created not in a vacuum, but as one facet of a theme-based expandable media universe with its own name and concept (the pretentious Fabula Nova Crystallis, or New Stories of the Crystals in English -- which reveals its intent.)
These universes not only allow for new games that explore the core ethos of that universe without relying on the specific situations of any one constituent product, but allow creative satisfaction for a variety of visionaries to contribute to the health of a company's bottom line.
It's a necessary way to tackle a very contemporary impulse.