Cinema and video games have always had quite the on-again, off-again relationship, but one look at UK cinema box office and you’d wonder whether games developers or publishers take any notice of their big-screen cousins.
Iron Man 3 is one of the biggest releases of the year so far, taking £33m in its first month on release in the UK and with a global gross of $1.142bn, it has already replaced Transformers: Dark of the Moon as the fifth highest grossing film of all time. Which begs the question: where is the Iron Man 3 game to capitalise on all this excitement?
Marvel chose Gameloft for Iron Man 3: The Official Game and it is for smartphones and tablets only. Universal made the same decision when bringing its then best-ever opener to devices with Fast Five the Movie: Official Game.
Mobile versions have become a lucrative option for developing Hollywood’s movie games: they are quicker to make and cheaper to buy.
Aside from a Flash game on the official movie site, the Man of Steel licence is hanging up his cape when it comes to console releases. It shouldn’t come as a suprise as his last video game outing summed up everything wrong with gaming’s treatment of blockbuster film titles: EA had the rights to the Superman Returns licence and to coincide with DVD release, created the official video game of the film. Development duties went to EA Tiburon, a studio capable of fast-turnover thanks to its history creating the Madden NFL franchise.
But the game was critically panned and not helped by the fact the final boss in the game was a pathetic tornado. Not wishing to waste the licence, a second game was carted out for the DS called Superman Returns: Fortress of Solitude. The title may inspire hope, or at least a familiarity with the licence, but the content came from Santa Cruz Games (the team behind a Windows version of the Shark Tale game) who eventually made a... Superman puzzle game.
Unless publishers give blockbuster film licences the triple-A treatment the best you can expect is a lazy game bundled with a?Blu-ray.
Elsewhere, recent blockbusters made the move into games through subdued entries on console. Skyfall made it into the poorly received 007 Legends as free DLC mission, the Dark Knight was only rising in LEGO, whilst The Avengers appeared in Ubisoft’s Power Up Heroes re-skin Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth and Facebook’s Marvel: Avengers Alliance.
Upon launching Alliance, Marvel Games VP TQ Jefferson told The Hollywood Reporter that “The Avengers is bigger than just one game.” But whilst too big for one game, when disassembled the Avengers didn’t fare well in the video game stakes – Sega’s Captain America, Thor, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk games each received a critical mauling back in 2009 to 2011.
More recently, Namco Bandai’s Star Trek looked like JJ Abrams’ Star Trek, sounded like JJ Abrams’ Star?Trek and even had in-game lens flare. But the result of a three-year development and heavy investment from Paramount Digital Entertainment didn’t create a great game. Critics weren’t kind.?
Star?Trek stressed a point long in the making. Gone are the days when consumers picked up a game because its case looked similar to the film poster. Official licences alone are no longer enough.
Blockbuster licences come with tight time constraints, fan expectations and, sometimes, a designated story that has to be neatly chopped into action-packed game levels. This has led to movie licensed video games being given to studios capable of fast turnover rather than high-quality gameplay.
Call of Duty:?Ghosts has been given time, an acclaimed studio and even top movie talent to help it be the bestseller it’s destined to be. If top film licences were given the same time, money and energy spent on Ghosts, an Iron Man 3 game could have similar, if not greater prospects.
But not all hope is lost. A game based on upcoming blockbuster Pacific Rim is coming from regular WWE developers Yuke’s. It’s a partnership that makes sense as the developer’s skill set is a perfect match for the content: a large scale WWE match that swaps wrestlers for robots and monsters.
To create a great movie-tie in, publishers need to treat it like a blockbuster game franchise rather than merchandise that can be slapped with logos and well-known faces and expected to fly off the shelves.