New IP is the lifeblood of any entertainment enterprise. Whether that be comic books, television, movies, or video games, the same franchises can only be regurgitated with a new coat of paint so many times. Publishers rely on new IP to attract new audiences, drum up excitement, and explore new territory. New IP frees developers from the shackles of years and sometimes generations worth of history and provides a new canvas to paint upon. These can then be built, refined, and advanced with sequel iterations before the cycle begins anew. But what happens when an entire console generation goes by with only a handful of new franchises established? This is a look at the Xbox One/PS4 generation and how new franchises failed to take hold.
Defining a Franchise
A franchise is a new IP that has supported more than one game. A franchise must have achieved the commercial or critical success required to convince shareholders or the developers that further investment is necessary. Since the launch of the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4, there were 31 new IP that have, at the time of this writing, produced a sequel that can be purchased. We have confined our search to only look at games that launched on these platforms and are not including mobile and PC. We can break these down even further into indie and AAA titles. Which is where we begin.
- Evil Within
- Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
- Tom Clancy’s The Division
- The Surge
- Watch Dogs
- Until Dawn
- The Crew
We can begin with games that come from developers who do not currently have a new project announced. The Surge franchise is in limbo. The second game in the series came out at the beginning of 2019 and developer Deck13 has yet to announce a new game, though it is certainly possible that they will remain in this milieu.
Critical Acclaim, But With Caveats
The Middle-Earth franchise was bogged down in a microtransaction quagmire that has all but sunk the name-value the franchise had built up off of the immensely entertaining and profitable Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. Instead, development in the Lord of the Rings universe has shifted to the Gollum game, though Monolith has not yet announced a new project. Theoretically, they could be continuing the franchise, but that is pure conjecture. Nioh has been a surprise hit though, and players should expect to see the franchise continue on into the next generation though not for some time given Nioh 2 only came out earlier this year.
Evil Within and Titanfall were both commercial darlings that received sequels that underperformed commercially, though they remain beloved franchises. Respawn has since moved on to produce the excellent Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and Apex Legends. It is highly unlikely that we will see a Titanfall 3 any time soon. It is much more likely that we will see the integration of Titanfall concepts into Apex Legends. Evil Within developer Tango Gameworks was part of the package deal that Microsoft received when it purchased Zenimax Studios earlier this year. They are currently working on Ghostwire: Tokyo though and given Evil Within’s poor sales, it is hard to see it making a comeback.
A Tale of Two Companies
Of these franchises, two are currently being supported, with ‘support’ being defined as current ongoing development on the game, expansions, or sequels, or a game released in the last year. Tom Clancy’s The Division saw its sequel released in 2019 to critical and commercial success. The game has been robustly supported since launch and is the lone new franchise on consoles in the Tom Clancy family. It is notable that the two new IPs in the family from the last generation Tom Clancy’s Hawx and Endwar did not survive the transition to current-gen consoles.
The Division represents a different type of game for Ubisoft. As a live service game, it has revenue legs long past when other more traditional entries like Splinter Cell would have fallen off. Ubisoft makes another appearance in this category with Watch Dogs Legion which is making the leap to next-gen consoles. It is a good sign for the longevity of the IP, and Ubisoft has shown a willingness to try new ideas after jettisoning the original Watch Dogs protagonist Aiden Pierce. The ‘recruit anyone’ mantra of the new game pushed the franchise in a new direction, though given the technical mess Watch Dogs Legion was at launch, the fate of the franchise may be less certain than it was a year ago.
Sony, Sony, Sony
Finally, there are the three Sony franchises: Knack, Until Dawn, and Driveclub. Knack, while being the butt of many jokes, was a pet project of Mark Cerny. It was four years between Knack and its sequel. In that time, Astrobot has seemingly taken the top spot as cutesie PlayStation mascot. Though it would not be surprising to see another entry in the Knack franchise. Until Dawn has gone through a bit of a metamorphosis. Its follow-ups were sent to live in the PSVR space in the form of Until Dawn: Rush of Blood and The Inpatient.
Many of the ideas from the original being passed on to The Dark Pictures Anthology. In this way, Until Dawn may end up being the most successful of the franchises given the number of spiritual successors it has launched. The first two entries in the anthology, Man of Medan and Little Hope were both well received. The third game in the series is launching later this year, barring COVID delays. Driveclub meanwhile is basically dead. Its servers were shut down early last year and its sequels were really more like standalone expansions. I would not expect to see this franchise again, especially not with Gran Turismo making its comeback.
Indie titles in a lot of ways are more impressive when they become franchises given how hard it is to make waves in a crowded space. These games and studios should be lauded for their success with limited resources behind them.
- The Culling
- Life is Strange
- Layers of Fear
- Hand of Fate
- The Golf Club
- Five Nights at Freddy’s
- This is the Police
- Rogue Legacy
- Risk of Rain
- Project CARS
- Ori and the Blind Forest
- Hello Neighbor
Each of these indie games has brought something to the table that has clearly resonated with audiences. Whether that be the party cooperative gameplay of Overcooked or the emotional roller coaster of Life is Strange, the strength of indie titles is their flexibility to provide something new. Indie titles had a huge resurgence in the Xbox 360/PS3 generation. The advent of downloadable games on these consoles was a boon to developers and publishers alike. A renaissance of fresh new ideas which had existed in the PC space for years now had a whole new ecosystem on which to thrive.
When generations shifted to the Xbox One/PS4, the focus also shifted away from the console holders propping up these smaller titles to the same degree. When all games were now digital, it took away from some of the specialness of indie titles that existed in the mid-2000s. Gone was the Summer of Arcade and other spotlight features of its ilk. This, paired with a glut of ports from mobile and PC, meant it was harder and harder for indie games to stand out, though the best rose to the surface.
Some of these were aided by large publishers, like Ori and Unravel. Others stood strong on their own, blazing new trails through stunning visual styles, like Superhot, or filling gaps in the triple-A space, like Outlast and Project Cars. Others revitalized whole genres, like Rogue Legacy, leading to exceptional entries into their genres like last year’s Hades. Indie games thrive on new ideas and are the most fertile ground for the development of new IP. It is great to see developers refine their methodology to produce sequels that surpass or perfect their original designs.
Furthermore, we can separate out those franchises that are not new IP, but are reboots that also achieved two games this generation. The four reboot franchises are Doom, Hitman, Wolfenstein, and Star Wars Battlefront. These four franchises each have a unique story. Doom and Hitman are made by the same developer that made the franchise famous. These reboots have come out to widespread critical and commercial acclaim. Additionally, coming from large publishers it makes their continuation more likely. Wolfenstein has seen a bit of a dip in terms of the quality of the final product with its most recent release Wolfenstein: Youngblood. However, it is universally expected that another Wolfstein game is not far behind. It will not be at the hands of Machine Games though, who are working on Indiana Jones.
Given Microsoft’s purchase of the developers of both Doom and Wolfenstein, these have now become two of Microsoft’s most successful ‘new IP’ of the last generation. The black sheep of this group is Star Wars Battlefront. Not only has EA lost the exclusive rights to the Star Wars franchise, but Battlefront 2 has been the cause of legislation across the United States and worldwide investigating loot boxes as gambling. The game underwent a total overhaul after launch. At this point, it seems unlikely that we will see a third entry in the series. It is about as toxic a name as can be found in gaming.
Sure, But What About What’s Coming?
Sony in particular has laid a huge foundation for future franchises late in the PS4 life cycle. Games like Ghost of Tsushima, God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man, and Dreams. God of War will be seeing its next iteration along with Horizon Forbidden West on the PS5. Sony has put considerable muscle behind new triple A IP in the last generation. Propelling these titles forward into franchises is not hard to see. We would also expect to see a new Naughty Dog franchise this generation. After all, they have launched a new franchise for virtually every generation of Sony consoles (The Last of Us missed the next gen cutoff by a year.)
Microsoft meanwhile has all eyes on the future. Currently, it has one new franchise in the making with Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 on its way later this year. It has three known new IP from their stable of studios in the form of Avowed from Obisidian, Project Mara from Ninja Theory, and Everwild from Rare. Two old franchises are making comebacks with Perfect Dark and Fable. Its acquisition of Zenimax has also outfitted it with new IP in the form of Deathloop from Arkane, Indiana Jones from Machine Games, Starfield from Bethesda.
After virtually sitting out last generation in terms of new franchise generation, the launch of so many new IP in the first two years of the Xbox Series X bodes well. Xbox’s success during the Xbox 360 era could largely be attributed to the number of great, fresh new ideas that were brought to the table from both first and third-party studios.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
We all love old favorites. There is a reason why Nintendo has been so successful for so long. They have continually updated and refreshed their old IP to produce the most consistently entertaining offerings in the industry. However, all ideas grow stale eventually and even your favorite recipe needs put in the cupboard for a while. We are drawn to what is new. There is a reason why the games most looked forward to by our audience are things like Starfield and Avowed. We delight in the new, the unexpected, the surprising. To that end, we need new franchises, new heroines, new settings, and new stories. The next generation is here. Let’s build something new.