Return Of The License Game

Video games based on licensed properties have been commonplace since the early 80’s. While many of these games offered a fun take on characters people loved, the quality of these games sadly diminished over the years. During the PlayStation 2 and Xbox generation, games that directly tied into a film or TV show became more and more frequent. These often coincided with other marketing such as toys to help promote the on-screen product. Due to the nature of video game development compared to movie production though, these games often felt like rushed cash ins rather than substantial companion pieces. This trend of video game tie ins continued into the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 generation, until they gradually started to dwindle out.

The diminish in licensed video games seemed to coincide with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox Once generation of consoles. This could be due to a number of reasons however two stand out as the most plausible. Firstly, companies realised that this style of licensed games just didn’t perform commercially or critically to the standard they wanted. Secondly as video games grew and became more complex visually and technically, it would be almost impossible to deliver a AAA style game in the time frame that licensed tie ins allowed for.

Growing up I enjoyed many of these games despite their lack of quality. That said, I am not disappointed that they have disappeared from the routine release schedule however, as something much better seems to have emerged in their place.

While there have been plenty of games in the past that utilised characters from other products to create something wholly original, video game developers and publishers now seem to be more confident than ever in taking this route. This is likely due to the way the video game industry has grown and matured substantially over the past two decades, to a point where it is now as respected creatively as film and TV.

For me, the series that helped establish this trend was the Arkham games. Developed by Rocksteady Studios, these games took inspiration from comics more than existing films. This led to a trilogy of Batman games that not only fully represented the character, but they also delivered quality experiences that stand up against anything the industry has to offer.

This love and care for a character was apparent once again when Insomniac Games released Marvel’s Spider-Man exclusively for the PlayStation 4 in 2018. This, like the Arkham series, takes inspiration from the comics more than the films to create a Spider-Man universe separate from anything we had seen before. Both the initial release in 2018 and the subsequent sequel, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, received critical acclaim and numerous game of the year nominations.

Perhaps the most consistent example of this strategy is found in Star Wars. While there have often been games that tie into existing films from the franchise, Star Wars has always been an IP that has had games take place outside of what is established on film. With the rise to prominence that superheroes have had over the past 15 years, they now appear to carry enough weight as characters to warrant their own AAA games without relying on a movie to tag onto.

Over the past 8 years EA (Electronic Arts) has had the exclusive rights to Star Wars games. Now though, that exclusivity is set to end with the announcement that Lucasfilm Games will be partnering with developers from across the industry to create games based on their properties. This is a similar approach to how Marvel Games have handled their characters. Over the past 5 years they have worked with targeted developers to produce games ranging in size from big AAA titles such as Marvel’s Spider-Man and Mavel’s Avengers, to smaller mobile games such as Marvel Future Fight.

With the model of success seemingly outlined for all to see, other studios are now taking the approach of partnering with specific developers to create games based in the world of their IP’s. Warner Bros, MGM and Fox Interactive have all followed suit and joined forces with some of the most talented studios to work on some massive projects.

Here are the licensed games we know are currently in development.

As well as all of these confirmed titles, there are many more expected and rumoured that could be announced over the next couple of years. Based on previous release schedules, we could very well see all of these titles release in the next five years yet alone countless others that are yet to be confirmed. If that turns out to be the case, this coming decade will could be dominated by high quality, AAA games that help shape the industry for years to come.

Which of these projects are you most excited for? What IP do you hope gets a video game partnership in the future? Let me know in the comments and be sure to keep an eye out for more coverage of these games going forward.

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