Spot On: Reviving a brand

Eidos' global brand manager talks about breathing life back into Tomb Raider and making people forget (or at least forgive) Angel of Darkness.

by

Tomb Raider has been around for almost a decade, spawned a pair of blockbuster movies, and practically made a cottage industry out of its star's merchandising tie-ins, but few would deny it has fallen on hard times of late.

Last week, Eidos' attempt to repair the brand, Tomb Raider: Legend, arrived in stores for the PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Xbox 360. Definitive sales figures won't be available for about another month, but the reviews have been almost universally positive. Most of the reviews are saying the game is a return to form, or at least a step in the right direction from 2003's disappointing Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness.

Beyond just being met with critical apathy (to put it generously), Angel of Darkness was famously blamed by Paramount Pictures as the reason Angelina Jolie's film Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life fell far short of box office expectations in its opening weekend.

While Tomb Raider was still one of the most recognizable franchises in gaming, the brand was tainted. But even a tainted brand is still valuable. Just ask Howard Marks, the CEO of the new Acclaim Entertainment. Last year, Marks scooped up the rights to the oft-derided console game publisher's name after it went bankrupt. But the new Acclaim bears little resemblance to the old one; where the old Acclaim offered titles like BMX XXX and Turok: Evolution primarily for consoles, the new Acclaim imports Korean massively multiplayer online games and is among the first to test the waters of micropayment-based gaming in the American market. Despite the negative reputation the publisher had with many gamers and the lack of overlap in the products being offered, Marks felt the brand was worth picking up for a reported $100,000.

"Brands are critical to success in the games field," Marks explained. "The Acclaim brand has been experienced by over 200 million players. Players remember the games they have enjoyed and associate the brand with that experience. This type of relationship is extremely hard to re-create."

Lazard Capital Markets analyst Colin Sebastian says the value of a brand is built on trust--the idea that consumers are more likely to drop their money on products they're already familiar with.

"Tomb Raider is still a well-known brand," Sebastian said, "and you can count on at least some units moving at retail on that basis alone. However, if the goal is to establish, or revive, a large and sustainable franchise, in most cases you also have to deliver top gameplay."

So while Angel of Darkness might still have outsold many of its peers at the time (NPD pegs its lifetime sales at more than 500,000 copies), it doesn't measure up to a true hit for the company (last year's Lego Star Wars sold more than 2 million copies for Eidos). To Sebastian's point, some of the sales Angel of Darkness did accumulate can be attributed to trust built up from previous Tomb Raider games. On the flip side of that coin, mediocre games in the series can damage trust in the brand, an effect that might not be fully felt until those customers decide to pass on future offerings.

The health of the Tomb Raider franchise is one of Eidos' global brand manager Matt Gorman's big concerns. Along with the Legacy of Kain and Hitman series, Tomb Raider is one of Eidos' staples, which means Gorman must pay particularly close attention to it as the publisher's global brand manager.

After Angel of Darkness came out, Gorman says it was clear to Eidos that changes needed to be made. He says the company performed exhaustive focus-testing to get the most thorough picture of what needed to be done, but that the basics were obvious.

"It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what had gone wrong and there were a lot of clear indicators even before we did any of the research," Gorman said. "The control system in the last couple games was crap. Taking Lara out of the tombs and having her run around the cities of Paris and Prague took her out of her contextual landscape and we knew we had to abandon that."

There were also a number of new competitors in the 3D action-adventure field, Gorman noted. While the original Tomb Raider all but created the genre when it debuted, titles like Prince of Persia had refined the mechanics, and were raising the bar.

The revamping of the Tomb Raider brand to meet that bar began almost as soon as Angel of Darkness fell to earth. Mere days after being embarrassed by Paramount Pictures' public scapegoating of Angel of Darkness, Eidos announced that it was taking the brand away from Core Design--the developers of every game in the series up to that point--and entrusting it to its Legacy of Kain studio, Crystal Dynamics. As for Core Design, the company has since worked on the PSP games Smart Bomb and Free Running for Eidos, and Gorman said it is also developing an as-yet unannounced title.

"We figured we need someone to take a fresh creative look at this," Gorman said. "We need some new enthusiasm and a new take. Having a studio with fresh eyes take a look at Tomb Raider seemed like the right thing to do."

While Eidos was taking the series away from its original developer and wanted "fresh eyes" working on the brand, it was also trying to get the series back to its roots. That meant focusing on the character of Lara and the exploration-driven, tomb-raiding gameplay that made the series famous in the first place. But Gorman was hesitant to call it a series revamp. Or a reset, or even a revisiting.

"We really consciously tried to stay away from using 're-' in any form because that essentially means at some point 'it' was gone," Gorman said. "And for all intents and purposes, it was."

Those who have followed the development of Tomb Raider: Legend have no doubt noticed that Eidos is not at all hesitant to distance itself from Angel of Darkness, and doesn't rush to bring up much of the Tomb Raider line of games outside of the first two PlayStation installments.

"We promised a lot about product quality [for Angel of Darkness]," Gorman said. "We promised a lot about what it's going to do. 'It'll be great, trust us.' And in the end, the product really wasn't what we had been promising the press and consumers and so forth, so a lot of people were let down. You can't fool people twice. So what we knew we needed to do was be absolutely honest with people."

Acknowledging past mistakes (and not repeating them) is another aspect of brand management. "We don't want to lead anyone astray, we don't want to overpromise on this one," Gorman said. "This was really a critical product for us to regain credibility both in the industry, but also with consumers."

Part of the effort to regain credibility meant cutting back on the pop culture phenomenon aspects of Lara Croft. That meant avoiding a glut of Tomb Raider toys, perfumes, or other merchandise this time around.

"In the past games, the selling of Lara almost took on a life of its own that had nothing to do with the game," Gorman noted. "Lara was just a symbol or a platform for other brands and other places to come and take a piece of. But with Legend we knew everything's around Lara. She's a pristine brand. She's a pristine character and we have to treat her like such."

While Gorman said a conscious effort was made to limit the game's ancillary agreements this time around, it does include product tie-ins with Ducati motorcyles and Jeep. However, Eidos felt those products fit naturally into Lara Croft's world anyway, and her character wouldn't seem out of place using them.

For all the massaging of language, calculated honesty, and managed merchandising involved with salvaging the Tomb Raider brand, Gorman hesitated to paint the situation as a now-or-never moment for the franchise. But he didn't exactly downplay its importance, either.

"We certainly didn't come into the development and re-branding of this franchise with [a]worst-case scenario in mind, but we knew this game had to be fresh, it had to be good, it had to be dynamic," Gorman said. "Lara Croft had to come across as live as possible so there were certainly more challenges and pressure that we deliver 100 percent on the hopes and wants and expectations of gamers."

As Marks said, "Brands do not die easily... Tomb Raider can succeed again if the next version is great. In fact, it could be that next version surpasses the first one in popularity, it all depends on the game. But there is no question that they have a head start with a built-in audience."

Marks should know a thing or two about how resilient even a neglected and generally dismissed brand can be. After all, Acclaim's name is not the first one he pulled out of the trash can, dusted off, and attempted to revive. In 1991, Marks and a group of partners picked up the struggling Activision, guided it through bankruptcy, and put it on the path to becoming one of the biggest third-party publishers in the world.

Can Lara jump back to life in the hands of Eidos and Crystal Dynamics? At least in the eyes of the game press, the girl is, so far, holding her own.

Discussion

36 comments
fastpunk
fastpunk

Much respect to Crystal Dynamics for Legend and especially for Anniversary. They did a great job.

buffysummer
buffysummer

I enjoy a lot, all the games of Tomb Raider

Allegra8462
Allegra8462

I really enjoyed this article. It's a great example of how business (in this case marketing) combine with art to create a good quality game and brand. More often, we read stories on how business confines and restrains creativity, so this article was definitely refreshing to read. I truly believe good games come from both game design AND deliberate effort to business strategy.

madltu2005
madltu2005

Tomb Raider Legend is a great game. I'm glad Crystal Dynamics made this game. They did a really good job. I really enjoyed playing Tomb Raider and Unlocking everything. I wish it was longer.. would like to know what happen next... For AVALON

equili3rium
equili3rium

Yes the game was far too short and easy but looked the part. Is it just me though or were the levels a lot smaller than in previous outings? As for Angel of Darkness, i thought it was a great game, it just wasn't finished. It's as if they gave up and released it on a whim...

Hardcoreforever
Hardcoreforever

I bought the very first Tomb Raider on ps1. I absolutely hated that pathetic excuse of a game. I never purchased or even considered purchasing another Tomb raider game after that.

OtterX
OtterX

I enjoyed Tomb Raider: Legend, but because the controls are so much better.... the game was way too easy. I flew through the entire thing in 2 days. Crystal Dynamics implemented some design ideas which made the exploration of the game much more streamlined and fast pace. For instance, she can now climb up and down, side to side twice as fast as normal by frantically pushing the Y button (Xbox 360). Also, no longer do you have that thought of "oh... what am i supposed to do now", because they give you a pair of binoculars which highlight objects that you are supposed to interact with. I think this dumbed it down. With only 2 days of gameplay, while a good experience, it will become forgettable because I spent so very little time completing it. I think Crystal Dynamics has a good future with the Tomb Raider franchise... they just need to focus on 1) longevity of the adventure and 2) an increased challenge because most people who are playing this have played and beat multiple Tomb Raider games and want a more challenging experience.

samekila
samekila

I love the new tomb radier I think its a great comeback cant wait for the new movie

ALLoY1717
ALLoY1717

That article made a lot of sense. The Tomb Raider games were becoming mere selling points for other Lara Croft merchandise. And after Angel of Darkness the media that launched the Tomb Raider brand seemed all but dead, in the wake of the other merchandise. Although I haven't played it myself, from what I have seen "Legend" looks like an honest stab at bringing back the Tomb Raider brand to where it belongs.

papichuloazul
papichuloazul

(deaf person) wow that's nice article....forget angel of darkness it........I want to Lara Croft back. sure lara ain't give up, and lara's aggressive work out sexy body model lol...If lara is new hire from other company like resident evil 4, Prince of Persia too, pertect dark: zero, doa 4. that's why lara croft will better than her role-playing action before. hmmm wait of minute I got my mind something say... Is will lara join 3D fighting in Die or Alive 5?...yo am I right? If tecmo, team ninja company say "correct" then will do it...thanks

ElementalFire
ElementalFire

Really enjoyed this. I hope to see more insightful stuff like this from Gamespot in the future.

NeoJedi
NeoJedi

Great article, I enjoyed it very much.

lemonstale
lemonstale

I got sick of Tomb Raider WAY before Angel of Darkness. It was this series that taught me to be wary of sequels, even "revamped" ones. So I knew to stay well away from Angel of darkness until I saw a review.

MadonnaProject
MadonnaProject

Actually TOMB RAIDER:LEGEND is one of the most addictive, well balanced adventure game to come out since resident evil 4. It is inspired by the latter and sometimes you get tasteful hints of what idea has been borrowed from other successful franchises. And this is not a very bad thing indeed. The storyline is engrossing and gives lara a MUCH needed human side, since it delves into her childhood and past, plus she is gven a whole new personality where you her her being sarcastic, thoughtful and even crack some jokes. I remembered how much i loved the first game back almost 10 years ago when i was in school and couldnt wait to come home to play the game after a whole day of talking about it. The same is happening now when i cant wait to come home from work to play the game. Im sorry, whats mario to some is lara croft to me. BRAVO eidos. keep it up and best of luck to you guys.

Fallout_red
Fallout_red

Legend was awesome, deserving Tomb Raider name. I should have gotten higher score IMO. I give it 8.5 or so.

Pumper
Pumper

Hey, better to have Lara make a comeback - then sequels to games like that 50 Cent masterpiece. I'll take caves and lavish landscapes over any urban style crap any day. Leave that trash in reality - the idea is to try to escape it.

Orasion_Seiz
Orasion_Seiz

very nice article. Tom Raider Legends did really well after Angel of Darkness.

comthitnuong
comthitnuong

they will never be forgiven for angel of darkness

Aaron_130
Aaron_130

Lara Croft comes back with a bang ... excellent game, just way too short, Eidos' next TR game will be a hit and will be great, i'll definately be looking forward to it!

christopherneal
christopherneal

Tomb Raider will never go out of style. Lady Croft is great!

OPOLO
OPOLO

There will always be a place in my heart for Lara (no matter what)

mr_squibble
mr_squibble

I really enjoyed reading this news article. I would like to see more like it on Gamespot. Bravo Eidos for putting Lara Croft back in her place.

Seraphim_24
Seraphim_24

In all honesty the control and camera had kept me away from Tomb Raider from the get go. I always hated the controlls, but like Laura, and had always felt the series had enormous potential that until now wasn't realized. I liked Legends. I hope this game is indicative of what we can expect in the future... Now that said... Bring back Kain!

elrebo
elrebo

ask burbberry or what ever it is call on how hard it is to rebuild a brand. Personally I think the concept of the game is dated. Tomb Radier was cool when 3d graphics first came out but not now

XlpranksterlX
XlpranksterlX

IMO, Tomb raider has long lost respect, and This is too little too late.

blackIceJoe
blackIceJoe

Lara had a nice come back and can't wait to see if more games will follow.

Murad1
Murad1

Yeah Legend loocks like a cool game and i will buy it but next time make the game longer

Hellisunreal
Hellisunreal

let's see wants happens 2 Lara in the nxt 10 yrs

bryehngeocef
bryehngeocef

more of a feature than news really. but good insight.