Fewer and Bigger Brands: A Good Strategy?

Fewer and Bigger Brands: A Good Strategy?

Given the rising costs associated with video game development and distribution, it wasn’t a big surprise when EA announced in 2010 that it was aiming to focus on making fewer titles from bigger franchises as a means of saving money. Flash forward to 2011. EA confirmed that its “fewer, bigger” strategy is serving it well. Big-name games like Bulletstorm, Crysis 2 and the upcoming Battlefield 3 have the publisher off to a good start retail-wise.

EA has also been focusing on reinvigorating the racing genre with the release of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit and Shift 2: Unleashed for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC. Other recent and upcoming hot releases for EA include the retail version of Portal 2, American McGee’s Alice: Madness Returns, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and Shadows of the Damned.

Honestly, that’s still a hefty chunk of retail that has EA’s name stamped on it, but it’s still worth examining EA’s key point: Is it a good idea for any publisher and/or developer to focus its energy on a small roster of big-name titles instead of scattering its efforts across several smaller games?

It makes some sense for a big publisher like EA, as exercising some focus obviously gets results. However, EA is also very enthusiastic about its free-to-play and social games, and it can twine its big releases around those projects. Other publishers don’t have as many back-up plans in case a big game just fails to sell. Developing and publishing are always going to present risks, and many developers feel like they’re on shaky round to begin with, as the market is currently splitting up between retail and digital distribution.

Many smaller developers and publishers also don’t have the resources necessary to focus on more than one or two projects at a time, so for them, the question is moot. It does bring to mind an interesting point about Nintendo’s properties, though: Nintendo has a lot of lucrative franchises, and most of them bring in considerable money when a new game is released. Should Nintendo still take a page from EA by slowing down and limiting big-name releases?

That would be a difficult thing to do, given the Wii is currently running almost entirely on first-party releases, and the Nintendo 3DS’s sluggish sales can be blamed at least partially on a whole lot of people waiting for some must-have games by Nintendo. But it also doesn’t hurt to put a franchise to bed for a little while if you have others to fall back on: A lot of people are excited about Kid Icarus Uprising on the Nintendo 3DS.

Mind, a twenty-year nap isn’t really necessary. But the core idea is still a good one.

While EA’s idea of staying focused on fewer franchises isn’t necessarily a bad one, it should also remember that there are still plenty of fans waiting for follow-up games in “smaller” franchises. Case in point: A commenter on Industry Gamers who responded to EA’s strategy with, “OK, Great. Now give me Mirror’s Edge 2.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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