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Coming Video Games More Original; Sequels & New IP Ripe for Licensing

The video game industry, like the movie business, relies heavily on sequels and established franchises to fill its coffers. It takes only a glance at the roster of top-selling titles to tell why: In games, like movies, sequels sell.

Vintage Games & Their Progeny Dominate 2014

The NPD Group’s ranking of Top 10 video game titles for 2014 contains two Call of Duty titles (Activision), sports titles in the perennial Madden NFL (Electronic Arts), NBA 2K (Take-Two Interactive) and FIFA franchises (EA), Grand Theft Auto V (Take-Two) and Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. With the exception of Call of Duty, these properties were first introduced numerous console generations ago, back in the 20th century. As for the remainder of the list, Minecraft (Microsoft) is several years old. There were just two IPs introduced from 2014 on the list: Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs and Activision’s Destiny.

More Original Games Slated for 2015

While 2014 was all about oldies but goodies, analysis of titles announced or displayed at June’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles and set for release in September 2015 and beyond shows a bit of an original turn. Meanwhile, of the 78 games The Licensing Letter lists as having licensing potential in the chart below, 31% are original IP, up from 24% last year. At the same time, sequels account for just 53% of the listed titles, down from 61% in 2014.

The week before E3, video game publishers including Activision, Electronics Arts, Sony Computer Entertainment and Ubisoft displayed new and established brands to potential license partners at Licensing Expo 2015, causing one Expo veteran to remark on the change from the days when game companies only attended to find properties to license for games, rather than offering their own game brands to be licensed out.

Retail sales of licensed merchandise based on video game properties in the U.S. and Canada fell 4% in 2014, to $575 million, according to The Licensing Letter Annual Business Survey. That’s likely due less to a loss of consumer interest in videogame properties overall as unsustainable sales of products tied to the Angry Birds mobile game franchise (which makes up a huge chunk of the video game property type segment), and overall sluggishness in software sales resulting from the latest console transitions.

Judging Original Properties’ Potential

While sequels, reboots, graphical updates and games based on licensed properties all provide licensees a track record, new properties are considerably more difficult to judge. Although there is definitely risk, new IP may also have a great upside. Activision’s Destiny provides an example of new IP’s considerable potential. From developer Bungie, which also produces Activision’s Halo series, Destiny bowed last September with more than $500 million in sales into retail stores worldwide on its first day in release, making it the largest launch of a new video game franchise in history. The game, in which players take the role of guardians who protect the last human city on Earth, has more than 20 million registered users, making it easy to see the property’s appeal to licensees. BioWorld and Game UK (both apparel and accessories), Insight Editions (art books, journals and posters), BradyGames (strategy guides) and World 3A Toys (collectible figures) are among Destiny’s licensees.

Activision reportedly spent more than $500 million to make and market the title, making it hard to draw parallels between Destiny and the new crop of original releases coming to market. New titles that TLL considers as having strong licensing potential, however, include Yoshi’s Woolly World, coming in October from Nintendo, and Unravel, due this year from Electronic Arts. Both games tap into the current handcrafting craze, with players in Yoshi’s Woolly World knitting new paths to collectibles. In Unravel, which some press reports tabbed the most charming game at E3, a character made from a single strand of yarn unravels as you play.

Licensing In

With the notable exception of Star Wars, there’s hardly a movie or TV tie-in game to be found on the TLL list. Nevertheless, releasing titles based on licensed properties, particularly sports, remains a core strategy for publishers.

  • Electronic Arts, the leader in sports games, replaced Tiger Woods as headliner for its PGA golf franchise and is releasing Rory McIlroy PGA Tour this summer, as well as Madden NFL 16. September brings EA’s NBA Live 16, with a new feature that lets game players scan their face into the game to personalize playable characters.
  • Take-Two Interactive hired filmmaker Spike Lee to write and direct a new MyCareer mode for its NBA 2K16. A special edition features Michael Jordan on the cover. Standard edition covers carry Stephen Curry, James Harden or Anthony Davis.
  • Tom Clancy’s The Division, coming in early 2016, is a completely new shooter role-playing game from Ubisoft that will draw on the Clancy credibility in the genre.
  • EA, new master video game licensee for Star Wars, has both Star Wars: Battlefront for consoles and Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes for mobile platforms coming out prior to the theatrical release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in December.

New Sequels & Reboots

In the coming year and beyond, loyal gamers will be rewarded with several sequels that have been a very, very long time in the making. Among them:

  • Bethesda Softworks is eyeing a 2016 launch for Marsset Doom (originally known as Doom 4), which will reboot a classic franchise that hasn’t seen a new installment since Doom 3 in 2004.
  • Square Enix is working on both a long-anticipated HD remake of 1997’s Final Fantasy VII and World of Final Fantasy a brand new game spinoff with cutesy versions of classic FF characters.
  • Harmonix and Activision will resuscitate the music genre with their reboots Rock Band 4 and Guitar Hero Live, respectively. Both are due in October, after five years without a gig for either franchise.

New Toys to Life Games

The toys to life category, in which electronically wired toy figurines interact with and within the video game, continues to grow and spawn new competition. Activision’s Skylanders, which pioneered the category in 2011, has sold more than 250 million toys worldwide and is in every key licensing category, according to the company. Its newest game, Skylanders Superchargers, is due in September, with classic Nintendo characters Donkey Kong and Bowser included. Other notable new games in the category:

  • Disney’s Disney Infinity 3.0, which focuses on Star Wars, comes to retail for the 2015 holiday season.
  • Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment will soon enter the category with Lego Dimensions, which combines Lego building with multiple franchises including DC Comics, The Lord of the Rings and Back to the Future.
  • Nintendo will continue to use its amiibo figures with games, including Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival.
Planned Video Game Releases with Licensing Potential
Fall 2015–2016+
Game (Description) Planned Release Publisher Sequel Reboot New IP Licensed Graphical Update
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom PainNext title in the action/espionage series. Sequel to 2014’s Ground Zeroes. Past licensees include ThreeA (figures), Square Enix (collectible figures) and SideShow Collectibles (collectibles). 9.1.15 Konami X
Mad MaxVehicular combat and third-person action video game based on the Mad Max film series. 9.1.15 Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment X
Super Mario MakerMore of a game maker, allowing players to create and edit their own Mario stages. 9.11.15 Nintendo X X
Forza Motorsport 6Next Forza game will feature more than 450 cars and 26 locations. 9.15.15 Microsoft X
Skylander Superschargers Donkey Kong and Bowser join the Skylanders in an epic battle against Kaos and The Darkness. 9.20.15 Activision X
FIFA 16Features 12 women’s national teams for the first time in franchise history. 9.22.15 Electronic Arts X X
Lego Dimensions”Toys-to- life” game that will compete with the like of Skylanders. Properties incorporated include DC Comics, The Lord of the Rings and Back to the Future. Starter pack ships with a Lego Toy Pad that works with custom Lego mini figures, bricks and sets to generate in-game content. 9.27.15 Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment X
NBA Live 16New feature allows you to scan your face into the game. 9.29.15 Electronic Arts X X
NBA 2K16Standard edition includes new MyCareer mode written and directed by Spike Lee, as well as three different cover versions: Stephen Curry, James Harden and Anthony Davis. A special edition has Michael Jordan on the cover. 9.29.15 2K Games X X
Rock Band 4Sequel comes to retail five years after Rock Band 3 was published in 2010, this time without a major publisher. 10.6.15 Harmonix X X
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: SiegeLatest release in tactical shooting game franchise based on the Tom Clancy book of the same name. 10.13.15 Ubisoft X X
Yoshi’s Woolly WorldMario’s lizard companion Yoshi stars in his own crafty game, a console first since 1998’s Yoshi’s Story. 10.16.15 Nintendo X
Guitar Hero LiveFirst installment in the franchise since 2010’s Warriors of Rock. Gameplay rebuilt to be more immersive, with new guitar controller. 10.16.15 Activision X X
Assassin’s Creed SyndicateSequel in the historical action adventure series. A movie based on the franchise is due in 2016. 10.23.15 Ubisoft X
Halo 5: GuardiansNext-gen sequel to Halo 4. Series licensees have included NECA (board games, collectibles, replicas, motorcycle apparel), A Crowded Coop (collectible lunchboxes) and Bandai (construction toys). 10.27.15 Microsoft X
Just Dance 2016New songs include ‘Uptown Funk’ and ‘All About That Base.’ 10.20.15 Ubisoft X X
Need for Speed21st release in the Need for Speed series is a full reboot of the franchise. 11.3.15 Electronic Arts X X
Anno 2205Futuristic city-builder where players can develop towns and resources on Earth and launch ships to the moon. 11.3.15 Ubisoft X
Call of Duty: Black Ops IIIGame play picks up 40 years after 2012’s COD: Black Ops II. Franchise licensees include Mega Brands, BioWorld, Funko, BradyGames, Fathead, Surreal, Power A, KontrolFreek, Razer. 11.6.15 Activision X
Fallout 4Sequel in the action role-playing series includes a camera that can switch from first- to third-person view. 11.10.15 Bethesda Softworks X
Rise of the Tomb RaiderSequel to the 2013 reboot of the Tomb Raider series. Past licensees include Diamond Select Toys (action figures) and Dark Horse Comics (comic books). 11.10.15 Square Enix X
Star Wars: BattlefrontThe first console Star Wars game from new master licensee EA. Features classic planets from the original Star Wars trilogy. 11.17.15 Electronic Arts X X
Just Cause 3Action-adventure sequel includes a new wingsuit. 12.1.15 Square Enix X
Trackmania TurboThe PC racing franchise comes to advanced consoles. 12.1.14 Ubisoft X
Xenoblade Chronicles XExplore an exotic world and save humanity in this “spiritual sequel” to 2012’s Xenoblade Chronicles. 12.4.15 Nintendo X
HitmanCalled the Hitman franchise’s “most ambitious game ever.” 12.8.15 Square Enix X
Mutant Mudds Super Challenge40 new levels beyond the original Mutant Mudds. Q3 2015 Renegage Kids X
TypomanPuzzle game in which a hero uses letters to alter his environment. Q3 2015 Headup Games X
RunbowAction party game with a unique color scheme: obstacles appear and disappear against changing color backgrounds. Q3 2015 13AM Games X
Freedom PlanetCartoony, combat-based platform adventure pitting a spunky dragon girl and her friends against aliens. Q3 2015 Galaxy Trail X
Extreme ExorcismParanormal platform game includes 20 ghost-busting weapons to choose from. Q3 2015 Ripstone X
Yo-Kai WatchThe Japanese cultural phenomenon comes to Nintendo 3DS. Q4 2015 Nintendo X
Disney Infinity 3.0Disney’s newest “toys-to-life” games has a focus on Star Wars. Q4 2015 Disney Interactive Studios X
XCOM 2Sequel to the award-winning strategy title XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Q4 2015 2K Games X
Mario Tennis: Ultra SmashMario Tennis comes to Wii U with a new Jumpshot move and new characters. Q4 2015 Nintendo X X
Animal Crossing: amiibo FestivalIt’s a party in the Animal Crossing universe, where the goal is the play board games and collect Happy Points. Q4 2015 Nintendo X
RIVEMetal wrecking, robot hacking 2D shooter. Q4 2015 Two Tribes Publishing X
Star Fox ZeroHigh definition fantasy flight/action game starring Fox McCloud. Q4 2015 Nintendo X
Soul AxiomSci-fi cyber thriller from the studio that made Master Reboot. Q4 2015 Wales Interactive X
Lovely PlanetFirst-person shooter set in a “cutesy, abstract world.” Q4 2015 Tinybuild Games X
Fable LegendsPrequel game set in Lionhead Studios’ Fable role playing universe. Q4 2015 Microsoft X
Star Wars: Galaxy of HeroesCollectible card-based role-playing game for mobile platforms. TBA 2015 Electronic Arts X
UnravelDubbed the most charming game at E3 by some press, Unravel features Yarney, a character made of a single strand of yarn that unravels as you play. TBA 2015 Electronic Arts X
Devil’s ThirdWii U exclusive from designer Tomonobu Itagaki is a third person shooter/hacker/slasher. TBA 2015 Nintendo X
Kingdom Hearts IIIA mature Sora sets forth on an adventure with Mickey, Donald and Goofy through new and legendary Disney worlds TBA 2015 Square Enix X X
FAST Racing NeoFuturistic follow up to 2011’s FAST Racing League. TBA 2015 Shin’en Multimedia X
Mirror’s Edge CatalystSequel to 2008’s free-running action game starring messenger Faith. 2.23.16 Electronic Arts X X
Tom Clancy’s The DivisionMassively multiplayer online game set in a post-apocalyptic world. 3.8.16 Ubisoft X X
Street Fighter VFifth Street Fighter installment introduces new playable characters. Q1 2016 Capcom X
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s EndFourth entry in the adventure game series centered around Nathan Drake. Dimensional Branding Group handles licensing. Licensees for the series include Sideshow (collectibles), Bandai (card games) and CaféPress. Q1 2016 Sony X
ReCoreA new game from the creators of Metroid Prime and Mega Man features a woman and her robot dog fighting enemies in a desert wasteland. Q2 2016 Microsoft X
Ratchet & ClankReimagining of the character-driven action game series, with a film on the way in 2015. IP Factory is current licensee for statues. Q2 2016 Sony X
Mass Effect: AndromedaNewest entry into BioWare’s science fiction action/role playing game series. Past licensees include Dark Horse Comics (collectibles, comics), IP Factory (collectibles) and Black Milk Clothing (women’s apparel). Q4 2016 Electronic Arts X
Gears of War 4Next chapter in the best-selling sci-fi series. Q4 2016 Microsoft X
Mario & Luigi: Paper JamPaper Mario jumps out of a book and joins the Mario & Luigi universe. TBA 2016 Nintendo X
Dishonored 2Sequel to 2012’s Dishonored. TBA 2016 Bethesda Softworks X
Quantum BreakTime travel action game formatted in the style of a TV series. TBA 2016 Microsoft X
Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare 2Fourth entry in the PVZ property, which combines shooting with humor. TBA 2016 Electronic Arts X
Dead Island 2San Francisco-set zombie game sequel from the creators of Spec Ops: The Line. TBA 2016 Deep Silver X
Homefront: The RevolutionSequel to THQ’s 2001 game, Homefront, set in a U.S. invaded by the Greater Korean Republic. TBA 2016 Deep Silver X X
Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic GamesSoccer, rugby and beach volleyball are among the events in the 4-player sports game. TBA 2016 Nintendo X
CrackdownReimagining of 2007’s open-world superhero crime game, created by Lemmings/Grand Theft Auto creator David Jones. TBA 2016 Microsoft X
DoomId Software’s reboot of the horror-themed shooter series. TBA 2016 Bethesda Softworks X
The Legend of ZeldaUpcoming installment in longstanding action/role playing franchise starring Link. Series licensees include Fifth Sun (apparel) and Dark Horse Comics (statues). TBA 2016 Nintendo X
Dark Souls IIISlated to be the final episode in the Dark Souls series. TBA 2016 Bandai Namco X
The Last GuardianA young boy travels with a mysterious creature through a beautiful and treacherous fantasy world in this much-anticipated title originally announced in 2007. TBA 2016 Sony X
Horizon: Zero DawnAction role-playing game set after the fall of civilization, from the creators of the Killzone franchise. TBA 2016 Sony X
World of Final FantasyBrand new game with cutesy versions of classic Final Fantasy characters. TBA 2016 Square Enix X X
For HonorNext big new IP from Ubisoft is a combat game featuring brutal battles between three factions. TBA 2016 Ubisoft X
Deux Ex Mankind DividedCyberpunk themed sequel to 2011’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution TBA 2016 Square Enix X
Phantom DustAction/strategy game and remake of the 2004 title of the same name for the Xbox One. TBA Microsoft X
Sea of ThievesDeveloper Rare (Banjo Kazooie, Battletoads) is creating this pirate adventure game. TBA Microsoft X
DreamsFrom the developer of LittleBigPlanet, this game lets players “piece together a whole environment in moments” to explore one another’s dreams. TBA Sony X
FirewatchA mystery set in the woods of Wyoming, where a fire lookout has a handheld radio as his only connection to the outside world. TBA Panic, Inc., Campo Santo X
Final Fantasy VII Long anticipated HD remake of the 1997 game. TBA Square Enix X X
Shenmue IIIDirector Yu Suzuki during Sony’s E3 press conference announced a Kickstarter campaign to raise $2 million to start development of this sequel, 14 years after Shenmue II. TBA TBD X
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: WildlandsGlobetrotting installment in the Ghost Recon shooter series. TBA Ubisoft X X
South Park: The Fractured but WholeA superhero themed origin story of “The New Kid.” TBA Ubisoft X X


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