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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 June, 2004, 08:06 GMT 09:06 UK
Game firms urged to take risks
Darren Waters
BBC News Online staff

Sequels and franchises have become a core component of the video games industry, but does that mean innovation can no longer exist?

Splinter Cell 3
Splinter Cell will return for a third outing
Last week's UK games chart gives a clear, if selective, overview of the state of the video games industry.

In the top 20, only one title was not a sequel or a game based on a movie or sports license.

Sony's karaoke party game Sing Star was also one of the few truly innovative games in the chart.

The biggest-selling game in the chart was also the most popular movie in the UK that week - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

The world's biggest games publisher Electronic Arts, which makes the Harry Potter titles, had a further three games in the top 10.

Risky business

But are brands, sequels, franchises and innovation mutually exclusive?

If you don't do risks, you don't exist - apart from Electronic Arts, who are not taking many risks because they can afford not to
Alain Corre, Ubisoft
"Establishing brands diminishes risk," says Alain Corre, European managing director, at successful publisher and developer Ubisoft.

"In the last three years we have done this with Splinter Cell, Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six."

Mr Corre said Ubisoft looked to create a minimum of two brands a year but stressed that they needed to be injected with innovation.

"If you have a brand, you can live on the brand you have and do the minimum job.

"It will sell a certain amount but damage the franchise, and sells will fall."

Rob Fahey, editor of website, said games developers and manufacturers were innovating because they had to.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter - number one movie and game
"The games industry is the fastest growing entertainment industry in the world and they want to sustain that growth.

"One of the big problems in keeping releasing the same old games is that you are not going to get growth.

"They are trying to find new ways of reaching out to new markets - to older gamers, women and those who once played games but do not any more."

But Mr Fahey said most innovation was now in hardware and not software.

He cited Sony's camera peripheral for PlayStation 2, the EyeToy camera, as an example of innovation which appealed to those consumers who were put off playing games by the complexity of the joy pad.

Jungle beat

At the recent E3 video games show in Los Angeles, Nintendo unveiled two new devices designed to appeal to a new generation of gamers,

The hand-held Nintendo DS will let gamers control action by voice input while Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat is a new game which is controlled by banging on a bongo drum.

Mr Corre said: "There are two possibilities in this business - either you sign a known franchise based on a movie, for example, and you develop a game to go with the event or you create your own IP [intellectual property]."

Control the action with a drum in Donkey Kong
But Mr Corre acknowledged that new IP brought great risks.

Last year Ubisoft published three of the most innovative games released all year but all three failed to ignite the excitement of mass market consumers.

"Last year we didn't do the work on positioning XIII, Beyond Good and Evil and to a certain extent Prince of Persia.

"The game play was there, the technical excellence was there but perhaps the target audience was not there."

His comments will not come as a surprise to many in the industry. Rarely is innovation in software rewarded with stellar sales.

In recent years games such as Rez, Ico and Frequency on the PlayStation 2 were praised for their innovation but did not recoup the faith placed in them by their developers with all-important sales.

"The problem is that we are reaching the end of the life of the current generation of consoles," said Mr Fahey.

"Companies are loath to release new franchises when the consoles are reaching the end of their life."

But Mr Corre pledged that Ubisoft would keep on innovating.

"If you don't do risks, you don't exist - apart from Electronic Arts, who are not taking many risks because they can afford not to."

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