computer games games design

Alarm bells for Game Design failure: “evolving” someone else’s IP

There’s a new Syndicate game in development. After one of the most facepalm moments in game design – taking a unique game-genre and replacing it with an FPS, at a time when FPS market is massively over-saturated – the studio has gone one further:

“we’re taking the Persuadatron and evolving it”

It’s always possible that they’re going to make it better. On the balance of probability, that’s unlikely.

Even leaving aside the amazing decision to remove the single most important feature of the original IP – the genre itself. NB: this has been tried before: Syndicate Wars changed the core gameplay, and was a commercial failure (given the previous sales of the IP).

Sadly, it seems that in press conversations, “evolving” is often short-hand for “putting our own “stamp” on it, by changing it; it’s the change that matters, not the improvement. We MUST be able to claim this is “our” game, and not the original designers'”.

Often, it seems the thought process has gone something like this:

“the original idea was unique. At our studio, we don’t have many unique ideas – so we’re CERTAINLY not going to let anyone see how weak they are when contrasted with the genuinely strong ones in the IP we’ve just taken over.

Our cunning plan is to remove all the unique, innovative aspects of the IP, and replace them with dumbed-down, crappier mechanics that we thought up ourselves. But stick the original name on the new mechanics.

This way:

  1. we won’t be made to look stupid by our own game
  2. google searches will turn up YouTube videos of our scuppered mechanic, and people hearing “X was a great idea” will look at it and go: “Hmm. Not really”, without realising they’re looking at the scuppered version

(I’ve worked on two teams that tried to get approval for re-making Syndicate (not Wars!) over the years; I’m a big fan of the original, and still occasionally play it on an emulator. It’s amazing how much people want to over-complicate it – somehow forgetting that the original studio (Bullfrog) was reknowned for it’s quirky/bizarre/unusually inventive game designs, and that they’ll have a lot to live up to if they want to “extend” that)

RPS says it best:

designer Rickard Johansson: “I don’t want people to stop playing the old games, but time has moved on.”

Has it? Has it really? Perhaps he didn’t notice that Starcraft 2 outsold most of EA’s (and everyone else’s) portfolio last year. Perhaps he didn’t notice that SEGA refer to Total War as one of the major jewels in their crown. Perhaps he didn’t notice that Valve are spending a fortune on a DOTA remake. Perhaps what he really means is ‘publishers will give us a bigger development and marketing budget if we make it a first-person shooter.’

6 replies on “Alarm bells for Game Design failure: “evolving” someone else’s IP”

Completely agree with that. I think the hopes are low to see something decent coming out of that if we listen to the vocal community.
That said, I’m not surprised SB is producing an FPS as they face serious limitations with their in-house tech and it was probably the only possibility for them.

I suppose we can see this game as a Syndicate skin for Riddick :)

You’re also aware of “XCOM”, I take it.

Really? Why bother? All you’ll get is a hardcore hating on the game before it comes out, better to start with a clean sheet.

You’re probably aware of Fallout 3, also. They took an iconic isometric RPG and turned it into an FPS. That sounded like a *terrible* idea, but it sold like hot cakes. So excuse me if I withhold judgement until these games are actually released. I hope game journalists can do the same, because this whole “you’re murdering my childhood” routine feels lazy on their part.

I dunno Enno… I would kill for a proper remake or modernized version w/ same essential mechanics as the original. I played the original to death as a teen and my parents hated it as a subwoofer was kicking and whenever I fired the gauss gun it would make the upstairs rumble.. eh heh heh..

Sure, wait and see what does come of this, but I’d lean to the side of the skeptical camp. Not everything should be an FPS and as Andrew mentions above it’s better to create a new franchise if core mechanics are not at all followed.

Enno – F3 changed the viewpoint, sure. But it kept so much more, like SPECIAL, the base world and so on. And I can see the arguments for reboots.

But the “XCOM” doesn’t have remotely the same kind of aliens or plot or anything…and this Syndicate sounds much the same – it’s trying to trade off the name, and only the name.

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