The biggest movie on the planet and the biggest game on the planet have, out of nowhere, announced this year's biggest crossover. Thanos appearing in Fortnite is a huge boon for both brands, and the kind of mashup that gets fans and news outlets super-excited.
It's so impressive, in fact, that licensing industry experts reckon it will kickstart a huge new round of similar deals.
“With games as a service being the new normal when it comes to multiplayer gaming, it only makes sense for brands to capitalise on their fluid nature. This could well be the start of a new trend of in-game content, especially when it comes to monetising free to play or early access games. With the youth drifting away from the cinema to the dynamic world of gaming, this partnership is an inspired way to pull back in potential viewers. The opportunities for brands even beyond the world of film are nearly infinite," Licensing.biz's Jack Ridsdale's told MCV.
Such deals are ideal for live games, which are looking to constantly create new content and engage players in an ongoing process. By tying such games into tentpole events, such as movie releases but also sporting events, for instance, is very tempting.
It's not hard to come up with similar deals for current live games. Some of Netflix's grittier Marvel cast would fit nicely into PUBG or CS:GO, Pirates of the Caribbean in Sea of Thieves, World Cup skins for teams in Overwatch or Rocket League...
However, there are some stumbling blocks that will need to be negotiated – literally at times.
The first question that occurred to me when the deal broke was how this tie-in worked alongside the upcoming Avengers game from Square Enix. Those developing big titles based on the biggest brands often demand exclusivity, at least preventing any other appearances on the same platform, Xbox One and PS4 in this case.
Though the heft of Disney/Marvel may mean that's no longer the case, possibly because this is a time-limited appearance for Thanos, or maybe because he isn't an Avenger, (though you'd expect key villains to be included in any deal).
All that said, we'd be amazed to see Han Solo pop up in Fortnite in a few weeks time without EA's lawyers having something to say about it. So any live game deals will have to be negotiated around ongoing licensing deals, which may take some time to work out as older deals end and new ones are signed that allow this kind of activity.
Then there's the question of reach. The biggest games, such as Fortnite, have huge global reach. That means that an effective marketing tie-up, especially given the development work that would go into it, would ideally have global reach. Marvel's Avengers brand has that global reach and recognition, but there's not many brands and events which do.
Finally, you have to make sure the style matches the game. Fortnite's comic-book leanings match up perfectly with Marvel, but those making such deals will need to be very careful not to irk fans of the game.
And then of course there's the financial structure of any such deal. The work will undoubtedly lie with the developer to create and implement any content, which would hopefully be recouped through microtransactions typically, with a possible revenue share of any sales. But a straight deal to increase exposure of both brands is also possible.
It's a huge potential market both for live game operators and licensors, as well as a massive potential pot of content for games that need to keep players engaged. We expect to see more such deals in the future, though we doubt we'll see anything on quite this scale anytime soon.