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Just stop making movie tie-in games: Even Activision agrees

A few years ago the biggest games were routinely games inspired by movies or starring characters from movies,” said Activision chief executive officer Eric Hirshberg in an interview at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo. Not anymore.


Why did The Amazing Spider-Man 2 game happen? Developed by Quebec City-based Beenox and published last month by Activision, the game was savaged by reviewers, garnering an average Xbox One score of 47 out of 100 on aggregate site Metacritic.

IGN said it was "frustrating," the Official Xbox Magazine called it a "shallow, mandated movie tie-in," while we found it a chore to play through (we gave it a 3 out of 10).

Game publishers talk a lot about how gamer tastes have changed and that they're focusing on making fewer-but-better products. Much has also been written about how games based on TV shows or movies are also dying a quick death.

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If all that is true, why did this latest Spider-Man game even get made?

"A few years ago the biggest games were routinely games inspired by movies or starring characters from movies," said Activision chief executive officer Eric Hirshberg in an interview at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo.

"The audience for those games has really become a much tighter funnel of fanboys for that content, and that wasn't the case just a few years ago when the contracts that we have with a lot of the movie companies were written."

Still, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 appears to have sold decently, according to industry tracking firm NPD Group. It was the sixth-best selling game in physical form in the United States for the month of May, behind the likes of Ubisoft's Watch Dogs and Nintendo's Mario Kart 8 but ahead of EA's blockbuster Titanfall, released in March.

"We do as good a job as we can creating a compelling experience for those fans, but it's not the focus of where our development dollars or time and attention has gone," Mr. Hirschberg said.

"The investment profile profile – both in terms of time and dollars – is so different for that type of game that it's hard to even compare it or hold it to the same standards that you would a blockbuster game that you spent several years and tens of millions of dollars making."

Mobile platforms are proving to be a better fit for movie licensed games, with development times and budgets there typically much smaller, meaning that quick cash-ins tied to theatrical releases are easier to do. Games based on the likes of The Avengers and other superheroes have proliferated in recent years on smartphones and tablets.

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Licensed games aren't entirely dead on consoles, though – they're simply changing form. California-based Telltale Games hit the big time in 2012 with its downloable episodic game The Walking Dead, based on the popular comic book and TV show. Ubisoft also had a hit earlier this year with South Park: The Stick of Truth, based on the long-running animated series.

It's not the license that appears to be the problem when it comes to quality, but rather the tying of a game to a particular movie's or show's release date. The days of such games on consoles indeed look to be numbered.

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About the Author

Peter Nowak has been writing about technology for 20 years, with a focus on trends and how they affect the world. He worked at The Globe and Mail between 1997 and 2004 before moving to China and then New Zealand, where he won the award for best technology reporter at the New Zealand Herald. More


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