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.’

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