Capcom recently told me the life cyle of retail products is “shrinking.” That idea wasn’t hard to swallow given the impetus for the questions I’ve been asking publishers lately: the Multiplayer editorial team’s inability to track down a copy of 2005’s “Tetris DS.”
The Capcom take is that, as the industry has grown, the amount of time a title is viable for sale has lessened.
EA disagrees. Jeff Karp, EA’s head of North American publishing, told MTV Multiplayer that the life cycle is increasing in most respects.
Karp was speaking from the perspective of a publisher whose games have a mainstream appeal far larger than “Devil May Cry” — “The Sims,” “Madden NFL”, etc. A good chunk of EA’s business is annualized franchises and expanded content.
Does that mean life at retail for games actually is increasing, or is EA simply a publisher excellent at producing IP with extensive lifespans?
Many of the titles that Karp referred to during my conversation with him are MMOs, games that are relevant to their players far after copies are sold at retail. EA publishes “Ultima Online” and “Dark Age of Camelot,” two online RPGs that have maintained longtime fanbases.
But there’s more to it. EA has been one of the first publishers to embrace the micro-transaction model. They’ve already experimented plenty; sometimes successfully (free islands for “Burnout Paradise”), other times not so much (paying real money in exchange for virtual money in “The Godfather”).
Games like “Halo 3″ and “Rock Band” seem to have proven the value of quality downloadable content at a fair price.
In order to take advantage of any form of downloadable content, however, a publisher needs to plan in advance, said Karp. With “Spore,” EA already has plans internally to develop new content for at least 10 years. These plans include the traditional new levels and building blocks, but also “new ways to play and experience ’Spore’.”
Karp admitted games like Spore and “The Sims” are not the norm. Not every game can find an audience for years and years on end, even if you do produce new content. He said most high-profile games will find themselves viable at retail for 18-24 months.
Even though EA has publicly declared a desire to create new IP, that’s a major undertaking and takes time. As that happens, EA relies on legacy products. “We have products that have been around for a while and people are used to [them],” said Karp. “Very few other publishers really have these types of franchises that have the longevity.”
The latest “Madden” is bound to sell millions, even on an off year. And if EA ends up purchasing Take-Two Interactive, knocking out their sports franchises, that will ring even truer. As a result, even EA admits it might be unfair to compare their views on longevity to other publishers.
Ignoring all other factors, however, Karp believes success in the games business comes down to a simple fact: “The ones that last are ones that are innovative and drive consumer enthusiasm.”
And when a game underperforms, even an EA one? “They were not the games we thought we created,” he said.
Additionally, he argued Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii will extend this generation’s hardware cycle far longer than the last. As the machines acquire larger user bases, the bigger (and longer) window a game will have to perform at retail.
Or not. “I could be wrong,” he said candidly.
Is Capcom right, that the life cycle is getting shorter? Or is EA correct that a good game can and will live a longer life in an era of micro-transactions