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Weekly Musings #2 - Why Do Movie-License Games Usually Suck?
Author: Michael Ahlf
Date: June 19th 2004
Page: 5
"John Romero's About to Make You His Bitch."

Hands up everyone who remembers those words? Great. You can put your hands down now. I think those words, however, pretty much sum up the final problem movie-based games are prone to.

The Hype Machine Runneth Overtime.

Overhyping is the final problem that movie-license games - and licensed games in general, for that matter - are far too prone to. In terms of anecdotal evidence, it's pretty easy to illustrate. Observe the fan disappointment over Mortal Kombat 3, when so many favorite characters from Mortal Kombat 2 turned up missing. Observe the difference in fan reaction between what they expected (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night) and what they got (Castlevania: Circle of the Moon).

For those who don't remember, the words "John Romero's About to Make You His Bitch" were part of the original ad campaign for John Romero's highly-anticipated (at the time) title, Daikatana. The ads in question were those that were advertising the game's original planned release date, in 1997. As we all know, the game didn't actually launch until the year 2000. Even then, it was a mediocre title but not a true dog, and could have done decently. Had it been released even six months earlier, it probably would have been fine; part of its problem upon release was that it was using the graphical engine from Quake II, while Quake III's graphics were fresh in gamers' minds, and was using an entirely primitive rpg-style stats system while gamers were gorging themselves on 2000's game of the year, Deus Ex.

The reason that movie games are so prone to this, especially when timed to match release dates closely with a movie, is that the expectations are bumped up from both ends as the ad campaigns. The perfect example for this would be the recent release of Van Helsing (both the movie, and the game) in which 90% of the advertising included mentions of both the movie, and the game. Why do this? Because it saves money (some of the ad budget for the game isn't needed, since the movie advertising campaign takes over), and because both sides are hoping to gain crossover purchases.

In the case of Chronicles of Riddick, it's fairly obvious - people got their hands on the game, loved it, and went to see the movie only to find out that the movie sucked. Meanwhile, though, the game generated movie ticket sales. In the case of other movies, when it's the movie that's actually good/beloved/strongly hyped, the movie becomes one of those ancillary products that are hoping to see purchases boosted after people see/enjoy the movie - along with t-shirts, drum sets, notebooks/trapper keepers, dolls, and flamethrowers.

The unfortunate side is what happens when gamers get a mediocre product expecting a stellar one. It's somewhat akin to the difference in maintaining a used car, and a new one - with a new car, if something breaks down early, the user is likely to be pretty mad. With a used car, especially one 5+ years old, parts breakdowns are more expected and even planned for, so the level of anger drops.

A good example of a similar situation in the gaming world is the Xbox title from last summer, Brute Force. All told, it's a mediocre title; the deathmatch play couldn't hope to supplant happier titles like MechAssault, Crimson Skies, and Halo on the Xbox, even with Halo not having native Live support. The AI for single-player was stuck on dumb as rocks. The controls weren't nearly as crisp as Halo, either. But it's still not a BAD game, and decently fun when played cooperatively with a group of friends. Unfortunately, it was hyped as a game to tide gamers over until Halo 2 came out, which meant it should have been at least as good as Halo... and it just wasn't.

The final thing to consider is that we remember movie-license titles that sucked far longer than we remember other titles, especially when we remember the movie fondly (or even not, as movies in general tend to stick in pop culture longer). Video games from 2000 are already being forgotten by the majority of players as they move on to newer titles, with a few exceptions, but movies from even the 1970s pop up in references in newer movies and remain available on store shelves.

I fully expect, for instance, that the glories of playing Mechwarrior 2 have already been pretty much forgotten by many, since the title (in any incarnation) simply can't be played on a box that's not in the Windows 95/98/ME line (and the Playstation version sucked); likewise, without Nintendo re-releasing Mario titles for the GBA, they too would be largely forgotten by now, just as the original Metal Gear on the NES has been forgotten.

Yet we can all remember movie-based video games from that time that did, indeed, suck - while we selectively only remember the good titles from the same days on the NES. And that is the real reason that we perceive all movie-based games to have a higher chance of sucking. Ultimately, just like the non-movie-licensed titles, there are good and bad titles. It's just that the risk factors against a movie license game turning out good are pretty high, and that every time one of them sucks we remember it for years.

Got Comments? Send 'em to Michael (at)!

Weekly Musings 2: Why Do Movie-License Games Usually Suck?

Added:  Sunday, June 20, 2004
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf

Page: 5/5

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