GDC 06: Young hypes hot IPs

EALA boss Neil Young implores developers to create unique intellectual property as in-game features; rewards will be greater both commercially and critically.

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Pressures in the game industry to increase the bottom line often lead to calls for more games and more franchises, but publishers should also focus on new features to drive sales, says Neil Young, vice president and general manager at Electronic Arts in Los Angeles. In a session titled "Creating: Inventing Feature IP and Understanding Its Benefits" at this year's Game Developers Conference, Young outlined the advantages of focusing on features early, rather than trying to come up with new and original characters every time.

He started off the presentation with definitions and examples of feature intellectual property. "Feature IP is a new, feature-level system, and good feature IP should have two dimensions of impact--critical and commercial."

To illustrate the concept, Young discussed what he considered feature IP. One example was the introduction of Aspirations to Sims 2. "It coexisted with and leveraged the needs and motives system [of the original Sims]. It added a new dimension to the gameplay, because it gave you objective-based gameplay without breaking the game."

Another example could be seen in the change from a flat world to an open world in Grand Theft Auto III. Instead of observing a world from above, GTAIII put the player into the middle of the city, immersing them in the story.

The benefits of feature IP are many, from helping to grow market share, to putting innovation into the lexicon of even large publishers, to fostering a culture capable of creativity.

Young further emphasized the impact of feature IP when discussing Gameface, an innovation that allowed players to customize the appearance of their in-game characters and shipped with Tiger Woods 2004.

This success included a year-on-year growth rate of 44 percent and more than $40 million in revenue, as well as the ability to use this technology across games. For example, Gameface was modified for use in the Godfather game, under the name Mobface.

The versatility of feature IP was another reason Young believes it's so important, saying "it has the ability to impact 100% of your portfolio, whatever your game is."

In order for companies to take advantage of feature IP, Young had a few suggestions. First, publishers should institutionalize invention and patience by adding more stages to the development process, even before preproduction. "You test your ideas, spend your time, and have the discipline and patience to try out new things. Let things fail, let new pieces of feature IP float to the surface."

Second, because smaller groups tend to be more creative than larger ones, Young encouraged companies to limit group numbers. "It's a lot easier to be creating when you're in a small group of people than when you're in a large group of people. If you think about it, there aren't that many rock groups that have more than seven people." Then he added jokingly, "Well, maybe Earth, Wind, and Fire."

His last suggestion was to focus feature IP. Instead of having a thousand mediocre features, focusing on one to three innovations was the foundation of a great game.

At the end of the session, Young encouraged developers to focus more on feature IP. "Large companies have to innovate, or else they'll stagnate, and people won't buy what they make. If we all [innovated], the industry and our customers would be a lot happier." Perhaps he was just eager to see developers come up with cool new concepts like the Gravity Gun of Half-Life 2, because in his words, "The gun was just really f***ing cool."

Discussion

32 comments
acesion
acesion

I hate EA i swear they had two great IP's and they justl et them slip Wing Commander and Ultima. Ultima is what The elderscrolls of today is, and well currently thier is no good Space sim. If they wanted to have some inovation then they should have realeased UO2 like 7 years a go which was going to do everything WOW could do and more. Also look at what they did tu burnout part 3 was fun but then i get revenge for 360 and i wished i didnt waist the 60 bucks i mean i have to press start 3 times for 2nd player to plug in every single match so instead of instant races i have to pause for about 1 minute and reconnect 2nd player every single race. They have good IP's and i guess i add to the problem with buying thier games its just like they are retards who dont know how to make a game fuction right so its not a pain in the ass to play.

balindos
balindos

I will agree with everybody here. EA has nothing on Innovation. You just buy innovation, you dont create it. Quit coping and innovate yourself.

Venantius
Venantius

I think that senselessly bashing EA without paying attention to the points Neil Young presents is a waste of time. We're all on the same page here; EA has a record of treating their coders badly and releasing sequels that are only marginal improvements on their predecessors, it's certainly true that the company could take a hint from Mr. Young's keynote here. Having said that, the theory that he puts forth about game design is one that undeniably works. The GTA series, for example, has been one that closely adhered to the formula: while maintaining the same overall play experience and fun, Rockstar changed certain fundamentals about the game between releases that really made it more enjoyable. GTA III added a whole new depth of play in the form of a properly 3D environment. Vice City changed the look of the game, added a voice to the main character, added motorcycles, and tweaked a few of the weapons and other vehicles. San Andreas expanded the play area nearly tenfold, as well as changing the workings of the graphics engine, and the play environment (an african-american gangster as opposed to a mobster). At the same time, there are definite successes that have emerged that do not rely on this theory. These are rare, it's true, but they define the industry on a permanent basis. Will Wright's initial release of SimCity would be a good example of this. While such novel innovation is now considerably rarer, I think it is still possible (indeed, if Spore ends up being all it's hyped up to be, it may be the next of such games). In conclusion, Young's theory is truly applicable only if you are trying to make a "follower" game into a success. That doesn't necessarily mean that it has to be a sequel, but if you're making a game that you yourself refer to as an "FPS", "RTS", "RPG", etc, there are clearly established play methods, and it is with those that you need to tinker and change.

Kfoss
Kfoss

dose anyone think his thumbnail picture makes him look like Max Payne...i do!.**randome statement*

CnC_King
CnC_King

I've personally met Neil Young. He's a great guy and well focussed on business. He believes what alot of EA does not, and now EA are slowly looking towards it's LA studios for new innovations. For the man who runs the studio that does not churn out games (BfME, C&C, Medal Of Honor) He's got his head screwed on. Give the guy a break, why do you think Command & Conquer has been held back so long? Feature IP's is exactly the reason why.... and his first evidence of these IPs will be the next C&C... since I'm confident that this will be the next game to hit the shop shelves from the EALA studio.

topraman517
topraman517

ha, i thought they were talking about THE Neil Young. Oh well...

WmRedwine
WmRedwine

Ok, everyone is an EA hater, right? You say they don't innovate. I have to say, they have made great innovations that have changed games in the short and long run. First I will admit that they do make a lot of sequels, and not all of them are innovative. You would have to admit, however, that the first Fight Night, the first Tiger Woods with analog control, SSX 3, and many other gmes by EA, which were technically sequels, innovated a LOT. I think that what EA has been doing has been great for them as far as sales go, and it has been pretty darn nice for gamers as well. So, i can't hate EA becuase I have played and enjoyed a great number of their games.

i_love_my_ds
i_love_my_ds

if this had come from any company besides EA i think it would actually matter.

PazUSA
PazUSA

What a bloody hypocrit...EA is the most non original development company in the entire industry - noone does more to squeeze every last dollar out of their franchises than EA (can anyone spell STREET as in Fifa Street, NBA Street, NFL Street....Next will be Medal Of Honr Street!). Give me a break, this has me steaming mad. I can't stand hypocrisy and these guys have it in spades. If you want creative IP stop rehashing the same crap year after year and give us something original.

mylsd
mylsd

oh, I was hoping to read a story about the great Neil Young (of the Crosby, Stills, & Nash legacy) and his love of new video game ideas.

liubo83
liubo83

And I thought it wasn't possible to hate EA more.

IllusionOfGaia0
IllusionOfGaia0

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

barnold81
barnold81

The Sims is about the only innovative product that EA has (I've never played it by the way, but it is the only game of its type). I also like EA's innovative strategy of dealing with competitors. Lock them out by obtaining exclusive rights to NFL titles. Oh yeah, that isn't innovative, Microsoft has been pulling substantially the same tricks for years with it's OS's and complementary software. My thoughts are that if EA's designers for the Madden franchise were truly "innovative" they wouldn't have tried to limit their competition. Notice how the quality of new Madden games isn't what it once was. Similarly, Coke and Pepsi wouldn't be what they are without each other. . . I don't play sports videogames, but I'm disgusted by what happened. I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Solarsonic7
Solarsonic7

Did anyone else click this because you thought they were talking about the musician?

John_of_Fire
John_of_Fire

I hate to agree with EA but the formula works. "Do one thing well rather than many things poorly."

NeoJedi
NeoJedi

I agree with this keynote... you don't have to completely redesign a game or invent new content everytime... just add new features to existing, well selling games.

PiMacleod_basic
PiMacleod_basic

they'll probably buy someone to innovate for them. j/k, j/k. :P

CaptainLunchbox
CaptainLunchbox

well at least they realize the direction they NEED to be taking. even though its merely being suggested.

dchan01
dchan01

Anyone listening to lectures on innovation by a VP from EA has a serious problem.

nemesis8722
nemesis8722

EA talking about creativity and innovation? Give me a freaking break.

skrewz2yewzyaho
skrewz2yewzyaho

Ok... apparently making redundant sequels to last year's hit games wasn't enough for EA, now they have to make redundant sequels to last year's NEW FEATURE. It's depressing really. I mean yes, inserting a few innovations into an already familiar package is the safe way to try something new. But it's also the boring way, and it limits how ambitious or unique those innovations are (which is actually probably the point). At a time like this, when the industry is starving for something unique and different, this is a miniscule baby step in the right direction, when a corporate giant like EA has the capacity (and the talent, and the bankroll) to be moving in leaps and bounds. As it is, it'll be years before their corporate paradigm will shift enough to allow them to offer any products of substantial innovation. Until then they should really leave the talk of innovation to the innovators instead of spouting a hopelessly feeble and conservative message in an attempt to be pervieved as forward thinking.

Truth01
Truth01

That man has some really good points, I hope the developers listen.

Lasafrog
Lasafrog

What a hypocrit. I haven't seen EA actually innovate much of anything since the Trip Hawkins days of Commodore developement.

wizdom73
wizdom73

Most of what he is saying is true. I rather see a company put out 4 or 5 great games a year then 10 or 12 garbage games.

Donkeljohn
Donkeljohn

I can see why an EA executive is saying that to the community. "Hey y'all innovate, and we'll just release a bunch of games while you are working on that one, really good game." But seriously, innovation is a creative direction while numbers relate to the business direction. Somewhere there is a happy medium with exceptionally innovative games selling high numbers.

0diablo0
0diablo0

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