Conventional wisdom in the gaming industry is that new intellectual properties (IP) are easiest to launch in the early days of a hardware cycle. Early adopters will be particularly hungry for new experiences. The relative paucity of software following a console launch means original IP don't have to work as hard to get attention. And if the new games take off, they can be iterated on multiple times--often reusing the game engine and some of the assets--before the next generation of consoles arrives and a more thorough revamp is called for.
Supporters of the idea would point to Resistance, Assassin's Creed, Uncharted, and Gears of War as evidence of the formula at work. Each of those was introduced in the first two years of this console cycle, and has spawned a trilogy with at least one spin-off title. In short, they've become exactly the sort of franchises that publishers don't want to launch new IP against, because it costs a lot of marketing dollars to convince consumers to give an unknown property a chance instead of the series they already know they like.
To see if the conventional wisdom holds true, GameSpot compiled a list of all retail releases Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony have published in the current generation of consoles, and broke them down by platform and year to see if the data would offer any insights. Before digging into the numbers, a word about where they came from: We counted only North American retail releases, so Microsoft's Japanese Xbox 360 launch title Every Party didn't make the cut, and Nintendo's Xenoblade Chronicles counted toward 2012 (its US release date) instead of 2010 (Japan) or 2011 (Europe). On top of that, we didn't include compilations or HD re-releases unless we felt there was a significant amount of development effort put into the project. That means updates like the God of War HD Collection and Super Mario All-Stars: 25th Anniversary Edition were not counted, but 343 Industries' remake Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary was included.
There were also cases where we felt reasonable people could disagree on what counts as a new IP. PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is a new franchise, but given that it sells itself primarily on the strength of existing Sony franchises, we classified it as existing IP. The same was true for the Wii board game Fortune Street, which was new to US audiences, but prominently featured Mario and Dragon Quest characters on its packaging. The full list of games we included and whether we classified them as existing or new IP is available here.
With those caveats out of the way, here are four things we noticed.
1) 2010 was secretly a banner year for new IP thanks to Move, Kinect
The notion that new IP was more welcome earlier in this generation's lifespan was largely correct, with 2006 (the year the PS3 and Wii launched) boasting the highest percentage of new IP in the eight-year span we looked at. However, Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo combined to publish just 10 current-generation console games that year, so the 60 percent originality rate is slightly tempered. Compare that to 2010, which saw 18 of the companies' 35 games based on new IP.
However, don't dismiss the idea of new hardware causing a spike in original software just yet. Even if the consoles weren't new, 2010 saw the introductions of the Kinect and PlayStation Move motion-control peripherals, new hardware that Microsoft and Sony established with original games to complement their capabilities. Seven of Sony's 11 original games that year were launch titles for the Move, while four of Microsoft's five original IP in 2010 were Kinect compatible. Remove those from the equation and the representation of new franchises drops from just over 50 percent to under 30 percent.
2) Nintendo consistently offers the fewest new IP
Among the big three console makers, Nintendo has been in the game the longest, and it's not afraid to mine that history to its advantage. In the Wii's seven-year lifespan, Nintendo has released only nine new IP. Even that's being slightly generous, as efforts like Wii Play, Wii Party, Wii Music, and Wii Fit are so reliant on the system branding and Miis that they could arguably have been considered pre-existing, which would have cut the Mario maker's production of original games almost in half.
In three of those years, Nintendo didn't release a single new IP for the Wii. Neither the Xbox 360 nor the PS3 has ever gone a year without at least one new IP, although Microsoft seems determined to break that streak this year. In only one of those years (2008) did Nintendo produce the most new IP, and even then it was tied with Microsoft, offering a less-than-staggering three original games.
3) Sony releases the most new IP
Whether you're talking quantity of titles or percentage of total output, Sony releases more original IP than Microsoft or Nintendo. The company has released 25 PS3 games based on original IP, or nearly 35 percent of its PS3 output this generation. Microsoft was a solid second for new IP with 17 titles (30 percent of its output), while the Wii trailed far behind with just nine original games for the Wii (18 percent of the Nintendo-published catalog).
In four of the PS3's seven years on the market, Sony has produced the most new IP (or tied for most new IP) of the big three console makers. In 2010, Sony launched a whopping 11 original IP into the marketplace. The Wii and Xbox 360 have never come close to matching that output, each having just a single year (2007) where they even published that many games, new or old. Nintendo has never launched more than three new IP for the Wii in a given year, while Microsoft topped out at five original games for the Xbox 360 in 2010 (four of which were Kinect titles).
Sony is apparently going to keep this trend going, as 2013 (which was not included in our assessment) is expected to see the launches of The Last of Us, Beyond: Two Souls, and if it doesn't make it into 2012, Tokyo Jungle. Meanwhile, Nintendo and Microsoft have provided virtually no visibility into original games they're publishing for their systems next year.
4) Microsoft's new IP spawns sequels and spin-offs more frequently
The reasoning goes that new IP is more common at the early part of a console cycle because it gives publishers a chance to create new franchises they can lean on for the whole generation. Given that, it's worth taking a look to see whose original efforts are more frequently followed up on. Microsoft has had the most success on that front, or at least showed the most determination to make a hit, as 11 of the company's 17 published Xbox 360 games (65 percent) have turned into franchises with sequels or follow-ups. Compare that to Nintendo, which converted four of its nine original games (44 percent) into new series, or Sony, which has seen just nine of the 25 new IP it published on the PS3 (36 percent) yield successors.
The numbers would appear to back up the conventional wisdom that console makers shy away from new IP later in their systems' life spans. If we take the Kinect and Move-dependent games out of the last four years' worth of Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo offerings (because as we established before, the new hardware drove the new IP), we have a grand total of 11 new IP from the Big Three in the last four years combined (2009-2012), an average of less than one original game per console per year. If you look at the number for the first half of the console generation (2005-2008), there were 23 games based on new IP, averaging just under two per console per year. And keep in mind, the PS3 and the Wii weren't even out until late 2006, so if anything, that figure actually short-changes the new IP push from the first half of this generation.
On the other hand, if we don't take the Kinect and Move games out of the mix, the last four years have seen 28 new IP introduced into the market by Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony, compared to just 23 for the first four years of this generation. And then you could make the argument that the conventional wisdom is wrong.
While you could say it all depends on how someone wants to look at the numbers, perhaps the biggest takeaway is that it's not new specifically consoles that spur the creation of original intellectual properties in the industry today so much as at is new hardware of any significance.