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The Pilot Paradigm

Peter Kojesta of Exis on how to launch a new IP more effectively - and more cheaply

Launching a new IP in the games industry is a daunting and expensive task. Not only does it require the intense work of creating the game, but also the creative tinkering of the marketing and publishing teams performing market education. It is in essence, a massive gamble; we put tens of millions of dollars on the line, in the hopes that the players like our characters, our mechanics, and our creative expression.

The great risks inherent in this gamble stifle innovation, and damage not only the player, but also the developers. This article will outline the Pilot Paradigm, a new way to launch an IP, which will not only save developers/publishers millions of dollars, but also give the player a vast array of new gaming experiences. This method works for companies of all sizes, from massive publishers to the smallest indie.

The traditional IP model is broken because is it's so scary to the risk averse. It's extremely expensive, and dramatic failures almost always spell doom; if not for the developer/publisher, then certainly for the IP. Although publishers generally have the cash reserves to eat a few such mishaps, heads will roll, and shareholders lose faith.

So let's break this down a bit. A publisher decides to spend $40 million on a game, only to have it sell 500,000 copies across three platforms, creating a $30 million deficit; this is a failure. Some double down and go for a sequel, chalking the $30 million loss to market education, while others just let the matter drop, moving onto the next triple-A IP in the hopes that their catalogue of upcoming sequels will sustain them; as it often does. The issue is that 'best guess' game/IP development consequences, and in the end, don't provide too much useful information on the failure.

It takes large teams to create the triple-A projects, and when the IP fails to take root, we're left with a bloated staff, resulting in layoffs. Assembling these large teams to develop new IPs means that failure is a deep financial burden to the developer/publisher. Everyone knows this will happen, but nobody plans for it, causing the systematic layoff and restart cycle we're so use to.

Furthermore, it's often a pain to educate your market, and requires millions in marketing dollars. Cheesy viral ads, interviews with various gaming magazines, television advertisements, marketing stunts, and other hogwash meant to inform as wide an audience as possible about your obviously niche product. It's a shotgun approach, and it costs too much money for an unknown product.

Lastly, the traditional model stifles innovation. $40 million is too much to spend to try out a hook; whether it's free running, a grappling hook, or some MMO crime game. Developers who work on these IPs get project fatigue, having just spent 3-5 years working on the same game. Project fatigue leads to a clock-in mentality, and eventually your best people get so frustrated they leave; contributing to churn rate. And why would they stay? They have far too little say in the IP, because the stakeholders are spending so much money that deviation from certain pre-defined roles could be catastrophic.

This very thing ends up hurting the player. They often complain about too many sequels with tiny iterative changes, a lack of new and innovative ideas, and rehashed games. They get franchise fatigue, and stop buying Prince of Persia 15, or Lara Croft 25, resulting in franchise reboots.

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GamesIndustry International is the world's leading games industry website, incorporating GamesIndustry.biz and IndustryGamers.com.

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