The Death of Originality: A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
(This is another edition of </RANT>, a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not reflect those of GameFront.)
It seems to be a generally accepted fact that new IP is born to die and the single-player experience is facing extinction. I have been angry at audiences in the past for letting good games die because they’re too busy focusing on sequels and big multiplayer titles, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that it’s not the audience with the problem, it’s the industry. New IP and single-player experiences don’t suffer because gamers don’t want them — they suffer because people think they don’t want them. Original titles, and those without a multiplayer component, suffer from a self-fulfilling prophecy. I do not consider myself a man who puts stock in a thing like faith, but when it comes to shifting products, faith is absolutely necessary. Without it, games will almost always die.
We need to break this ridiculous idea that a game cannot survive without a multiplayer element, because it’s simply not true. L.A. Noire was one of the biggest hits of 2011 — it became one of the fastest selling games in British history, it topped charts in North America, and is was critically acclaimed. It’s a game that has undoubtedly been one of the biggest success stories of the year, and it didn’t feature a multiplayer element. It was a brand new IP, to boot! Similarly, BioShock was a fresh property when it launched in 2007, and was also a purely solo adventure. It was that year’s third best-selling Xbox 360 game and caused Take-Two’s stock to rise almost 20 percent. The PC version enjoyed over a million sales to become a massive hit. Again — no multiplayer, no big number at the end of its name.
And just recently, the ICO & Shadow of the Colossus Collection has stormed multiplatform charts on Amazon in both America and Japan, with Team ICO’s HD remaster knocking even Gears of War 3 off its pedestal for the time being. Yes, it’s a reissue, but it’s a single-player experience built from two of the most original and unique IPs in videogame history … IPs that didn’t sell so well when they were first released.
To me, the Team ICO collection provides the most compelling example in my argument. Why did the original games fail to become huge hits, while the HD remaster appears to be doing so very well? Because of faith. Because this time, Sony put the hype behind it. Constant press coverage, and Sony itself advertising the collection around the Internet, gave ICO & Shadow a marketing boost that the titles never enjoyed in their heyday. This time around, there was faith, there was belief that it could do well, and that’s where success comes from. Without that belief and support, a game has nothing to stand up with, and is doomed to failure.
I’ve often said that there’s one reason why Halo is one of the biggest franchises in the world — because Microsoft told everyone it was one of the biggest franchises in the world. Sheer suggestion, pure marketing hype, that is what has driven Halo’s success. If Microsoft had not had that initial faith in the game, there’s a chance it could have become a hit, but it has only become the Mountain Dew-advertising, record-breaking, console-defining series it is because the publisher saw potential and went for the jugular with it.
Gamers enjoy games that look good. It doesn’t matter if it’s multiplayer or not. It doesn’t matter if it’s a sequel or not. Such elements might help when appealing to certain demographics, but there are a ton of gamers out there who only care about fun, no matter how it’s presented. The problem is that publishers are too afraid to push certain games, so the potential audience never hears about it. I am confident that if Okami had been given the same kind of marketing push that Capcom gives franchises like Street Fighter and Resident Evil, then it could have done so much better. Same goes for Killer7 or Viewtiful Joe. These games wither and die because publishers won’t market them. They’ve already decided the titles will fail, so they don’t invest in them, and they fail anyway through that very lack of investment. Like I said, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Those games that have done well in spite of their freshness and focus on solo play, have done so because there was no pessimistic attitude. Take Two pushed BioShock hard, and Rockstar made sure the world knew about L.A. Noire. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is an established IP, but the name’s been out of the limelight for a long time and, once again, it didn’t need multiplayer to sell. Even obscure titles like Demon’s Souls have performed decently, because they enjoyed a fantastic underground following and sold solidly in comparison to how many discs were pressed (Atlus eventually needed to re-stock the game across North America). The fantastically weird Deadly Premonition became a cult smash thanks to excited word-and-mouth which encouraged publisher Ignition to reignite some promotion for it. These are all games that have won in their own way, and all of them look set to become big franchises in future (yes, even Deadly Premonition). It was because people knew about these games that they did well. After all, knowing is half the battle, right?
Believing that established franchises and multiplayer elements are all a game needs to become a hit is idiotic in the extreme. For a game to sell, it has to look good and get advertised. I find it hard to blame the audience these days, when there are so many games coming out that the mainstream gamers simply don’t know about. They can’t buy what they haven’t seen, and that’s where the problem lies. Publishers like THQ shouldn’t be forcing multiplayer in games like Metro: Last Light, because token online functionality isn’t the answer. It’s myopic to think that the root cause of a game’s failure lies in one competitive mode that most people will likely ignore in favor of Call of Duty and Halo.
The message to take away from this is both positive and negative. Positive, because I believe wholeheartedly that there is still demand for new games and solo campaigns, and that we can still have a future where these things are encouraged. Negative, because so much of that potential future lies in the hands of publishers who have proven themselves blinkered, foolish and lacking in faith. One can only hope that with enough success stories like L.A. Noire, along will come more executives that start to “get” it.