Looking a little more closely, though, it's interesting to consider Take-Two's approach to franchise building. The company has a clear objective - it wants to build a stable of valuable IP which it owns and controls. It's hardly the only company with that objective, of course, but while plenty of publishers down the years have talked the talk, the sad reality is that their risk-averse nature has deterred them from walking the walk. After brave words about nurturing original IP, many publishers have found themselves falling back on IP licensing deals - deals which gave them nice, safe properties to push onto the market, and often, someone else to blame if it all went wrong.
Herein lies the rub, though - those licensed titles, although they obviously continue to sell well, now generally fall neatly into the casual gaming end of the spectrum. Moreover, while kids' licenses are still a solid proposition, their quality has arguably been on the up for some time - helped along by high-profile successes such as LEGO Star Wars, which has shown buyers what a really good quality game for this market can do. Shovelware is still out there, but it's less prevalent and more risky than before - not least since this market, most of all, is hit by the rise of vastly cheaper gaming options online and on other platforms.
As for adult licenses, that's an even tougher market. It's worth noting that almost no major summer action blockbuster in recent years has had a tie-in game - instead, licensed titles have generally been resurrections of old IP or, in isolated interesting cases such as Starbreeze's Riddick games, acknowledged as the successful continuations of franchises which won't be back on the cinema screen any time soon.
So where's a publisher to turn? There's still a huge audience out there that's willing to pay pretty high prices for core content - that much is obvious. Indeed, this is the audience that's going to be most resilient in the face of continuing downward pressure on prices, even if publishers have to start playing smarter overall - using DLC, subscriptions, special editions and eventually even thinking in terms of ARPU rather than up-front SRP.
"Not every publisher, of course, can afford to make that kind of investment."
Happily, the solution to keeping this audience satisfied seems to be to invest the time and effort required to bring original IP up to the level of blockbuster franchise. Take-Two's example here is, again, interesting and informative. Take the Red Dead franchise - a reasonably solid performing IP but far from blockbuster status, prior to the most recent iteration, which received the care, attention and quality required to turn it into an eight-million-unit-selling blockbuster.
It's also interesting to note that the Mafia series, whose first iteration was also far from being a huge seller, has spawned a sequel that brought the franchise up to five million unit sales. BioShock, another new IP which represented a major risk at launch, enjoys over eight million franchise sales. Looking beyond Take-Two, it'll be fascinating to see how Dead Space 2 has performed overall - EA has lavished care and attention in the franchise, rather than dropping it after the first iteration performed solidly but unremarkably, and the buzz around the second game seems to have been fantastic, suggesting the possibility of great sales in the medium to long term.
Not every publisher, of course, can afford to make that kind of investment - which is, to a large degree, why the field of core publishing has become so hostile to mid-range publishers. It's not just about budgets - it's about appetite for risk and willingness to commit to building a long-term portfolio of IP, both of which are generally the domain of larger, more secure companies.
Yet if we're losing some of the smaller publishers because of that, the reality is that from a creative perspective, things haven't looked this rosy in a while. Critics will always bemoan the appearance of sequels - but sequels to original IP franchises, coming from publishers with a demonstrated appetite for the risk of founding such franchises, are a damn sight better than endless tie-ins with summer blockbuster movies. If core gamers ever feel ignored or threatened when they read all of the coverage about social or mobile gaming, they're mistaken - there's never been a better time to be a fan of core gaming experiences.
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