Trodamus

On Intellectual Property

In The Gaming Community, Video Games on April 7, 2010 at 5:31 pm

Go back more than five or ten years ago and you wouldn’t be familiar with the term “intellectual property.”  A more cynical and short-winded man might simply state that the phrase in question owes its ubiquity to a paradigm shift in game (and other) marketing, but such an attitude would deny this attitude’s reflection in game development stratagem, at the risk of presenting a much shorter article.  Apart from both, gamers have become much more aware of their hobby due in no small part to a saturation of related informational material, which is why we know anything about it at all. 

It’s important that we’re aware of so-called IPs as the severity of their effect on our mutual, shared pastime cannot be denied or understated, affecting, as it does, the games we play, how we play them and the settings and characters through which these goods are delivered.  Just look at the first quarter releases: Bioshock 2, Mass Effect 2, Aliens Vs Predator, Bad Company 2, Supreme Commander 2, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat, Dragon Age: Awakenings, Final Fantasy XIII; the list continues along similar trends throughout the year with Fallout: New Vegas and a potential new entry to The Elder Scrolls.  Certainly this able to be dismissed as these are all sequels to titles that sold well, but bear in mind that the current generation of gamers expects more reason for a sequel than a successful original title.

 It is imperative to recall, fondly if you wish, the days of sequels and expansions that offered naught but more game to play.  Most first-person shooters fell into this demand, but the number of forgettable expansions to Starcraft that only offered additional campaigns is worth a mention.  We expect more from today’s sequels and expansions, which some might sketch out as being a continuation of the story, to find out what happened to cherished characters and popular figures.  These are added as part of the normal extra abilities-features-weapons-spells combo meal, but what it really boils down to is, in essence, we want more of that particular world, that we are no longer satisfied with a cursory summation of plot and universe through the game’s manual or brief text-scroll of an introduction.  We want to know what’s over there, what’s truly behind the insurgency, or what if the bad guys are just well-intentioned extremists with additional stories that demand to be told.

 This fleshing out, broadening of scope and attention to detail may all be owed to the increased push for bankable intellectual properties.  With the drastic increase in production costs, game development has become a risky venture for which the foolhardy introduction of unfamiliar ideas, concepts and settings may very well court disaster.  At the same time, the very last situation a developer would desire is a demand for a sequel to a universe that’s effectively been closed to further installments, to say nothing of base material stretched perilously thin in the originating title and definitively broken at the mere thought of a sequel.  New game concepts need to be well realized enough to support multiple titles, potentially relying on the strength of the setting over the introduction of new gameplay tenants, which should be granted at a pace appropriate to support interest and stave off stagnation or criticism.

 Mass Effect and Dragon Age are probably the best examples for this realization: both settings are conceptualized around simple concepts but deployed with care and detail enough to support many games of differing genres.  Fictionalized accounts regarding events that occur centuries before the current series borders on the didactic; more importantly, every character, reaction, plot point and attitude makes sense.  Those are worlds built for living — and for fabricating an endless stream of bankable tie-ins.  As yet Mass Effect barely has more than a few games and novels, and an accompanying art book that foreshadows the depth and consideration given to the setting.  Unrealized or taking it slow, Dragon Age marches ahead with a pen-and-paper role-playing supplement for those who wish their Dragon Age upon a different vector.

 Other franchises have benefitted from this attention to detail: EA had a full scientific white doc written for tiberium, the alien substance and fuel for conflict within Command and Conquer, leading to a much more well realized and consistent portrayal in that series, while the world of Gears of War was fabricated, from the ground up, to grant reason and rational to both the lavish architecture as well as the politics and structure of the COG.

 Those that might disagree with granting so much to this paradigm shift would deny the symbiotic relationship games and gamers have.  Yes, we’ve long since realized that a paragraph in the manual is a poor substitute for plot, but the fleshing out of ideas and details to present a world truly worthy of interaction — rather than presenting a non-interactive, “deep” story — should be the logical next step.

The downside is living in a market that suffers from sequelitis and a dearth of original content, owing to the massive undertaking in both risk and investment, that producing a new intellectual property begets, but at least our games make sense and our plots aren’t relegated to keycard placement.

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  1. Is there a way to subscribe to your blog?

  2. I believe the “Notify me of new posts via email” button underneath the comment field may work. I’m testing it now, and I may very well end up subscribing to my own blog.

    Thanks for reading!

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