Not unlike Star Wars, Marvel-licensed properties were all the rage back in the day. We had a pair of wonderful co-op friendly X-Men: Legends games followed by a pair of similarly designed Marvel: Ultimate Alliance titles. In the ’90s there all sorts of of arcade and early console games but over the years and into the late 2000s it became more about building games for and marketing them alongside film releases.
With the exception of the surprisingly good X-Men Origins: Wolverine video game – that turned out to be better than the film of the same name – these games were disastrous. Marvel and their partners had adopted a quantity-over-quality approach to releasing games like Thor: God of Thunder and actually managed to make the Marvel brand uncool for gamers. There were a few pretty good titles here and there, but overall, the focus was on cheaper kid-focused titles (i.e. Super Hero Squad) and the movie tie-ins, which were rarely worth playing.
What happened? Why with decades and decades of comic book stories and characters, and an exploding high-quality film franchise, were such terrible games being made? Let’s be clear – we aren’t talking about the LEGO games that have found a simple, fun and successful formula that lends itself to working for practically any licensed property – we’re talking about the “triple-A” games that show up in most-anticipated and award nomination lists.
Looking at the landscape of Marvel video games right now, we have a dated looking Amazing Spider-Man 2 movie tie-in on consoles, a Facebook game (Marvel: Avengers Alliance), a shallow free-to-play Diablo clone (Marvel Heroes) and just this week, we learned that Disney Infinity is getting its Marvel expansion this fall. This is more of a merchandising move more than anything as the game makes its money from selling the playable characters as figurines would-be gamers (and parents) must purchase, and from our experiences from the first Disney Infinity, it doesn’t offer much on the gameplay, graphics and immersion front.
So, again, what’s up? Where’s the big budget Avengers game that can compete with the Batman: Arkham series, the type of game that would get gamers excited, the type of game worthy of awards? According to Marvel Games boss TQ Jefferson in an interview with IGN, they’ve adopted a new approach and an Avengers game will only come when they find the right talent to make it.
“The Avengers game will come when we have the right partner, that has the right vision, that has the time to develop a strong, competitive triple-A title and wants to do it right. It has to hit our three pillars: Fun and engaging gameplay, true to the characters, compelling story. Without hitting those notes, we shouldn’t do it. Gamers, they know better. They’re not going to flock to something that’s sub-par.”
“I think the fact that there wasn’t an Avengers game turned out in time for the film is indicative of Marvel’s new attitude and the approach to how we find partners and build games. I think in the heyday of the movie licensed game, these games were popping out all the time and most of them sucked.”
Jefferson admits to Marvel being guilty of rushing games to meet release dates (see: Sega’s Marvel games), pointing towards a few of the more recent movie tie-ins as examples, but he now claims Marvel would rather not have a game at all than force one out in a rushed manner. Also speaking with Polygon at the Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes announcement event, Jefferson offered a few more thoughts on the bigger picture plans and more patient approach Marvel Games is taking with future releases.
“We are looking at smarter, more interconnected experiences, more interconnected narrative. If you’ve been to our [Comic-Con] panels, you’ve heard me talk about the Marvel Gaming Universe, how the game’s exist in their own continuity, how they share elements from other games and they’re working along the same story lines — or they’re at least aware of each other. We are evolving how we’re approaching our games and how we’re building out our [games] universe.”
“What we’re also doing now is we’re being much more selective and measured in how we approach partnerships. I think in the heyday of the movie licensed game, it was just, ‘Let’s churn out something, let’s do the the smash and grab, get the money and get out’ and most of those games sucked, to be perfectly blunt.”
“We have to respond by introducing higher quality product,” he said. “We’re pushing more quality now than we ever have in the past and if that means fewer games, that means fewer games. As long as we’re hitting a high quality bar and holding ourselves to a higher standard.”
We’ve heard a bit of this before, especially around the launch of Marvel Heroes which ultimately was a letdown, so we’ll let the games speak for themselves when they arrive. And that could be a while away. What Marvel character, team or story would you love to see made into a game? And if so, what type of game?
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.