['What Should Be Next' is weekly column where I examine and discuss certain trends, franchises, genres and ideas in the gaming industry, and where they should be headed.]
I’m not here to talk about how bad officially licensed games are. No, that would be too easy. We all know the story too well: for every one Arkham Asylum, we get forty Iron Man games. It’s simple as that. It doesn’t have to be that way, though, and I think I may have an idea or two on how to turn things around.
Since the beginning of gaming’s existence, Hollywood and game companies have been finding ways to cash in. More often than not, the efforts put forth aren’t even that creative. I’m not going to sit here and be naïve either; the whole point of the video game industry is to separate you and me from our money. But the way it’s done with licensed products is a joke.
Here’s what the thought process probably looks like: check out this game we have coming out the same time as the movie. Now give us $20 to watch the film, and another $60 to experience it through the “official game”. Finally, don’t forget to stop at the gift shop on your way out.
These “officially licensed” titles have been able to leave their mark on the industry. Critical gems like Waterwold (Virtual Boy), Back to the Future (NES), and E.T. (Atari 2600) all managed to make it into the top 15 in UGO’s ‘worst video games of all time’ list in 2010. That has to count for something right?
Ok, I’ll stop. Let’s talk about how to fix these travesties instead. That’s what we’re here for.
The main problem with a lot of licensed products is usually attributed to the time constraints the studios are under. Too often, developers are given a script and with said script, a deadline of 18 – 24 months to turn it into something that’s not [too] broken.
After having a few too many drinks and a heart to heart with a couple developers (from a licensed game that will not be named) I noticed that they really try to not treat it like something it isn’t. They’re well aware of the negative connotations that are tied to the type of game that they’re working on, and with that they care enough to try (key word here) to not become another statistic.
Lately developers have gone the route of telling a story in the same universe, while loosely focusing on the source material. That method in particular has produced good titles for some, but mostly more of the same [poor] results for everyone else.
What these game creators somehow seem to forget is that if the game doesn’t function well as a standalone game first and foremost, it’s not going to work at all. The idea that having characters that are skinned with familiar faces, and voiced by low budget sound-a-likes isn’t going to change the fact that the game doesn’t work… as a game! If it’s not entertaining or function as a game, then what’s the point?
Not everyone can be like Naughty Dog, but I’m going to utilize them in particular as an extreme example in this case. Let’s look at a game like Uncharted 3. Now, quickly forget everything you know about it. Forget about Drake, Sully, Elena, and even that smoking hot Chloe Frazer. Think about it as a blank slate without the great one-liners and epic hero music.
Now imagine if you skinned it with Harrison Ford and called it Indiana Jones: Indy’s Deception. If it were an actual thing, it would probably go down as the best “licensed” game of all time. Why, you ask? Because the game itself, it’s pacing, mechanics, and action is great in its own right. And as bad ass as Mr. Ford is, the characters, story telling, and the acting is just the icing on the cake which helps to tie it all together.
Developers who get themselves involved in these projects need to build them with the “blank slate” mentality as well. They play just as many, if not more, games than we do. When they’re building, they need to forget that it’s being made for [insert re-boot superhero movie here] and make it so that it would appeal to the masses even if it were a completely new IP.
I’m sure people will think that what should be next for licensed games is that they cease to exist. But that’s not the solution. I actually want to play as my favorite on-screen heroes and characters, but I also want it to be enjoyable.
It can be pulled off, but it’s going to take a serious amount of TLC (tender love and care, not The Learning Channel) from the developers getting involved in these cash cows to make it work. They need to be thought of as games first, and a paycheck later, instead of the other way around.