What would you say is the better use of a licence – games based directly on the movie or one based on the film’s universe but not its narrative?
Lee Kirton: Having worked with a number of licences over the years it's obvious that what's key is full studio support. When you look at something like Riddick, the production values are so high and the game has had full involvement from Universal and Tigon Studios (Vin Diesel), as well as a fantastic developer to build all of this. When you look at Ghostbusters, it has full involvement from Sony Pictures, the cast and all this is very important. The developer's ability to work with all of these assets is key.
We've seen a number of poor movie licences that have been adapted into video games, with no use of the assets developed for the film, no star likenesses, none of the sets, the tones etc, and these games don't usually turn out too well.
Kevin Flynn: With regards to The Godfather franchise, both have their merits. The first Godfather game closely followed the plot of the film whereas Godfather II has more freedom and is inspired on the movie sequel yet goes beyond the storyline - allowing players to really immerse themselves in the fiction. The Godfather resonates with so many people we have ensured we stay true to its core whilst delivering a deep' immersive and satisfying action experience that gamers will enjoy. We want gamers to immerse themselves in 1960’s organised crime and it doesn’t come any bigger or better than The Godfather.
Adam Roberts: The aim of D3Publisher with any game based on a licence, is not only to capture the story but also give players the opportunity to explore beyond what they have already experienced. Coraline the game expands on the movie experience as players further explore and interact with locations in the Normal World and Other World. Although it’s important to ensure the game captures the essence of the movie, it can also provide a unique way for players to interact in the mythical world of Coraline and deepen the immersion into the movie’s characters.
Ubisoft Spokesperson: There is a place for both types of games but clearly, from a creative point of view, making a game that is an extension of the movie offers more possibilities. We’ve got amazing creative talent in our studios and it’s always gratifying to be able to let them bring their own ideas to the property and work in close collaboration with the film’s creative team to give birth to a whole new experience – and for the player it offers them a new and unique way to interact with the film’s universe.
David Tyler: Difficult to make a sweeping statement that answers this. There are always a multitude of factors, considerations and trade offs to be taken into account. In theory, titles that stay true to a movie property (assuming the movie's box office figures are good) should be a lower risk venture than a game that strays too far from the essence of the movie.
However, it really all depends on your overall objectives for the game and the target audience you are trying to reach. The Force Unleashed is a great example of a title that achieved huge commercial success in 2008 by bringing a fresh gaming experience to the enormous Star Wars brand, but there was no new movie at all.
Keely Brenner: I think both work as people have an affinity with the characters and want to extend their experience of the worlds that have captured their imaginations. Our games always look to provide a unique experience and expand the consumer’s relationships with specific characters and stories. Even if the game loosely follows the events of the film, Disney Interactive Studios endeavours to provide experiences and characters that deviate from the film so the game doesn’t just precisely complement the film but expands upon it. For example in the Bolt game rather than follow the storyline of the film, players take on the heroic personas of Bolt and Penny from the TV series that is shown during a brief part of the film. This allows players to take part in all new adventures and utilise Bolt's super-powers, which were not the primary plot of the film.
Jonathan Bunney: Harry Potter is based on a series of novels that paint a rich world, and the success of the series is based on those great stories. The fans tell us that they want to experience those stories again in video game form, so we stick pretty closely with the focus of the movie script, and use the books to inspire additional gameplay.
The fact that the books and movies are full of magic, mysteries, excitement and danger means that we can do this pretty successfully. Not every movie licence comes with those advantages – and this means that sometimes developers have to make games that are ‘beyond the movie.’
Do you feel licensed video games have shaken off the stigma of being poor?
Lee Kirton: That's a difficult one because it's still quite rare to find that gem within the movie video game crowd, but occasionally you do. Consumers are most certainly cautious. If a movie is massively successful it doesn't automatically mean that the game's going to be any good and with the media constantly focusing on these games, the choice in the end is up to the fan. If you liked the movie then you have the option of buying the pyjamas, pants, water bottles and video game, but the quality must be there and gamers have their eyes open more so than in the past.
I remember buying Independence Day as a game just because I loved the movie at the time, it didn't matter what the review score was. At the moment there seems to be more criticism for movies based on games.
Adam Roberts: For the most part, yes. There are some great games based on licences out there. It’s important to dedicate expertise and attention to detail to ensure we authentically replicate the movie and produce games that kids and adults will enjoy.
Kids games and licences sometimes take a beating in the press, I assume this is because they are generally not groundbreaking examples of development – I have myself worked on several million-sellers that averaged below 5/10 scores – does that make them poor games? Maybe, but kids games need to be fun, engaging and value for money.
David Tyler: Not completely, and title quality can still vary wildly across this genre. Overall quality should continue to improve as studios continue to get to grips with developing on next- gen platforms and creating code for the PC, Wii, PSP and NDS. It is also important to note that many licensed titles are targeted at kids, many of whom don't differentiate between say a 7 out of 10 game and a 9 out of 10 rated game.
In many instances, success or failure for a title will depend on how fun the game is and how well the licence translates to a video game experience, not the metacritic rating itself. Generally speaking, the older the target audience, the more important the game rating starts to become.
Jonathan Bunney: I don’t think that the target market for movie games think that they are poor. If I put my neighbour’s eight year-old daughter in front of the highest rated games in our industry (generally rated by hardcore gamers), she’s going to think they’re all terrible – they have weak tutorials, they are too complex, the controls are fiddly, they are too violent and they don’t tell you what to do. But she loves playing games designed for kids and would rate most of the recent movie games very highly.
The industry would say that three quarters of movie games are poor, but we think this is also true of all games – not something specific to movie licenses. I’ve played more bad games without licences than those with licences but movie games get additional flak because they get additional exposure. I love it when our Harry Potter games get great reviews, and Order of the Phoenix was the highest rated movie game of 2007 on 5 of its 8 platforms – but I care more about the people who are actually going to play it.
Keely Brenner: Criticism mainly seems to come from a view that there is a lack of originality and innovation in movie-inspired games so Disney Interactive Studios has made a commitment to innovate, to enhance the film fans’ experience and also open up the licenxe to a new audience that may not have seen the film.
At Disney Interactive Studios, because we’re part of the same company, we’re able to establish a close relationship with the film studio early to ensure the quality of the game matches the film’s quality and our timetable for creating the game coincides with the film’s production schedule so our game is released on track simultaneously with the film.