Monday, March 21, 2011

The Strategy Of One

I've written at length about the curious phenomon of major publishers (Activision, EA, Take 2, Ubisoft, and THQ) pursuing roughly the same strategy: fewer released games, fewer new franchises, a focus on "AAA" titles, and massive marketing support.

Let's call this strategy "The Sames."

Enter Homefront.

Homefront has been well-hyped and well-advertised. Big budget. It's the poster child for The Sames.

Now remember, a lynchpin of The Sames is that "we're only releasing excellent games", like anyone should have ever been releasing games that weren't excellent. With substantially fewer games getting released, these games have to hit. There's no room for either a critical or commercial failure.

Or, heaven forbid, both.

So this game is a big, big deal for THQ, because it could develop into a multi-year franchise, potentially. They're sure to have put all kinds of effort and polish into the game. They have to make a great first impression.

Singe-player campaign: five hours. That certainly makes an impression.

So do the reviews. MetaCritic average of 71. That represents 56 reviews, with 3 of 90 or above and 18 below 70.


Here's what I don't understand. Is it possible that an entire company believes they're making an "A" game, but in reality, it's a "C-" game? How is that kind of gap possible?

So here's the conundrum. Either THQ can't tell what represents an "A" game, or they're not capable of making one.

Well, there's a third possibility--they knew it was going to be a "C" game to critics, but thought it didn't matter because consumers would see that it was G**damned awesome.

Chances of that happening? Well, not so much. Advance sales were high, but it seems like there is very little chance of word of mouth being generally positive. So the marketing campaign gets you to 750,000 copies, but the game has to actually be reasonably good to get from there to two million copies (which THQ said was the break-even point).

Another problem. THQ was trying to cash in on the Call Of Duty juggernaut, but every game that tries to do this must be good enough to drag people away from Call Of Duty. COD multiplayer is staggeringly popular, with a strong social component that has developed over time, so for a new game to succeed, it has to convince not only individual players to play a new multi-player game, but also their friends.

What are the chances of that happening with a new game in the same genre? 10%? At most?

That, in a nutshell, is the problem with The Sames. Big budgets. Big, big risk. THQs stock dropped over 20% in one day last week over doubt about its commercial viability in the face of a withering critical reception.

Who is smart enough to make bets of this size on the future of a company?

That's why The Sames is going to blow up a few companies entirely, and they'll be purchased at bargain basements prices by (ironically) other companies pursuing the same strategy.

Does anyone see a happy ending here? I don't.

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