Ask a Dork: Developers & IPs

“Do you think having a new developer on an old IP or a new IP with an old developer is better?”

I hate answering these kind of questions like this, but if pressed I would have to say, “It depends.”

I’m sure that most people’s initial response would be that older developers are the better of the two as they are more established and have proven themselves in the past. I have to question this notion though. We have numerous examples of development teams working on a single successful franchise before trying something new, but are those new IPs always good? Nope. Climax studios may be known for their (quite successful) work on the Silent Hill, ATV, and Overlord games, but I’ve yet to see a single person cite Bloodforge as being a quality title. To the same effect, new IPs from established developers aren’t always commercially successful. Polish developer People Can Fly may have built their cred on the widely acclaimed Painkiller games, but Bulletstorm’s sales numbers were far less impressive than what was originally anticipated by Epic Games.

The list of old IP failures by new developers is pretty robust as well. Now defunct Swedish developer GRIN was given the rights to Bionic Commando in a time when Capcom was pretty much outsourcing all of its development efforts to Western studio in order to appeal to a wider audience. As a result, GRIN had free reign of this cherished license and chose to subsequently teabag it with unbalanced camera controls, unintuitive platforming, a nonsensical plot, and the ugliest hair I’ve ever seen on a game’s protagonist. American developer Double Helix games had a similar situation when Konami gave them the rights to the Silent Hill franchise. The result of this agreement was a far too combat-oriented survival horror with a few too many references to the Silent Hill feature film and a surprisingly decent story (seriously, Double Helix having someone on staff that can actually write a Silent Hill arch was completely unexpected). In both of these cases, fans were not impressed, reviews were mixed at best, and commercial sales suffered as a result.

But what about the instances where there was success? Rocksteady studios may have only developed three games since their inception, but two of those games also happened to be some of the greatest licensed Batman titles to ever be released. Arkham Asylum and Arkham City demonstrated that not only could Batman games be good, they could be excellent. To the same effect, if Naughty Dog (a very well established studio) had stuck to churning out Jax and Daxter games we would have never had the chance to experience the exquisite Uncharted series. New developers can definitely make excellent entries into well established franchises and old developers always have the possibility of releasing something new and exciting.

I would never go on record to say that new developers with old IPs are better than old developers with new IPs or vice versa. There are just too many things that go into the mix when making a video game that it is hard to attribute a game’s objective quality to the age/experience of the studio producing it. At the end of the day, it’s all about the effort those studios are willing to invest.

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