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."