Note to Publishers: Don’t Neglect New IP!

Everyone has their favourite games and many games have been successful enough to go on to spawn sequels and become franchises. This can create a situation where a publisher may be inclined to “play it safe” and rely upon titles that have a proven sales track record and keep on churning out sequels at the expense of developing new properties, but this isn’t always a great strategy as the recent fate of Eidos would suggest.

Eidos is a company primarily known for two franchises: Tomb Raider and Championship Manager. Both games have had regular updates over the years and are well-promoted. Eidos has also launched new titles from time to time, but clearly these two (and Tomb Raider in particular) are favoured above all others.

Contrast Monster Lab with Tomb Raider: Underworld. Monster Lab was a game that Eidos published at the end of 2008. You couldn’t be blamed for not knowing about it because other than some previews at E3 and other big game events it never got a lot of media attention; probably due to the fact that there was no marketing push behind it by the publisher. A week after publication the game was discounted by %50 in GAME stores and garnered only one review from a major gaming site.

In response to my review, someone who worked on the game commented

“You can’t blame Eidos for not promoting it, they had a budget of 57p and clearly thought it would be better spent on Tomb Raider whilst they tried to claw cash in from wherever to keep the company going.”

With Eidos being a publicly traded company a business executive could focus on the quarterly results and put everything behind the proven franchise — rather than creating a “five year plan” around a mix of old and new IP — and expect to be viewed by shareholders as doing the right thing. Ultimately the strategy of exclusively concentrating marketing efforts on the existing Tomb Raider franchise failed with the result being the recently concluded buyout of Eidos by Square-Enix. One wonders if things might have gone differently for Eidos had they put a little more money into marketing their new games or even gave the Tomb Raider franchise a rest for awhile to focus exclusively on new IP.

THQ is another independent company facing pressure on their bottom line, but unlike Eidos they have recognised that they cannot be dependent upon their old licensed properties forever and recent titles like De Blob and Deadly Creatures have been well-promoted and garnered favourable response from reviewers at gaming news sites. Neither title has gone on to break sales records, but De Blob apparently sold well enough that a multi-platform sequel is due in the near future. Whilst it may ultimately be a case of too little, too late for THQ, the decision to focus on new quality releases as well as licensed property and existing franchises indicates a recognition that you cannot put all your eggs into one basket in the current environment.

Even large companies like EA recognise the fact that new quality-driven releases like Boom Blox are needed to ensure the long-term health of their enterprise. EA VP Ray Muzyka told

“I think the strategy is working pretty well. It’s a good strategy in the sense that it can lead to higher returns, because the fans appreciate that you’re investing in quality, and they appreciate that you’re investing in innovation.”

The Wii has been a huge gamble that paid off; if it didn’t appeal to such a broad audience this could well have been the Nintendo’s last foray into the games console market. But even Nintendo is not above criticism in neglecting new IP: Disaster Day of Crisis is an example of a title that garnered generally favourable, if mixed, reviews but scant promotion from Nintendo and seems to have little chance of a North American release. If a company has the confidence in a title to publish it, it should also have the confidence to promote it!

There is room for both old and new game properties, but publishing the games shouldn’t be where it ends. In an increasingly crowded market with online and disc offerings competing for the attention of gamers on today’s consoles, publishers would do well to put more effort into marketing their new titles to support their long-term futures.