Just last week saw the U.K release of the Jumanji remake, a film which takes the original Jumanji concept, a board game come to life, and brings it into the 21st century. Instead of a board game, the kids stumble across a video game version of Jumanji and are sucked into the wild world it beholds. But despite the plot of Jumanji (2017) centring around this new video game, there’s isn’t a movie tie-in game accompanying it all, ten years ago this would have been a sin. Back in the early 2000’s movie tie-in games were all the rage, whether it be Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Ice Age 2 or even Lord Of The Rings, every big blockbuster had a movie tie-in game attached to it. But now films that are literally asking for a movie tie-in game just don’t exist. That’s not to say that they are extinct at all, but the way we experience movie tie-in games has completely changed over the past decade. So, let’s take a look at the history of movie tie games and where they are now…
To kickstart this we are going all the way back to the 80’s the start of movie tie games and funnily enough the most infamous movie tie-in game of all-time E.T. Fabled by most as the worst game ever made, the E.T game was a movie tie-in game so bad it was buried underground so no one would ever have to play it again. You see back in the 80’s Universal saw it fit to make a few extra dollars off a license that was doing incredibly well for them. So to coincide with the Christmas season Developer Howard Scott Warshaw was given a mere 5 and a half weeks to produce a fully-fledged E.T game that would sell thousands of copies. It was a mammoth task that even developers of today would struggle to complete and obviously, Howard failed, miserably. E.T stands as a warning to game developers now about rushed games and studio interference, it was a such a colossal failure at the hands of universal, other people started capitalizing on this market gap and making movie tie-in games for themselves. More importantly, they began getting them right. What followed was a sea of gaming classics like Star Wars, Gremlins, Jaws and Labyrinth all of which were significant improvements on 1982’s E.T. But the sales indicated something very interesting, that the majority of the people playing these games were younger and that with a younger audience meant more child-friendly games were needed. As the 80’s came to a close the more adult movie tie-in games like Jaws started to die down, in its place The Amazing Spiderman and a whole host of child-oriented licenses.
As it more became obvious that movie tie-in games were appealing to children the natural next move was to start bringing the movie to tie in games to more children oriented devices, like the Gameboy Advance. These consoles, which allowed ease of access and convenient portability were perfect introductions to gaming for children and as such the children focused games flooded the system. The top-selling games on the console were that of Pokémon and Mario two franchises which appeal heavily to a younger audience so with Nintendo’s focus on family-oriented gameplay it was the perfect combo to push out more movie tie-in games for that console generation. And believe me, we got a lot of GBA Movie tie-in games, from Batman begins to the Elf movie game there’s a ridiculous amount of variety in adoptions. In fact, over 1/10th of the entire GBA library is a movie tie-in game, which is more than any other console. It’s no surprise that this appealed to children though, in fact, I myself was obsessed with buying movie games just after I’d seen the film. It became the norm to watch a film, leave and want to continue my experience with the film by playing the game. Games like Ice Age 2 – The Meltdown allowed me to recreate moments from the film with me in charge. It’s an oddly empowering feeling and one that is amplified even more so with a childlike attitude. Movie tie-in games were a way for you to control what you saw on screen and mould it into your own experience. It’s probably very unsurprising to hear that with such a large number of movie games released on GBA the DS wasn’t that far behind and so handheld games became a haven for this entire genre of game.
These child orientated movie games were not that great, much alike E.T in the 80’s the majority of these games were just pumped out to make a bit of easy cash. With the odd exceptions of games like Goldeneye, Ghostbusters and Spiderman 2 a lot of the movie tie-in games were shocking. Just for some context most of the games I mentioned in the above paragraphs rarely received higher than a 6/10 from most reviewing outlets. There was a clear lack of love and effort placed into any of these games as most of them were rushed out to release alongside the film. This is where I believe movie tie-in games began to fall out of popularity. There is only so long a consumer can put up with bad content before they stop buying it, and after 10 or so years of awful movie games eventually, you start to generalise and stop purchasing them.
It’s not just that though, there is a basic quality of games now, a sort of minimum bar a game much reach quality wise for it to even be a contender in sales to anything else. Games are becoming increasingly more impressive and as such development cost is going up. Back in the mid-2000’s a cheap punt on a tie-in game would be an easy and quick investment. Now with the rising development cost, risk is high. If your game flops the film is then at an even bigger loss. Not only that, the game is also relying on the film to be successful enough for a game to want to be played by consumers. This means that the risk-reward system is greatly favouring risk. Its little to no reward for a huge risk. It was inevitable that something would need to change for movie tie-in games to continue to be produced and so we’re brought back to the present day where an entirely new form of tie-in game is storming the market.
Besides Cars 3, which massively flopped (Selling only 130,000 copies worldwide), no blockbuster films over the past few years have had the main console released games attached to them. Films which are begging for a game iteration like Goosebumps or the Maze Runner aren’t receiving them anymore. Instead, the concept of what it means to be a movie tie-in games is changing, 2017 saw the release of Spiderman Homecoming a huge new release for Disney. Every other Spiderman film has a game attached to it but for some reason, homecoming didn’t (Yes, we’re getting a Spiderman game but it’s not based on Homecoming or tom Holland’s representation of Spiderman). Instead, we got the Spiderman Homecoming VR experience, a short hour-long VR tech demo which showed what it would be like to be Spiderman and fight off against, Vulture, the film’s antagonist. This was a pretty good move on Homecoming’s behalf though, it is an hour-long game meaning that budget was significantly lower, it was released amidst the mass hype for VR and not only that it was a key competitor to the hugely popular Batman Arkham VR experience which had a lot of traction at the time. Not only that it was actually free compared to the pricey Batman VR game.
But it’s not just shorter movie licensed projects which are replacing fully-fledged movie tie games, just take a look at the Fast And Furious franchise. Over the course of all 8 Fast and Furious films, the franchise has grossed over $5.1 billion dollars with the 8 entry alone making over $1 billion dollars. These huge, big budget action games are begging for a video game adaption. They feature fast cars, extravagant set pieces and plenty of video game esque moments but yet we’ve never seen a Fast and Furious game. Instead, the past 2 film iterations have had licensed DLC in the Forza franchise. This meant that the movie was still getting press but without the need for a full investment into a new game. Publishers have started doing this more and more often especially in recent years. Injustice 2 got Wonder Woman content, Rocket League constantly receives movie themed cars, Payday had John Wick 2 content. It’s completely reinventing the way movies are represented in games and not only that it allows you to enjoy the things you love about a film in the games you already love. There’s no risk of buying a terrible game made by a non-descript publisher just for a few extra Dollars, this to me is where I see the future of movie licensed games heading. Big releases will likely start featuring more themed movie content, as gaming becomes more and popular each year, publishers will start to see that attracting a gaming audience to their license will only improve the profits they’re making. It’s a far cry from what we used to have but it’s a clear and logical evolution, especially in our current climate of DLC gaming. I highly doubt that Movie tie-in games will ever truly disappear off the market, there will always be some dodgy developer making awful handheld iterations of children’s
films, but the likelihood of us seeing a big multiplatform movie tie-in game with a blockbuster movie to me seems more and more unlikely with every day passing. You never know though, the next E.T could be right around the corner…
Would you like to see Movie tie-in games make a grand return? Let us know in the comments below