I'm Batman, aren't we all? Well according to the sales figures of Arkham city, yes we are. The incredible success of Arkham city is a massive victory for everyone in the games industry. Why? It proves that giving a talented developer time, money and backing can end in massive profits for shareholders and a great game for consumers. Everybody wins.
In an industry that is constantly being berated for lack of creativity it seems impossible that a middling developer would be given an important license and then provided enough time to produce a really special game. Well that is what happened, when WB games allowed Rocksteady studios to develop a completely original game based on the Batman license. What had Rocksteady done to deserve this honor? From the surface not a great deal on the surface, a short history of games production that can be summed in with one major release. Urban Chaos- Riot response was a fairly well received first person shooter (73% on metacritic, not to be sniffed at) but not a game that would have fans feverishly clamoring at Rocksteady's door.
This is the the major point though, WB interactive did see something special in Rocksteady. They didn't bas their assessment of the company on sales and reviews they must have looked at the developer and really believed in their ability to turn around a top tier game. This is why I think they deserve praise. I know we as a community like to stick it to the man, the men with the money that make all our playgrounds brown, re- imagine our favorite franchises as first person shooters and make sonic black then give him guns. Perhaps, just perhaps we should congratulate them when they get something right? How else are they supposed to learn? There's no naughty step for multinational corporations.
Think about the sell they must have had to make to their shareholder, their boss and paymaster and dark lord of all the western provinces (perhaps exaggerated).
"We're going to give one of our biggest licenses to a fairly small developer from Kentish town, London."
"They've only made one game before"
"It didn't sell or score that well"
Would you have taken this as a shareholder, this is your money on the line. Would you not have insisted on an another safe movie based game? Doesn't set the world alight but it pays the bills. Mediocre but profitable. You can almost feel the internet quivering with anger at this kind of thinking. When you take a second to think about how producers have to justify the money they are giving to developers maybe their "erring on the side of caution" becomes more understandable?
WB Interactive must have seen something in Rocksteady though because Batman Arkham asylum is a AAA game all the way through, with top notch graphics, full access to the artists and writer of the Batman comics and a top notch voice cast. This establishment of a franchise has then gone on to do wonders for the sequel. Selling more than Arkham Asylum managed in its lifetime in its first week and Arkham city was one of the most anticipated games of 2011.
Is this a singular case of a producer striking lucky by finding a little known but excellent developer? I present Dead Space 2. Remember this one. I know gamers have a short memory but peer back into the mists of time and come back with me to the year of 2011. Dead Space 2 is released by Visceral games and ships as many copies in its first week as its predecessor did in its lifetime. Seem familiar? What comparisons can we draw between these two examples. Well again both seem to be producers taking a chance on a lesser known developer, giving them time, space and money and trusting them to develop an original IP. The developers have a history of making licensed games such as Lord of the Rings and James Bond but nothing spectacular in terms of critical response or sales. Out of nothing their producers give them an opportunity to develop an original IP and back them with advertising and proper support. The reward for this relationship being a decent selling first game and an excellent selling second game.
Gamers are nothing if not faithful, and many will champion a franchise to death and ruin. So perhaps what other producers can learn from these examples is that given time and space a talented developer can create an original IP that will make you (not you, I doubt you're a game producer) loads of money but you may have to play the long game. Nintendo follow this policy to the letter and have perhaps the most fervent fanbase. They give their talented developers time and backing to create their games and now have the most well established fracnhises of any company but now more than ever they need to take some risks and let their creative teams develop some new ideas. The Wii U seems to be open to more input from other companies and new ideas but trying to second gues Nintendo is like playing chess against a cat, you can never really win and most of the time you will not know whats going on, or why you eneded up playing chess with a cat.
It often seems obvious from playing games that the developers have been rushed to meet deadlines or the "money men" have got involved to fiddle with the game to add or take away things they believe is popular such as multiplayer or massive set pieces. Ironically the second Dead Space was subject to this as multiplayer was glued onto the single player campaign. It wasn't a bad effort but certainly wasn't the main draw and the servers very quickly died off.
Gamers, you don't get away without some learnin' either. When a producer does get things right perhaps we should given them the kudos they deserve. It's easy to criticize (fun too) but if thats all you do, and as gamers we do it a lot, the people who provide our content will grow to deaf to it. Let them know when they have a good thing going too and maybe they will get it right more often.
I'll save a final line for WB Interactive- Good job guys and the lovely people at Rocksteady, you all win.