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Prey shows the industry is terrified of new names, but not new games

A 'franchise' defined by development hell

The original Prey was released in 2006, after going through multiple versions across multiple engines and multiple teams. It took 11 years for the game to go from announcement to actual product.

Bethesda announced a new Prey game last night, although it was referred to as neither a sequel nor a reboot. Arkane Studios, fresh off the success of the first Dishonored game, is developing the game.

And it's fascinating to see people excited about a game that now feels a bit obscure. It had a Native American hero, and an interesting portal mechanic that played with the physics of the game's world. It was a hit, and rather fondly remembered by those who played it, including me. The first Prey sequel languished in development hell for years before it was cancelled — or at least most if not all of the work was scrapped before Arkane took over the project.

And a leaked e-mail published by Kotaku seemed to more or less confirm that Arkane had some good ideas, Bethesda had some IP laying around, so they got together to try to make something work. Fun fact: Colantonio later complained about "press sneak fucks" in a later leaked e-mail, which seem to have been referenced in the "sneak" T-shirt he wore during the press conference. Easter eggs are fun!

arkane e-mail

The original concept for Prey 2, which was planned to be an open-world game that linked to the original through a plane crash that was glimpsed in the first game ... before the game's hero was taken to an alien planet and worked as a bounty hunter. It was already linked to the first Prey by the thinnest of strings, and fans of the original would be hard pressed to find even that tiny pretext to connecting the "sequel," now just called Prey, to the original 2006 game. And the Prey we saw last night has no real connection to that!

If you asked me to defined what made a Prey game a Prey game, the first thing that comes to my mind is years in development hell as it passes from team to team before turning into a relatively fun game. But so far only one game has been released! It's the oddest name to resurrect for publicity purposes, but any familiarity is seen as a plus in this business.

It's very possible that the new Prey ties strongly into Prey through the story or characters, but I'm not holding my breath. Bethesda and Arkane also didn't think it was that important to make any such ties explicit, even though the game's name recognition seemed surprisingly strong on social media.

But it's not like most players know the pillars of what makes a good Prey game. We're aware of what we want out of a Doom game, the speed and violence and satanic imagery were all executed by the latest game and were celebrated by fans, but what exactly makes a good Prey game?

At this moment, knowing as little as we do about the game, my excitement comes 100 percent from the fact that Arkane has executed so well on the Dishonored series. The fact they're using an existing IP for this game doesn't really register.

From Bethesda's point of view there's no downside, though. The few people who remember Prey may have liked it. Recognizing the name helps when it comes to getting coverage for a game and getting people excited, and even that small advantage justifies its use. It's unlikely that Arkane feels constrained by what people expect from a Prey game, as this is a opportunity to define what those opportunities even are.

The gaming industry tends to be terrified of new names, but it's not rare for a sequel to be used almost as a back door excuse to launch what amounts to a new franchise. We'll learn more soon, but Prey as a reboot seems to be more about risk mitigation than a creative decision.