Movie tie-in games; The thorn in the side of the discerning gamer.
Games development far outgrosses the film industry so why is it still so hard to take great franchises and fuck them up to the degree of Captain America: Super Soldier, Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Aliens: Colonial Marines?
Twenty years ago, movie tie-in games used to be all the rage with solid titles like Demolition Man, GoldenEye 007 and practically every Disney game ever released - you couldn’t move for good movie tie in games; you couldn’t move for wank ones either but the ratio was the same for all games regardless.
You don't even have to dip too far back into history to find decent a tie-in game either; Wolverine's Revenge, Spider-Man 2, Batman Begins - all decent tie in games from only a few years back.
When developers normally start on a game, they usually have a purpose in mind, a goal to achieve. The aim of the game might be to develop or utilise specific skills like stealth, driving or shooting; perhaps some clever games design, some kind of unique player engagement or an artistic ideal. Maybe an original story or maybe just pure entertainment. But when a movie tie-in game is embarked upon, its purpose is just that - to be a tie-in game. All creativity seems to the thrown screaming from the window, onto the hard corporate floor ten stories below. Street Fighter: The Movie: The (tie in) Game is a prize example; abandon everything good about Street Fighter in the aim at making a quick buck. Don’t even start on Battleship (the shit-ception of video games); it’s a tie-in video game to an awful movie that’s already based on one of the shittest board games imaginable.
Another problem is deadlines. The tie-in game must come out at the release of the film, and due to inexorably short lead times, corners inevitably get cut. This now-traditionally-short lead time and low budget is what leads to the vast majority of film tie-in games lacking the depth and quality required. The fact that the blockbuster movies they’re based on often take three or four years to complete is nothing if not ironic.
When basing a tie-in game directly on a film, more often than not the owners of the IP will insist that the levels and chapters follow closely to their big screen counterpart. This causes huge limitations on what the player can do and see in the game. Keeping audiences at arm’s length from the content just arouses discontent and gamers bash the product for not being ‘realistic’.
When given the freedom to tell its own story or to explore its own agenda, a good tie-in game can be far from the expected.
In 2004's The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, Starbreeze Studios were allowed to fill in gaps in the franchise dogma and the end game was arguably better than all of the film outings. Telltale’s wonderful Walking Dead point-and-clicker tie-in was a genuinely compelling and emotionally-draining adventure, which had no real loyalty to the AMC TV series or the comic books but used that limelight to help shift units of the game.
With the number of times we've been burnt before, we the users do not expect a decent movie tie in game. The IP owners expect an easy pay off, and parents expect an easy birthday present for little Timmy. The more mature or "hardcore" gamers (read: Lead Demographic) will give your average tie-in game a wide berth, so the publishers don't pitch their games to them. Which is a shame, as the go-to FPS for a large majority of gamers of a certain age was Goldeneye, which is the result of a developer being given the time they needed to get a movie tie-in right. In fact, the game was out *two years* after its big-screen namesake and remains one of - if not, the - most celebrated FPSs of all time, and certainly the most highly-regarded tie-in game.
GoldenEye, Riddick, Wolverine's Revenge and Arkham Asylum can be summed up as smart franchise outings timed correctly with the release of a feature film. It seems that avoiding the lamented "tie-in game" format and just releasing a game that's good on its own merits at the right time and with the right title may be the key to both financial and critical success.
IP owners - listen up! If you want to increase revenue and credibility for your brand do not look for the quickest option; find a developer who loves the IP and let them create something brilliant; you’ll increase your margins tenfold!
Although a rarity, movie tie-in games can be good. Those clever, loose tie-ins work much better, but developers must get to work on your game before the film enters principal photography. Forget the idea of getting the characters likenesses correct or the storyline exact; concentrate on making a great tie in game. If making great games is your only goal then you are certain to succeed.