Thursday, November 01, 2007

Film-based games and timing

Alexandre Remy, of the Beowulf game development team, said "if you don't come out at the same time as the film it's just a waste of the license." That seems to be a common sentiment.

But is it true? I don't think so.

First, a game released even years after the film it is based on can sell very well, but it must be more than merely a scene-by-scene mimickery of the film. The reason most film-based games suck is that the player's interaction (and games are fundamentally about interaction) is limited to unlocking inevitable events (the film's events), rather than having any influence on the direction of gameplay; limited to character behavior from the film, rather than skills and depth which match that character but were believeably absent from the film; limited to the film's setting, rather than settings which fit into the story's universe and goals.

Basically, most film-based games fail because they are little more than funnels; too many limits, not enough freedom and acceptable divergence from the film's storyboard. The game should be able to stand up on its own, like the N64's Star Wars podracing game or Knights of the Old Republic. Those games would have been fun without the concurrent films; note that KotOR is only loosely related to the films, and the N64 game is entirely focused on just a single scene of Star Wars: Episode 1. MMOs are different animals than smaller games, but Star Wars: Galaxies is worth considering. I'd point to a non-Star Wars licensed game, but I can't think of any that were worth a dime (I haven't played the Batman games, Constantine, or some others).

Second, it's better to release a great product late than a mediocre product on-time, if you have the funds. Players will forgive a great game for being late, but they won't forgive a timely game for being lackluster.

Timing matters... I'm not denying that. But the most important parts of timing are considering industry-wide trends (ex: Is the market already saturated with horror FPS games?) and maneuvering around heavy competition (ex: Halo 3, Mass Effect, etc).

All I'm saying is that releasing your licensed game in time with the film it's based on is advantageous, but it's not necessary to succeed and doesn't waste the value of familiarity and IP-enthusiasm. If I can get a thrill from playing in the British Museum (Hellgate: London) many years after the only time I ever visited the museum in real life, then I it's not unlikely that playing in the setting of a film I saw years ago will give me a thrill as well.


  1. Aaron,

    I couldn't agree with you more on the timing issue. So many games are marketing-driven, and the whole push to be there on launch day results in many many sub-par products.

    I'd much rather have my "Spiderman 3" game on DVD launch day and have it kick ass, than have it on the movie launch day and have it suck. I think that is how most people would look at it. Of course, I'm a little self-involved and I think most folks should think like me.

    Seriously, give me a good product when it's ready and I'll give you dollars. Give me a crappy product on launch day and I'll ignore it like everything else that has gone before.

  2. Goldeneye is, I think, the best example of leaving it till it's done and getting the sales to match.

    The game came out 2 years after the movie (I think), and sold 8 million copies.

  3. If a company makes a game to coincide with a movie release and its story and theme is based on the movie, then they are not likely aiming to make a high quality game and put in the effort needed for that.
    A mediocre game in this case will sell more than it would have done on its own and in the end may be a safer bet for the game company.


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