By Zenogiasu 14 Comments
This November, Microsoft's newest gaming console will turn 7 years old. Let's put that in perspective, shall we? When the Xbox 360 was released, Kanye West's "Gold Digger" was at the top of the charts. Saw II, Jarhead, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire were topping the box offices. You were about 7 years younger than you are today. We are still playing that same console. The PlayStation 3 and Wii were released within the next year, and the seventh console generation was in full swing.
Back in 2005-06, one would reasonably expect that, by July 2012, we would have a pretty clear idea of what the next console generation would look like. We would be our old hardware to rest, and developers would be refocusing their efforts towards the coming advance. With the exception of the Wii U, this does not seem to have occurred.
So what does this mean for new IPs trying to penetrate the market share of established genre benchmarks? Certainly, there are several avenues available for indie developers to market their efforts nowadays. But for large studios backed by even larger publishers, any non-sequel represents a substantial risk. This risk is multiplied exponentially at the end of a console generation, in which many gamers have already settled in with their favourite franchises, and are more than satisfied by annual instalments. That's what Ubisoft's chairman and CEO, Yves Guillemot, would argue, at least. He has recently stated that he feels his company has been "penalised" by the sluggish pace of hardware innovation, and asserts that "it's important for the entire industry to have new consoles because it helps creativity. It's a lot less risky for us to create new IPs and new products when we're in the beginning of a new generation." Guillemot would no doubt have to concede that these new IPs are often just shovelware and glorified tech demos, but there are certainly some big exceptions.
But is a longer console generation really stifling innovation? Gearbox's Randy Pitchford doesn't think so, arguing that "We launched the first Brothers in Arms in March 2005 and we sold 3.2 million units. Xbox 360 launched in November 2005 so that's about as end of the lifecycle as you can get. And you know what else launched in November 2005? God of War." In truth, God of War launched in March of 2005, but he still makes a valid argument. For example, Okami, a critical and commercial success, was released just two months before the launch of the PlayStation 3. "You can create IP at any time," Pitchford argues. "You just have to make something that people want."
Ultimately, I would have to agree with Pitchford on this one. I don't believe that Guillemot should be pointing the finger at Sony and Microsoft for harming innovation when they merely provide the platform for it--not the content. Games like Okami prove that new IPs can succeed, even when in the shadow of a big new console launch. They are the exceptions rather than the rules, of course, but it is the job of the publisher to invest in the projects and ideas that they believe in, regardless of the console calendar. A bold and innovative new title does not need to be mutually exclusive with one that can turn a sizeable profit.
Has this generation overstayed its welcome? Maybe. But that's no excuse for publishers and developers to rest on their laurels.