New IP must attempt to be first to market if it is to have a chance of flourishing in today’s console game environment. This was the message from Gareth Wilson, chief games designer from Sumo Digital at a Gamasutra-attended presentation at the Develop conference, Brighton today.
"New IP needs to focus on teens and tweens and young families to be a success right now in the console cycle," he said. "It is not the time to focus new console game IP at the opinion formers and the core gamers as new IPs do better in a less-crowded space."
"If you want to make AAA games for a core gaming audience, you need to be first-to-market. As such, it’s just not the time to do that right now on consoles."
"Today’s game industry is a pretty worrying place," he said. "It used to be that if you had a decent game of any genre it would tend to make its money back, at very least. Right now there are huge numbers of well-rated games that are not selling at all or making their money back."
Wilson argued that, in part, this is a symptom of the current phase of the console cycle. "The console cycle begins with a burst of creation," he explained. "Then it moves to growth, then, as more and more games enter the market, to complexity and maturity."
"At this point the cycle moves to chaos when there are too many products, finally dropping off and sliding into dormancy. I believe we are in a period of dormancy right now, with many studios having been crushed in the recent chaos phase."
Wilson was speaking with first-hand experience, having been the design manager at Bizarre Creations, a studio that closed following the commercial failure of its racing title, Blur. "Blur was the wrong game for the wrong time," he said. "Had we released at the start of a console cycle, and been first to market, the core audience would have been far more likely to take a risk on the property."
Wilson advised studios wanting to launch a new IP aimed at a core audience today to focus on a mainstream license, pointing to Batman: Arkham Asylum as a good example of a game to achieve this successfully. "Alternatively, you need to go mass market, as Majesco’s Zumba Fitness has done, fast becoming the best selling new IP in the UK."
Wilson also encouraged developers to experiment on lower budget platforms. "The download market is now a viable place on lower budget platforms. Limbo is a game that would never be green-lit three years ago, but last year was the third best-selling title on XBLA. Likewise, Rovio created 50 games before hitting upon success with Angry Birds. This kind of risk-taking, iterative release process would not be possible in AAA development, but is a good way to test the waters and gain useful knowledge.”
Wilson’s message wasn’t entirely devoid of hope. "While we are currently in a period of dormancy, I believe that those studios that have survived the recent period of chaos will last till the next burst of creativity in the industry. This is on the horizon, with Wii U, PS Vita and the next Xbox. The winners in AAA new IP in the next cycle will be those who are first to market," he concluded.