When Ideas Die – A Look at Licensed Games

This news story caught my eye recently. It seems that Lego is getting the Minecraft license, which blows my mind as Minecraft IS essentially digital Lego. Why do you need the Minecraft license Lego? You’re Lego! Minecraft is about putting blocks together to build shit, which is what you’ve been doing since day one!

This got me thinking about licensed games. What makes them good and how to use a license properly. It seems that for the longest time, games have wanted to be movies. They’ve wanted the history, the stars, the respect and ultimately, the money. This recognition is pretty much a reality. With the industry becoming more and more valuable year by year, game premiers becoming news worthy events and video game characters becoming some of the most famous ‘personalities’ on the planet.

Before all of this though, games truly struggled to gain this recognition and respect. They had no mainstream ‘identity’. A few games made it into the limelight of the media, with Mario, Sonic and Pac-Man being the most obvious. For most games, they had to make do with dwelling in obscurity. They were ‘just games’. Some people wanted to make more than ‘just games.’ They wanted in on the cash that the likes of Mario could make. But making great games is hard. You know what’s easy though? Piggybacking off of existing licenses!

There was a good long time where average games obtained more than average attention and sales just by simply having a recognisable logo on the box. Nothing was sacred in this ‘grab a logo’ culture of licensing any old shit. The licenses you’d expect to see turned into games, like films and cartoon shows, got theirs. This is to be expected. But some of the licenses deemed ‘worthy’ of being turned into a game is staggering.

Food. Fucking food. There have been plenty of games based off of food. Global Gladiators, Pepsi Man, Cool Spot and Avoid the Noid all come to mind. Music. Wu-Tang, Spice Girls, Aerosmith, Kiss and N-Sync have all had games. Not even Rock Band games. Fucking. GAME GAMES! Nerf guns, Ferrari cars, Russel Grant, and Emmerdale have had their own games. Blegh. I feel ill. The thing is, I don’t have a problem with licensing an existing IP. Just make sure it’s not there to paper over the huge number of problems in your shitty game.

A license should be something that enables you to build on an existing world and develop existing characters. It should also draw in people who aren’t fans of the IP in the first place. Games like Batman: AA and Space Marine have shown the way. Still, it seems like people are getting sick of buying games just because of the logo on the box. Sales of licensed games have fallen. Well, shitty licensed games anyway. THQ, yes, even THQ, have decided to step back from licensed games and concentrate on developing their own ideas rather than lazily leaching off of an existing one.

Use licenses as a starting platform to create something great that an established fan base will love and that newbie will be interested in. Don’t use them as a crutch to prop up a dry turd that people have been fooled into buying.

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