SPECIAL REPORT: Sources tell Develop that comic book giant is considering direct relationships with game studios for new titles

Marvel to increase game development presence?

Marvel Entertainment is exploring ways it can get closer with game developers according to several senior game development execs.

Currently, the firm enjoys a number of lucrative partnerships with major publishers such as Activision, EA and Sega for game adaptations and spin-offs of upcoming Marvel character-based movies. It has a long-term deal for Spider-Man in place with Activision and earlier this year licensed a number of characters – including Captain America, Incredible Hulk, Iron Man and Thor – to Sega.

However, multiple independent sources have reported to Develop that the company has privately expressed desire to some partners that it wishes to get much more involved in the games development process.

Although a major force in terms of licensing its properties to third-parties, Marvel has prior precedent in ‘seizing its destiny’ to control how owned material is transferred to other mediums; it opened the Marvel Studios film division in 2004 to directly manage the writing and production of films based on its characters, following the mixed fortunes of its properties when handled by Hollywood studios. Its first films, The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man, appear next year accompanied by Sega’s tie-ins.

Marvel certainly has the talent in-house to start replicating its Marvel Studios strategy in games development when it possibly looking at projects for the following year; a few months ago it appointed former journalist turned Sega and LucasArts exec Justin Lambros as VP of interactive at Marvel Studios and executive producer in forthcoming Marvel-based video games.

Plus, a recent job posting at Monster.com says the company is seeking a CFO-like figure with experience in "the management of content development and/or interactive publishing business" and "interactive or online casual gaming planning and deployment" to help further define Marvel’s interactive strategy.

Two titles based on Marvel properties have recently hit development troubles, with reports suggesting the Microsoft-published MMO Marvel Universe has been cancelled, while EA Chicago recently closed as production on a new Marvel fighting title began. It’s not clear if these developments have played any part in Marvel’s intentions for games development – although Develop has been told by one source that the firm had been privately discussing its possible closer ties with studios prior to the reports which put the two above projects in doubt.

While it is not yet clear if Marvel is simply looking to have a much closer level of involvement in upcoming games using its characters (beyond its status as approval licensee) or is considering opening up its own game studio, a la Marvel Studios’ film interests – or even looking at a possible move to publishing – the company is likely keeping a close eye on big media contemporaries such as Warner Bros and Fox.

Warner recently formalised a strong push into the games industry, setting up European operations for its publishing division, a new production unit called WB Games, and acquiring UK studio Traveller’s Tales, which is working on a Lego game based around the Batman comic character.

Senior industry executives, meanwhile, have previously stated to Develop and its sister magazine MCV that Fox Interactive is set for a comeback.

The allure of such moves is obvious. In taking a much more controlling stake in the treatment of their properties, the likes of Warner are able to guarantee better quality and more profitable products, also removing the cost that licensing to third-parties incurs.

At the same time, a closer relationship with games studios could provide access to new IP and ideas – although, with 5,000 characters in its stable already, Marvel won’t have any shortage of characters or material to exploit as it stands.

All of this, however, still remains in the realm of industry whispers – the firm has not made an official announcement about increasing its involvement in game development and declined to comment when contacted by Develop.

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