Original Intellectual Properties

Here’s the tangent-starter: Psychochild’s Blog: Licensed Game Design.

I’ve read various things by Psychochild and I think they are quite well-said.  This time he talks about some of the challenges of licensing an Intellectual Property (like Lord of the Rings and Stargate) to make into a game.  I’m going to look some more at the pros and cons of doing so.

Why use a licensed world? One advantage is the available features of the world someone else has put in the world to make the world seem real and (hopefully) internally-consistent. But, the main advantage is the built-in fanbase.

I’ve read this a number of times in various places, or at least things that seemed to imply as much.  I guess I would like to challenge it a bit in the hope that some new insight will eventually come.

When I think of designing a game (MMO) around an existing IP, the best thing seems to be the fact that there is already an existing world; the task of the designer is to make that world a “reality”.  The existing fanbase is great, true, but it seems that just means you will get more people willing to give it an initial shot.  True, you may have more sales at launch, but it’s the mid to long term that determines profitability, and that is dependent upon the actual gameplay moreso than the IP and “rabidness” of the fanbase.

I guess I see the prior existence of the IP world as being the greatest asset when one attempts to design a game with it.  You have more obvious constraints, and at least for me I work better under tough constraints.  In addition, tough constraints put you in a “position of necessity”, and we all know that necessity results in innovation.

I read an article about social networking in the Gallup Management Journal- they gave me a free subscription (thanks, guys!).  A researcher by the name of Jon Kleinberg mentioned that any random person is much more likely to try something new if he or she has 2 friends doing it or trying it.  So, a large, rabid fanbase will give you quite a good number of people willing to give it a try.  But, just trying something does not mean they will stick around.  People stick around for the gameplay, the sheer novelty of “existing” inside another world, and the friends they make in the game world.  Even if people are sticking around for friends, they still have to enjoy the game in order for them to recommend it to their friends, which, incidentally, is what you need to get the really big subscriber numbers.  It’s the rabid fan base that gives you a built-in playerbase, but the flip side is that the game has to be such that they recommend it to their friends who are not the rabid fans of the IP.

So, in short, I think the most valuable part of the IP is the creativity it can spark gameplay-wise.  The built-in fanbase is great, but that kind of just amounts to a cheaper launch marketing budget.