By Scott Saffran
Horizon Zero Dawn (HZD) was one of the more anticipated releases of early 2017, contending with games like Nioh and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and new console, the Nintendo Switch. What set HZD apart in the minds of most video game consumers was the impressive originality of the game concept. For those unfamiliar, HZD is set in a sort of post-apocalyptic world overrun with robotic beasts and dinosaur-like creatures. The story focuses on a young hunter named Aloy, who has been cast out from her tribe, and her quest to traverse the expanse and learn more about her own history and the world in which she lives. This game felt truly new. This was a character we had never met before in a world we had never yet seen. The entire concept, while riffing significantly off open-world action RPG tropes, was intoxicatingly imaginative. Even more impressive was the fact that publisher Guerilla Games was able to create on such a scale after working with the Killzone IP uninterrupted since 2004.
So what does this mean and why is HZD important? Let’s take a look at the best-selling games of 2016. In order from first to last: Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Battlefield 1, The Division, NBA 2K17, Madden NFL 17, Grand Theft Auto V, Overwatch, Call of Duty: Black Ops III, FIFA 17, and Final Fantasy XV. All but one of these games are a sequel or a spin-off of an existing IP. One is even a remaster of a previously released game. Still, these are the best-sellers, the games we gamers went out to purchase by our own volition. Intuitively, this shows that the video game public is simply not predominantly interested in new video game experiences. Of course, publishers will be taking note of these numbers; it’s why they make these games after all. If existing IPs like Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, and Battlefield are the moneymakers, why try anything new? COD: Infinite Warfare was the thirteenth installment in the COD franchise. Activision had published a variation of a first-person military shooter twelve times prior and the thirteenth time was able to sit at the top of the charts, undisputed. There is no incentive to divert from the obscene flows of cash.
Nevertheless, console producers have taken notice of this trend and the effects it has on their business. My very first console was a PlayStation 3 and the reason I bought it was to play Uncharted, God of War, and Gran Turismo. The PS3 had mascots, characters or games that drew casual gamers to their product. Many gamers, like myself, who saw the ashen behemoth Kratos for the first time were immediately drawn to the Sony console. In 2017, those exclusive IPs that drew attention and money for Sony and Microsoft are now the tired sequel machines. Nathan Drake, the man who brought many young gamers to PlayStation, has now hung up his holster for what seems to be the last time. Even Kratos himself, with another impending release, is not nearly the draw he once was. While sequels and spinoffs make their money hand-over-fist, now more than ever before there is little reason for gamers to side with one console over another. If I can play what were effectively the top ten games of 2016 on either the PS4 or the Xbox One, what reason do I have to choose one over the other?
HZD and Aloy, herself, are crucial to PlayStation and Sony’s continued success. While general console exclusives like Uncharted 4 are a boon for business, new IPs like HZD are doubly valuable. By publishing this game, Sony is investing in an identity for the PS4. They are helping to create something that is inextricably connected to PlayStation’s fourth generation, a reason for gamers to choose their console. This even holds true for publishers and developers. Rocksteady, the developer of the Batman: Arkham series – while renowned for their impressive track record – will never jump immediately to mind at the sight of the Caped Crusader. CD Projekt Red, developer of The Witcher series has the right idea. After the massive success of their third installation, the Polish studio is turning to an entirely new IP with Cyberpunk 2077 in hopes of sealing their legacy with an IP that is unmistakably CDPR.
Mainstays like GTA, COD, and all the sports titles under the sun are not going anywhere. However, outside these juggernauts is where console producers, publishers, and developers should be looking to make their names with original IPs that cement their brand identities and provide a continuous cycle of new content for video game consumers. Whether they be console exclusives or just a break from an overly published series, new IPs in video games are inherently beneficial to all areas of the gaming industry. Of course, this all assumes they aren’t garbage. *cough*No Man’s Sky*cough*