Basic Issues of Entertainment IP Economics: Speaking from “Final Fantasy”

When it comes to IP development, the first thing I think of every time is the “Final Fantasy” series.

Recently, many friends have asked me my views on IP development: how to create a sustainable world view, how to ensure the attractiveness of characters and plots, and how to make sequels of excellent works popular? When it comes to IP development, the first thing I think of is always the “Final Fantasy” series. I have written a detailed research report for it. Whether from the front or the back, it can provide us with endless educational significance.

This article has been written for some time, so I will share it with you again today. I hope that on the road of creating excellent cultural and entertainment content, we can be less eager for quick success, less careful calculation, and more majestic and long-term vision.

As everyone knows, “Dragon Quest” and “Final Fantasy” are ranked as the second of Japan’s three major RPGs; the other one is inconclusive. Some people say it is “Pokemon”, and some people say it is “Legend of Heroes” (ie, “Tracks” series). ), “Legend” or “True Goddess Reincarnation” (including the sub-series “Persona”). For local Japanese players, “Dragon Quest” has a unique charm, and is even banned from being sold on weekdays to prevent players from forgetting sleep and eating and abandoning their jobs; for international players, “Final Fantasy” is far more famous. higher. Chinese players can definitely appreciate this: very few people have never heard of Eyes on Me, have never been obsessed with Yuna dancing, and have never watched one or two “Final Fantasy” movies.

For me to say, “Final Fantasy” series ended in 2002: the year Hironobu Sakaguchi left Square Enix, the successor producer Yoshinori Kitase completion of the “Final Fantasy 10-2”, which is a hit with many new yuan Su but serious work fouls. Since then, the producers and master planners of each generation of “Final Fantasy” have gone further and further on the road of fouls, until the “3A” masterpiece, actually soulless “Final Fantasy 15”, sent this series to a dead end.

Basic Issues of Entertainment IP Economics: Speaking from "Final Fantasy"

“Final Fantasy 15”, a technologically advanced but soulless RPG

From the most successful game series in human history to being vilified and abandoned by hardcore players, what mistakes did the “Final Fantasy” series make? Part of the reason is technical: after entering the 3D era, the graphics technology level of Japanese manufacturers has fallen far behind their European and American counterparts, and their financial resources cannot keep up. This not only lags behind in visual effects, but also is not conducive to gameplay innovation. Others believe that RPG itself is on the verge of extinction, and the smashing Japanese RPGs in the early 21st century will sooner or later decline; but just look at the excellent market performance of the “Dark Soul”, “Persona” and “Pokemon” series. You know how absurd this statement is.

Okay, now let me talk about my own point of view: the collapse of the “Final Fantasy” series started from the plot. Remember “Final Fantasy 12”? The world view is excellent, the gameplay completely abandoned the turn-based system, the refreshing team battles are refreshing, and the graphics are also at a high level at the time-unfortunately it was ruined by the anticlimactic plot. “Final Fantasy 13” has a total of three works, but it still doesn’t tell a good story. The heroine’s popularity is also the lowest in history. “Final Fantasy 15” made a mistake similar to that of 12: the story was suddenly disconnected in the middle of the story, and a large number of plots can only be shown in the form of DLC or blank space. This processing is worse than unfinished. (11 and 14 are not mentioned above, because they are MMORPG, the plot is not that important.)

Japanese-style RPG is based on the plot. Who can imagine that the top card of Japanese-style RPG can’t tell stories? Some people will argue that the plot will also be affected by technology and financial resources. For example, the plot of “Final Fantasy 15” was interrupted halfway because of high production costs. This is simply nonsense-the task of the screenwriter is to write the best possible story under a certain budget constraint, and the producer should also use the resources as much as possible. If it is short of money, you can cut a small shop pad, reducing the cutscenes, reduce secondary task, concentrate on strengthening the main line. To put it bluntly, Square Either did not pay enough attention to the plot, or hired the wrong screenwriter and planner.

Basic Issues of Entertainment IP Economics: Speaking from "Final Fantasy"

Compared with “Persona 5”, “Final Fantasy 15” has a larger budget and a lower reputation

In the final analysis, once a series of traditions is broken, it loses its spirit and is difficult to revive. The storytelling tradition of the “Final Fantasy” series can be summarized into three:

First, the worldview is complete, independent, and self-consistent, and has nothing to do with the real world or other virtual worlds. Each generation of “Final Fantasy” orthodox works has a unique world: it can be “sword and magic”, it can be “steampunk”, or a combination of the two. These worlds are very realistic, with credible historical backgrounds and complex customs, and they are no less inferior to the large fantasy worlds in “The Lord of the Rings” and “A Song of Ice and Fire.”

Second, adopt the narrative line of “big melodrama”: all problems are completely and thoroughly resolved within the framework of the story. For example, the devil will be defeated in the end, the world’s balance will be restored, the main character whereabouts there will be accountable. Each one volt lines are opened, each of suspense are settled; even with the unknown, most have nothing to do with the main line. At the end of the story, everything enters eternal stillness, leaving no room for the development of a sequel.

Third, the characters are extremely complex and tend to multi-line narratives. The group play of “Final Fantasy 6”, the repeated flashbacks of 7, the memory of 8 enters the world of memories, the multiple main lines of 9, the two generations of stories interlaced in 10 … The “Final Fantasy” series has never only focused on the male and female protagonists, and more than just discussed one. This kind of sentiment is more than just a camp perspective. Side missions are often related to the inner world of a certain character. Players feel like they are intervening in the natural life of a large group of flesh and blood characters, rather than simply manipulating them.

Basic Issues of Entertainment IP Economics: Speaking from "Final Fantasy"

“Final Fantasy 6” has 12 protagonists, each with an independent and complete story

The above three traditions together lead to a wonderful phenomenon: each orthodox work of “Final Fantasy” is developed from a new start, and the characters, plots, and worldviews are not interoperable. 7’s Cloud does not know 8’s Scoul, 9’s Princess Knife does not know 10’s Summoner Yuna; the magic and technology level settings of each work are different, and the social class and culture are very different. Those savvy “IP investors” will surely sigh: Why not develop a sequel to a great story? For example, why not talk about the whereabouts of Houkelaode of Shinra’s demise, Squall and Li Nuoya determine the relationship of love after love life , or a knife princess has not become a beloved queen? …

The answer is simple: this will damage the soul of the “Final Fantasy” series, or “author style”. Just because each worldview and character is used only once and there is no sequel, the producers, chief planners and screenwriters can devote themselves to discovering their brilliance, and will not be intimidated by short-term interests or led by short-term interests. Can a pot of tea be brewed once or twice, can it be the same taste? In the absence of a sequel, the screenwriter can kill the heroine halfway at will (Alice, 7), arrange a tragic fate for the popular supporting role (Bibi, 9), and make the hero disappear at the end (Tedda, 10) , Let the player guess whether the heroine and the villain are the same person (Linoya, 8). When the curtain falls, players will cry, grieve, be surprised, and be ecstatic, because they confirm that “everything is over, there is no room for recovery”, even sending the blade to the producer will not help.

In fact, it is often impossible for good works to have sequels. There are only a few sequels to “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms” and “Journey to the West”; there are many sequels to “A Dream of Red Mansions”, but they are all rubbish; the sequel to “Water Margin” has nothing to do with the original book. Look farther, is there a sequel to “Romeo and Juliet”? “Hamlet”? “Don Quixote”? “Faust”? “Les Miserables”? “The True Story of Ah Q”? “Four Generations Living Together”? …In the fantasy literature world, the situation is not much different: there is no official sequel to “The Lord of the Rings” (“The Hobbit” is a prequel, “The Silmarillion” is a collection of stories), after all “Harry Potter” is over It has a reputation mediocre theatrical sequel, “a song of Ice and Fire” probably will not leave any space for a sequel (because men are dead).

Basic Issues of Entertainment IP Economics: Speaking from "Final Fantasy"

99% of the sequel to “Romeo and Juliet” is a bad idea

It is necessary to explain: The “sequel” I defined refers to “a new story based on the original worldview and character frame after a story is thoroughly told”; if the story is not finished, there will be no sequel. For example, “Harry Potter” tells the same story from the first to the seventh, and “A Dream of Red Mansions” does not tell a different story from the first to the 120th. To produce a true “sequel”, we need to close the big curtain first, let the actors go to rest for a while, change the scenery, and open the big curtain again in a brand new state.

Therefore, sequel developers will be caught in a dilemma: the better the story of the original story, the deeper the character image, and the more thorough the drama conflicts, the less room will be left for the sequel. Moreover, using the same character twice will severely weaken his/her appeal. Remember that the audience/player’s impression of the character is gradually formed: a series of plot events caused emotional fluctuations, peeling off the shell of the character, and letting the soul be exposed in whole or in part. What viewers/players like is not a static character, but a journey to discover the character’s heart. In the original book, we thoroughly met a cute character, what should we do in the sequel? Know it again? Or let his character change drastically?

Even a novel master like Jin Yong can’t overcome this problem: the pretty Huang Rong, who is loved by everyone in “The Legend of the Condor Heroes”, becomes abominable in “The Couple of Condor Heroes”; the heroic Guo Jing, who has a thin and magnanimous righteousness, The fullness of character is also greatly reduced. Readers will say: Huang Rong’s temperament has changed a lot after marriage, and she is no longer the one she was back then. Has it changed? I have no idea. If it changes, it means that Jin Yong is trying hard to give the old character a new brilliance, but it is not very successful; if it does not change, it means that the reader is actually tired of the character. In “Heaven Slaying the Dragon”, Jin Yong completely avoided similar problems: Except for Zhang Sanfeng, all the characters who appeared in the previous work were dead, leaving the stage completely to the newcomers.

Basic Issues of Entertainment IP Economics: Speaking from "Final Fantasy"

Playing Huang Rong in “The Legend of the Condor Heroes” is definitely better than playing Huang Rong in “The Legend of Condor Heroes”

In 2001, when Square decided to develop a sequel to “Final Fantasy 10”, the problems faced were even more serious: First, the original was a tragedy, and the male protagonist TEDA finally disappeared. Players hope to see a happy reunion in the sequel; secondly, The heroine Yuna is very popular, but it is too perfect, this kind of “goddess” is difficult to appear as a perspective character; in the end, most of the supporting characters of the original work have been fully explored, and it is difficult to reuse in the sequel.

In this regard, Square’s solution is: to discover another side of Yuna, to turn her into a literary, martial, and quirky sporty girl, to completely break the original goddess style ; to add a new supporting role, and then bring her In the previous original work, a supporting role that was not sufficiently explored; as for TEDA, let him be resurrected at the end, so that he does not need to give him any new character or new plot. How’s the effect? The reputation is mixed. Many original players complained that “Yona was completely changed”-two years ago, the ladies who were still wearing kimono and dancing with a staff, how did they become wearing super shorts, long braids, and holding a pair two years later? Snitch with a gun? They don’t know: If Yuna maintains the character of the original, the plot of the sequel can’t go on at all. Who wants to stare at exactly the same characters twice, how can the unchanging character promote the new story?

Basic Issues of Entertainment IP Economics: Speaking from "Final Fantasy"

Yuna almost changed in “Final Fantasy 10-2”, but who has a better solution?

Imagine, what if a sequel to Final Fantasy 8 is to be developed? Scoul is obviously no longer the cold-blooded boy who kills Matt, and will probably become a normal character; Linoya is still the magical girl next door. The relationship between the two went through a huge test in the first film. Scoul trekled in the desert for a long time with Linuoya on his back, and flew into space to save her; what about the sequel? At the end of the original, the character and state of the characters are just right, just to start a warm and ordinary daily life. Which screenwriter can throw Skaul and Linoya into the complicated drama conflict again without creating a sense of contradiction? There is another option, that is, to create new characters and develop new stories around the world view of the original book and the “witch-summoned beast setting”. However, this does not seem to be a sequel to Final Fantasy 8.

Before the so-called “IP economics” concept was put forward, the main creative team didn’t need to consider too much “sequels”: there were many excellent game series in the 1980s and 2000s, and they ended when they were over. There is no need to do it again. Nintendo, Sega, Namco and Square have accumulated a large number of “dead IP”. Even the evergreen IPs such as “Final Fantasy” and “Dragon Quest” have undergone many drastic changes in the middle: every work of “Final Fantasy” will completely change the settings, and the plot of “Dragon Quest” is not Coherent. During this period, developers mainly decide whether to continue to develop an IP from the perspectives of “worldview”, “gameplay” and “tonality”: the gameplay is very distinctive like “Pokemon”, or the same as “Final Fantasy”. Only works with a strong special tone can become popular forever.

The same is true in the film and television industry: the original trilogy of “Star Wars” tells a complete story, and then no sequel was developed for many years; the first two works of “The Godfather” roughly finished the story of the original novel, and then they were not developed for many years. The sequel; even the “Terminator” series, after a set of combo punches, is basically silent; the first trilogy of “Mad Max” can almost be regarded as the end after the filming, and so on. The film and television works of this period rarely have continuous sequels, but there are obvious exceptions: “007” has one every few years, and superhero series often have a long life cycle. Why?

In fact, not only 007, the Holmes series proved as early as the end of the 19th century that “a character can reappear, and an IP can continuously launch sequels”; until the 21st century, there are still people using the two old characters of Sherlock Holmes and Watson to write new stories. “Detective Sherlock” is not a simple adaptation of the original Sherlock Holmes story, but a new story created after major changes; there are countless Sherlock Holmes movies, dramas, and games before this

Basic Issues of Entertainment IP Economics: Speaking from "Final Fantasy"

“The Detective Sherlock” not only adapted the Sherlock Holmes story, but also created a new Sherlock Holmes story

This involves a core issue of literary and artistic creation: what exactly is the character of the character? Can it change? How many levels does it have? Can we make a character stage a variety of stories through repeated changes, reorganization, and zooming?

Traditionally, film and television screenwriters often believe that the character of characters can be changed, and film and television works are to express the process of this change. For example, Mike Corleone in “The Godfather” became a stone-hearted mafia boss after the assassination of his father and the tragic death of his wife; Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars” met Obi Wan and Master Yoda After uncovering the mystery of his life experience, he became a new generation of Jedi Knights. However, in reality, we know that it is difficult for an adult’s personality to undergo essential changes, not to mention the core factors such as values ​​and ideology. With the gradual exhaustion of classic narrative routines, it has become more and more difficult for the audience to believe that “a dramatic conflict leads to dramatic changes in the character’s personality.

However, we can also look at it from another angle: even organisms with the same DNA will show various “epigenetic forms” due to different environments; in the same way, even if a person’s personality does not change, it will be due to experience. Different, showing different “apparent character.” For example, Schindler exhibited two very different apparent personalities at the beginning and end of World War II. It is not so much that the death of the little girl in red made him “change”, but rather it awakened his conscience. Values ​​and ideologies are like mineral resources, which have always been buried deep in people’s hearts, depending on how and when they discovered them.

Basic Issues of Entertainment IP Economics: Speaking from "Final Fantasy"

The little girl in “Schindler’s List” can only awaken Schindler, but cannot awaken demons like Gott

IP such as “Holmes” and “007” can become evergreens due to two factors: First, its characters are highly symbolic-Holmes is a genius detective with a quirky personality and drug addiction, 007 is A genius agent who is suave and murderous. Since its birth, the Sherlock Holmes series has been criticized by critics for being “inadequately literary.” However, this is a major benefit for the adaptors: author Conan Doyle left a solid framework, and the content is left to be filled by generations of latecomers. If the character of Sherlock Holmes is too flesh-and-blood, it is impossible for Juan Fu to give him new connotations.

When a “framework” character gradually becomes real-time, his sustainability will be destroyed. The 007 starring Daniel Craig is an excellent proof: all 007 originally were symbols, with no background, no growth experience, and no emotional accumulation; now 007 not only has ex-girlfriends, family, and multiple fetters, these fetters Still torturing him in fantasy. In the church, you can see the cemetery of 007’s parents; in the battlefield set by the villain, portraits of important figures in 007’s life appear one after the other. Strictly speaking, the 4 007s starring Craig are an organic whole, describing the process of a new agent who gradually loses everything and finds everything back. Strictly speaking, 007 should die with Craig’s resignation.

Basic Issues of Entertainment IP Economics: Speaking from "Final Fantasy"

The 007 that we are familiar with has actually come to an end in “The Ghost Party”

However, the highly mature Hollywood film and television industry used a unique method to avoid the consumption of IP characters’ lives: restart. After the “Dark Knight” trilogy finished telling the story of Batman, the series restarted; “Spiderman” restarted twice; Daniel Craig restarted 007, and it will definitely restart again in the future; maybe one day, “Star Wars”, “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” will also restart. The so-called restart is to completely overthrow the original story and tell it from the beginning. Through this process, the character returns to its “initial” state and can experience a growth trajectory again , just like the flowers that have already bloomed bloom again.

The “restart” gameplay is quite common in American Comics, and it has been increasingly used in film, television and game works in recent years. It is worth noting that “restart” does not mean that everything is overturned. The core settings will be retained forever, and the audience will not allow traumatic changes: Batman has always been a lonely hero flying in the night sky of Gotham, and the Joker has always He is his evil enemy, Robin has always been his right-hand man. In other words, the “frame” generally does not change. What changes is the “flesh and blood” of the filling. For example, should Batman be older or younger? He should be Lotte school or pessimists? Is the clown a vicious type or a high-IQ criminal type? How many roles should be given to Harley Quinn? and many more.

The so-called restart does not mean prolonging the life of the IP “once and for all”: each restart consumes a lot of talent and energy of the main creative team. If the story is too different from the original, the audience will be dissatisfied; if the difference is too small, why does the audience need to watch it a second time? Take DC Comics as an example. In 2011, the entire DC universe was restarted through “Big Flash Point”, and in 2016, it restarted again through “Rebirth”. The two restarts in just five years are to restore the form and style before the “Big Flash Point”, and try to preserve the characters and plot settings after the “Big Flash Point”. No matter whether this kind of thing is economically worthwhile, it is definitely a nightmare in terms of creation.

Basic Issues of Entertainment IP Economics: Speaking from "Final Fantasy"

DC Comics restarted the story of the clown in 2012, and the clown has maintained a high popularity

Let’s go back to “Final Fantasy”-in fact, from the beginning, this series has the highest form of IP, that is, “tonality” or “author style”. It does not rely on any characters or plot to run through, but on a series of subtly, ubiquitous, seemingly fragmented but important settings and details to run through. If you give me a Japanese RPG, in addition to the three main plot principles described above, I can also judge whether it belongs to the “Final Fantasy” series from several other features:

1. In the end, the boss must be some kind of huge evil . This evil goes beyond the boundaries of “race”, “class” and “country”. It must be the public enemy of all civilizations, challenging the legitimacy of the entire world. To defeat this huge evil, the protagonist must first reflect: Is this world worth saving? In the face of nothingness, can we put forward a powerful rebuttal and convince it of defeat?

2. The combat system is complex and sophisticated. It is by no means simply piling up data. There are various “shortcuts” and “specific collocations” . The upgrade of other RPGs may be a straight line, but the upgrade of “Final Fantasy” is incredible, and you can even play the game without upgrading at all. When you think hard between levels, equipment, magic, skills and other elements, trying to find the best match, you know that you are playing Final Fantasy.

3. Each work has similar magic and item names , golden chocobos, and airships in the later stages. Similar music is used on many occasions, and the names of the supporting characters are often the same: the person responsible for driving the airship is always called Sid. Summoned beasts often appear, and they all have the same name and the same attributes.

4. In addition to the main storyline, there are also some extremely difficult and extremely terrifying side missions, which are the real test of players . For example, “Omega” has tortured generations of “Final Fantasy” players, and the “Arena” in later works often spawns powerful enemies. Other RPGs ended after the final boss fight. The final boss of “Final Fantasy” may not be ranked in the game at all.

Basic Issues of Entertainment IP Economics: Speaking from "Final Fantasy"

The final weapon of “Final Fantasy 5” can be defeated at the lowest level, is not convinced?

The IP world connected through the above-mentioned “tonality” or “author style” is far more reliable than the connection through characters and plots. In fact, the same is true of the “Persona” series, which has been rising the most in recent years: the characters and plots of each series are not interoperable, and even the expansion is too lazy to release; each series uses the same “narrative mode” and The elements of Jung’s psychology are connected in series, mixed with the art style and personality of the “second disease”, which makes the players feel full of belonging. After playing “Persona 5”, players will definitely like the male protagonist and the black cat Morjana, but the protagonist of the next one will definitely not have their turn.

Having said that, when immortal IP such as “Final Fantasy”, “The Legend of Zelda” and “Persona” were created, investors eager for quick success have not invented the term “IP economics”, or even IP in the contemporary sense. concept. At that time, the main creators did not bear the heavy monetization pressure of today, and even if a work has not yet formed, it is necessary to consider the problem of cross monetization. Investors are generally not creators or even qualified audiences. They do not necessarily agree with the view that “only excellent works can have the greatest lifetime value”. Therefore, they often urge the creators to launch a sequel, restart the series, and repeatedly cross-realize. In the above process, the life of IP was quickly exhausted.

In the final analysis, IP is not used to be lazy-it is a good starting point for us to make great works, so that the audience can easily identify their favorite content, so that the creative staff can leave endless fire. Creating a high-quality IP does not mean entering the safe; on the contrary, it means the beginning of an arduous journey. When a person grows wings, he definitely wants to soar nine days away, to see places that no one has seen before, not just to be lazy and shorten the distance when going to school or off work; when a creature has mastered the power of fire , It definitely wants to build a highly developed civilization and begin to conquer the world, not just to make a good meal tonight. I know that reality is very cruel, and it is very difficult to create excellent works (whether it is a movie, a series, a game or an anime), but this is not a reason not to do it. The world belongs to adventurers. Their bones are scattered at the foot of Mount Everest, but the survivors among them have reached the top.

Basic Issues of Entertainment IP Economics: Speaking from "Final Fantasy"

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