Creating Original IPs the Safe Way

E3 2012: Why Beyond, The Last of Us, and Watch Dogs aren't quite the creative risk you might think--and why that's not a bad thing.

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There's a line of thinking in the video game industry that says you begin a new console cycle with original IPs and let those franchises carry you through the life of the console with recurring sequels. Monday's press conferences certainly lent some credibility to that theory, with publishers pushing one familiar name after another in a seemingly endless onslaught of established franchises. At least, that's how it was until the latter half of the day's proceedings introduced us to Watch Dogs, Beyond: Two Souls, and The Last of Us--three very promising original IPs that grabbed the lion's share of attention once everything was said and done.

Why did it look like Ubisoft and Sony were more willing to roll the dice on new properties so late into this console cycle, when Microsoft and EA were perfectly happy to play it safe? Each of those three games looks fresh and exciting in its own way, but dig a little deeper and it's clear that none of these games constitutes a massive gamble.

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Let's start with Watch Dogs, Ubi Montreal's futuristic vision of a world where our precarious reliance on technology might be exploited by a few malicious hackers. It was a visually stunning and thought-provoking demo that managed to look terrific and ask some interesting questions in the process. But remember: this is also a Ubisoft Montreal game. Watch Dogs' use of espionage gadgetry can easily be traced back to the Splinter Cell series, while its open-world Chicago setting strongly echoes the sandbox environments of the Assassin's Creed series. In other words, this game looks terrific, but it's definitely a Ubi Montreal sort of game.

The Last of Us is a similar case. Squint at your computer monitor while you're watching the demo from yesterday's press conferences and you could easily mistake Naughty Dog's latest title for Uncharted. It begins with a richly detailed, crumbled environment being navigated by instantly relatable characters who all move with terrific, fluid animation. Sound familiar? It's certainly a wild departure from Uncharted in terms of its bleak focus on surviving the postapocalypse, but the underpinnings have Naughty Dog written all over them.

Beyond: Two Souls is a little bit more of a wild card considering we didn't get to see much gameplay--the press conference presentation was almost entirely made up of story cinematics. But look back to Heavy Rain, and you suddenly remember that story is far and away the biggest focus of everything Quantic Dream does. If David Cage came onstage and didn't demonstrate a new game with a dark, mature, and thoroughly bizarre story, you'd wonder what the hell was going on. That sort of unpredictability and unique storytelling is baked into the studio's identity. It's what Quantic Dream does.

So while each of these games left us breathing a sigh of relief for the future of new IPs after the day's marathon of sequels, prequels, and spin-offs, you'd be hard-pressed to call any of them a significant departure from what earned each studio success in the past.

But is that such a bad thing? Absolutely not. In fact, a lot of publishers could take a lesson from what Sony and Ubisoft are doing here. In an economic climate where introducing a new franchise is seen as such a dangerous endeavor, companies can minimize that risk dramatically by isolating what it is that a studio does best and using that as the foundation for new IP. Brand names are important when it comes to selling games, but video game titles aren't the only brands in the world; the studios that create them can be selling points as well.

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