Another day, another article about games based on movies. The licensed property seems to loom large in game development, while original IP (intellectual property) games often struggle to get made and sold. I’m going to go out on a limb to say that in the future, it’s not games based on licenses that will dominate, but original IP.
Consider, for a moment, the curious case of Cartoon Network (CN). Once home to the TEEN TITANS series, Cartoon Network has since cancelled licensed series in favor of original series. According to one source, when DC’s comic DIAL H FOR HERO was pitched to CN, they rejected it. CN didn’t want to have to deal with another DC license. When the same concept was pitched as BEN 10, however, they went for it.* The lesson here is that Cartoon Network didn’t need the license to get the audience. They got it by following these three steps:
1. Bet on established creative talent. For the most part, CN isn’t making their executives come up with series concepts. BEN 10 was created by Man of Action, a group of comic book creators with a proven track record. Likewise in games, we already anticipate Will Wright’s SPORE, though incessant marketing hasn’t hurt either. In the future, working from the beginning with savvy, visionary writers who “get” games or designers will be smarter than licensing yet another movie, as long as you…
2. Create a distinct brand. You could never confuse Cartoon Network for Toon Disney. Likewise, even though they’re under the same umbrella, you would never confuse Pandemic for Bioware. Even though Bioware hasn’t done an MMO or science fiction, I believe, I know exactly what I’ll be getting from Bioware’s MASS EFFECT MMO because their writing, story-driven brand is so strong. A strong brand will help to:
3. Establish a built-in audience. CN, being a television channel, builds audience through programming strong lead-ins. TEEN TITANS helped build an audience and raise awareness for CN’s brand. Now that the job is done, CN can use past success to build new, original properties. The Internet has already provided the greatest opportunity for games to establish an audience through such casual game sites as PopCap.com and SOE leveraging its multiple MMOs.
If the game industry continues to leverage its audience, makes strides to establish company brands, and partners with established game-savvy creatives, the industry will be able to leave licenses behind. Or at least, stop relying on them like a crutch. What say you?
Last week’s game dialog came from Minsc in Bioware’s BALDUR’S GATE. More Guess that Game Dialog to come!
* This may be an apocryphal story, so DC, please don’t sue Cartoon Network.