Is the gaming industry becoming more like Hollywood?

April 13, 2011, Author: Ray Willmott

Is the gaming industry becoming more and more like Hollywood? Are they overly exercising the sequel and remake clause? Are our favorite gaming licenses being worn too thin? We may not notice so much as the industry is still very much in its infancy, but considering that some games have sequels that reach as far as 14, some even more, it is time to consider the direction the video game industry is headed in. Some may say this is a pointless post as money talks. That is absolutely true and no matter what entertainment industry you’re in, money will ultimately determine the outcome of everything. If there is still demand for something, you’re going to see more of it. That’s how the Sonic games continue to thrive, that’s how Mario has lasted so long, that’s why Halo and Call of Duty continue to have more and more games released under their respective banner.

Hollywood has come under similar criticism over the last few years, remaking classic films and adding more installments to established series. For example, this year, the cinema box office includes Transformers 3, The Hangover 2, Sherlock Holmes 2, Cars 2, Pirates 4, Scream 4 and remakes of Conan and Footloose.

Unfortunately, this does beg the question; is the industry showing early apprehension of trying new things because they feel their games need to be branded with something already established? Are developers becoming gun-shy in exploring new intellectual property? Is this another Hollywood in the making?

Before we go any further, let’s take a look at the list of some of the most anticipated games scheduled for 2011.

  • Deus Ex Human Revolution
  • Portal 2
  • Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception
  • X-COM
  • Mass Effect 3
  • Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • Saints Row The Third
  • Resistance 3
  • Twisted Metal
  • Child of Eden
  • Crysis 2
  • Mortal Kombat
  • Duke Nukem Forever
  • Alice Madness Returns
  • Batman: Arkham City
  • Lego Star Wars 3
  • Gears of War 3
  • Unannounced Assassin’s Creed project
  • Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword
  • Unannounced Call of Duty Project

Will Modern Warfare return in 2011 and dominate the market all over again?

While I’m certain there are more, this just gives you some indication of what’s on the horizon. Meanwhile, let’s then look at what has already arrived this year.

  • Dead Space 2
  • Marvel vs Capcom 3
  • Killzone 3
  • Little Big Planet 2

A stacked line-up, to be sure, but one that is also filled with familiar products. Of course, you can take this even further and start looking at the development behind some games that are branded differently. For example, you can argue that ‘Child of Eden’ is a new intellectual property from Ubisoft, you can also argue that it is based on the World depicted in Rez HD and the game developers are not shy in admitting that. You can also argue that the return of Deus Ex and X-Com may as well be new games as they’re re-imaginings of the old school PC games.

It’s not all ‘more of the same’, though. We do have new IP due out this year. The likes of L.A Noire, RAGE, Homefront, The Last Guardian, Brink and Bulletstorm will be appearing or have already materialised, all of which are considered high-profile releases. In fact, there is a strong buzz for all of these titles based on pedigree, playability and look. In many cases, word of mouth has already spread for these games based on journalists getting hands-on experiences and those who attend expos getting the chance to sample the latest games. However, will it be enough?

Both Bulletstorm and Homefront have now launched, so we can certainly put that theory to the test.

Does Kill with Skill mean lots of money?

From its launch on February 25th to today, Bulletstorm has still failed to sell 1m copies across 3 formats. Bulletstorm suffered immensely on PS3 due to launching alongside Killzone 3 and the PC version has gone practically ignored. As one might expect, the version which has sold the best is the Xbox 360 version, due to the game launching with an entry key into the Gears of War 3 beta, however, between that and a massive marketing push by Epic, Bulletstorm still hasn’t even come close to achieving its projected sales, despite getting solid reviews across the board and ending up with an 83/84 average on Metacritic.

On the other hand, THQ’s Homefront has already passed 1m units sold since its launch on March 11th and so far, has enjoyed the most profitable day one release for a game in the UK this year. To make things even more interesting, Homefront only managed a 69/70 average on Metacritic, making it lower than Bulletstorm’s average and, according to vgchartz.com, has sold more on the Xbox 360 than Bulletstorm, despite Bulletstorm offering the player an opportunity to experience the Gears 3 beta. What makes this even stranger is that no demo of Homefront has been made available for people to play.

It seems that sales of new IP in 2011 is a mixed bag, with Homefront being a run-away success story and Bulletstorm barely able to make a return profit.

Not even early access to a Gears 3 beta can topple Homefront's sales

Looking back to 2010, the success of original IP’s was also a mixed bag. In terms of major retail releases, Alan Wake, Bayonetta, Darksiders & Vanquish managed to hit at least 1m sold over time, whereas, Enslaved and Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom didn’t fare so well, with Enslaved not even cracking the 500k barrier. Some say sales of these games suffered because 2010 was filled with so many quality releases and there was too much vying for people’s attention and finances. That’s definitely one factor that would stand in the way of the success of these games, but when you consider mass marketing machines SEGA and Microsoft were behind Bayonetta and Alan Wake respectively, and the games only managed to barely scrape 1m sales each, it makes you wonder what chance there is for other, smaller developing houses to try something different.

Need further proof ? Get your head around this little statistic: Enslaved has sold just over 460,000 units in total, Worldwide. Call of Duty Black Ops sold 7 million units on day one and over 20 million units in total.

Mind blowing when put into context, isn’t it? It also shows you where the money is to be made in the games industry and goes a long way to explain why we’re seeing a bare minimum of new intellectual properties at retail.

That being said, Dance Central was a new IP designed exclusively for Microsoft Kinect and has shifted almost 2m units since the launch of the peripheral, with continued steady sales since November.

Fortunately, however, it’s not just retail that births new ideas. Many new intellectual properties can be sourced back to PSN, WiiWare and XBLA. Last year saw the release of Limbo, Monday Night Combat, Super Meat-Boy, Comic Jumper, Deathspank, Shank, Costume Quest and more. In fact, original intellectual properties have begun to flourish through the arcade because of the cheaper price.

For example, Super Meat-Boy has achieved 600,000 sales up to the present day across all formats. Limbo was even nominated as a Game of the Year candidate by BAFTA. That trend of new IP on the marketplace also seems to have rolled into 2011, with many new games appearing including Torchlight, Stacking and Swarm. Perhaps this is the best suited place for smaller companies to advertise their new ideas, if you look at companies such as Twisted Pixel, Hothead Games and Double Fine, you’ll see how well off they’ve become from using the online model to their advantage.

It seems, that for the time being, they’ve found a new, home and are making themselves comfortable in these new surroundings. For now, it seems, the place to find most new IP is through the medium of downloads and that doesn’t seem set to change for some time.

BAFTA Nominated Brilliance

Many can argue its different having sequels and remakes of games than movies as more can be done, but how long can we keep saying that before the argument starts to run thin? Just because they’re sequels to games, developers try to stay as much within the same guidelines that made the original so successful as they can. Gears 2 received some combat tweaks over the original, but it uses the same engine, it has the same gameplay mechanics. The Halo games are basically the same with enhanced visual tweaks and some new weapons, and lets not even talk about Call of Duty, shall we?

What about games that have started to become so successful that now they may be expanded further and further? For example , with EA acquiring Bioware and Mass Effect 2 having such considerably brilliant sales in comparison to the original and obviously more advertising behind it, what was originally only going to be a trilogy may now change. Bioware are already talking about potential spin-offs and have gone a long way to expanding the world with comics, literature and now anime. Will the demand from the publishers be so high that Mass Effect 4 or 5 will become a reality where it wouldn’t have been before? Are we likely to see more spin-offs for the series? Will they continue to churn out sequels, just as Hollywood have done, until the quality ultimately diminishes?

This may be a tough pill to swallow, I, like everyone else, love some of these gaming series’ and am excited by all the new features being introduced into my favourite games, and seeing new stories created in compelling Worlds I’m already invested in, ultimately, that’s what matters. Yet, I’m becoming increasingly mindful that much of the current catalogue of games we appreciate and look forward to are rarely new intellectual escapades.

Having too much Shephard can't be a bad thing, can it?

Looking to 2012, the landscape doesn’t seem to be changing much either, with Bioshock Infinite, Ninja Gaiden 3, Diablo 3 and Prototype 2 already announced to be in development. I know that Bioshock Infinite is almost a completely different game from its predecessors as the game takes place in the air as opposed to underwater and the concept of Big Daddies is completely different, but the fact is, they’ve still branded it Bioshock. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it’s not all down to financial reasons and another reason it has been branded Bioshock is because it will have some direct affiliation with the previous games. However, it does make one wonder.

Are we, the gaming industry, running the same risks as Hollywood of becoming over-saturated with sequels and remakes? Are we running out of ideas? Do we have to resort to old games, stories and characters in order to make the best use of current technology? What do you think?