Since the very beginning of the video game industry, game developers and movie producers have tried to intermingle their business to eek out the most profit out of their mutual customers. The quality of these collaborations have always been suspect. Back near the beginning of the entire industry, Atari’s E.T. is one of the reasons that the original gaming giant started to fall. Through each and every generation, movie tie-ins were a given. Did a producer expect Home Alone to be a hit? Well, it was definitely getting a movie-tie in. As the industry developed, fewer abstract games such as Home Alone or We’re Back were made; however, you could always count on a movie tie-in for every major summer blockbuster… until now. In a completely unexpected turn, it seems like the movie tie-in video game might have gone extinct while nobody was looking.
Movie tie-in games are terrible. The amount of good movie tie-ins could be counted on one’s hand, and even most of these I would argue with. Oft-praised games such as X-Men Origins: Wolverine are decent, only good because you expect them to be so bad, due largely in part to the fact that it was a movie tie-in. It became common knowledge that any game with a movie title printed on it would be subpar. However, that never stopped people from buying them. The excitement of big blockbusters drove sales, and the marketing possibilities were such that other games could only look on with envy. The biggest victim of the movie tie-in were always children. Big budget movies attracted 13 year olds in droves. The quality of these games was never a problem when adolescent excitement was in play.
The reason these games rarely rose to the level of bearable is obvious: inherent limitations and money. A movie tie-in game has two options. It can either conform to the blockbuster’s story and scope, which is extremely limited, or it can go on its own direction, which means it is only tangentially related to a movie. Spider Man 2, an often praised, but not very good game, has Spider Man fighting all sorts of villains in ridiculous setting, only rarely following the movie’s plot. At the same time, a developer of a movie tie-in not only has the video game publisher as a boss, but the film producers as well. After all, the wrong move or controversy could negatively impact the movie. Another major issue is the money involved. These games are cash grabs, plain and simple, so budgets are already razor thin. To compound this lack of development dollars, movie games are licensed games. This means that the developer will have to spend a lot of money licensing the game, which leaves even less money. Put all of this together with a strict deadline that cannot be changed because of the movie’s release, and you have circumstances that are not conducive to good game making.
What surprises me is that these movie tie-in games seem to be done, and that nobody really noticed. Looking back, I don’t remember a movie tie-in for a whole bunch of big movies. The Avengers 2 just grossed 1 billion dollars, but kids looking to act out one of the scenes from the movie are out of lucky. Why has this happened? Realistically, the answer is probably the same as with the general decline of AAA games. Development cost have gone up. Since movie tie-ins have traditionally been cash grabs and not labours of love, the bottom line is especially important. A shift in the general profitability of movie tie-ins could explain why fewer are being made. The low quality of the games doesn’t seem like a major factor. These games always preyed on the uninformed and the excitable. These two markets have not shrunk in recent years. It would be interesting, however, to see real numbers over the last ten years. It is possible that there was a decline in sales, though we can’t be sure. As I mentioned, it’s more likely that the sales remained more or less the same, but the costs of development became not worth the meagre profits.
I suppose one question that remains is whether the video game industry is better off without the movie tie-ins, or if we should lament their decline. This is a hard question. If it hasn’t been made exceptionally clear, I’m not a huge fan of them. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t have their place. People love movies and block busters. The ability to interact with a movie like Iron Man or The Matrix is worth the low quality for some people. Me? One of my favourite movies of all time is John Carpenter’s The Thing, and you’d better believe I have the PS2 movie tie-in on my shelf. There’s definitely a void being left by their departure. Games like Batman: Arkham Knight might scratch that superhero itch for many, but that’s one game. It used to be that half a dozen movie tie-ins would be there to pick up the slack. Even if they weren’t very good, they let people revel in their enthusiasm and fandom.
Maybe I’m jumping the gun by declaring movie tie-ins extinct, but there has been a noticeable decline in them. In many ways, I’m not upset by this development. A whole slew of subpar games are being removed from the shelves and easily impressed children will be less likely to grab some truly poor games. At the same time, these games have a place in the market, and to lose them entirely may be a loss. Whether these games actually go away or not remains to be seen. I would bet that even if AAA game development slides, we’ll have the mobile phone game market to pick up the slack – cash grab at its best
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer