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What Happened to Movie Tie-in Games? (Give me your thoughts)

On 06/24/2023 at 11:28 AM by The Last Ninja

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There once was a time when just about every major movie had a video game counterpart. For me, the first movie video game I ever played was Dennis the Menace for the SNES. It was based on the 1993 movie starring Walter Mathau as Mr. Wilson. I watched the movie a lot as a kid because we had a VHS tape of it, but the game was another story. The level layout and game mechanics were so obtuse that I couldn’t even get past the first level, and no wonder, the game was developed by Ocean Software (they’re one of the most notorious developers for making awful licensed games). Sadly, this trend of bad movie tie-in games would continue for the next 15 years. 

pic 1

            Me and Mr. Wilson were on the same page here. I hate Dennis!

There were plenty of movie tie-in games in the ‘80s, but they were the most prevalent in the ‘90s. It’s funny that R-rated movies like The Terminator and RoboCop got tie-in games that were targeted at children. Just about every big Disney movie had a video game counterpart, even old movies like Snow White and Pinnochio. Even very old movies like The Wizard of Oz got games (the SNES Wizard of Oz game is supposedly one of the worst games you could ever play). The reason for all of this is quite obvious: parents and grandparents were more likely to buy games for their kids with recognizable characters. And it worked! In fact, that Dennis the Menace game I had as a kid was purchased for us by my grandparents. 

Moving into the 2000s, there were still quite a few movie tie-in games, but they weren’t nearly as prevalent. Some movie games were relegated to handhelds only (the Game Boy Advance has a LOT of movie games). Big movies, such as The Lord of the Rings, Spider-Man, and Pirates of the Caribbean, all got tie-in games. Some of these movie tie-in games were even good, such as 2004’s Spider-Man 2, which was the first open world Spider-Man game. Most of them, however, were very mediocre. 

pic 2

                   The first game that really made you feel like Spidey

The most common movie tie-in games were from superhero movies, and the early 2000s saw a renaissance of these movies with big-name characters from both Marvel and DC. Spider-Man, the Hulk, the X-Men, Fantastic Four, Batman, and Superman all got games based on their movies. This trend carried through most of the 2000s, with even Ironman (2008) and Thor (2011) getting movie-based games. However, it was around 2010 that movie tie-in games started to disappear. Disney movies would sometimes get a game, but not always. Toy Story 3 (2010) had its own game, but later Pixar movies, such as Inside Out (2015) and Coco (2017) did not get any video games. 

It’s notable that The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) both got video games, but the massively successful The Avengers (2012) did not. In fact, from 2012 on, no MCU movies have had tie-in games. Actually, no superhero movies have had tie-in games. Instead, gaming companies have decided to make their own superhero games that are separate from their movie counterparts. Insomniac’s Spider-Man (2017) on PS4 was wildly successful. Other superhero games include Square Enix’s The Avengers (2020), Eidos-Montreal’s Guardians of the Galaxy (2021), and Firaxis Games’s Midnight Suns (2022). It seems that studios would rather make their own games apart from the movies. In addition to these, there are plenty of non-movie character games planned, including a Wonder Woman game, and an Indiana Jones game. 

pic 3

                                Hey, that's not Chris Evans! I want my money back!

What’s strange is that movie tie-in games aren’t dead completely. Most recently, there was a Jumanji video game (2019) based on the movie released for current consoles. There have also been two Cobra Kai games for current consoles, both developed by Flux Games. Despite these oddities, movie tie-in games are all but gone. If it were the late ‘90s, John Wick Chapter 4 would have an exciting action game released alongside it. But times have changed. 

pic 4

                            I have no idea if this game is any good. Probably not. 

So the big question is, Why? Why are movie tie-in games no longer a thing, and why are companies now making games with movie characters that are separate from their movies? I would love to hear your thoughts! 



Cary Woodham

06/25/2023 at 07:48 AM

I think movie tie-in games got a reputation for being so bad that companies just stopped making them.  Plus the licenses for those properties were probably getting so expensive that it wasn't worth the cost anymore.  For a while you only saw movie tie-ins in mobile games, but now you don't even see that anymore.

The Last Ninja

06/25/2023 at 09:58 PM

Good point, they were often bad games that weren't well received, and expensive licenses plus diminishing sales would result in not making them in the first place. 


06/25/2023 at 01:46 PM

Most of them were awful, and tended to be made by mediocre companies like Acclaim, Activision, and EA. Spider-Man was made by Sony, which relies on a reputation for quality to sell the PlayStation, especially with Nintendo stronger than ever and Microsoft trying to brute-strength the video game war with its checkbook. Game companies have also come to understand that people don't want to simply play a movie's storyline in a game. They can just watch the movie if they want the story.  GoldenEye didn't follow the plot of the movie rigidly and focused more on gameplay, as a result, the game is arguably more successful and better-known than the movie that it was based on. 

For a long time, almost all legacy media had their own studios or bought into the industry. Warner sold off Atari after the crash through their purchase of Midway's IP, they own the IP of Atari Games, the arcade division which was split off when the home division was bought by the Tramiel family and later bought by Midway. Other than the wildly successful Mortal Kombat, they don't seem interested in any of the video game IP they bought, which includes legacy franchises like Joust, Defender, Gauntlet, Rampage, Paperboy, and Tapper.  Warner has had limited success at leveraging DC, most of that with Batman. Warner also gave up the license to Lord of the Rings, which is now owned by the rather dubious Swedish conglomerate Embracer. Disney tried at multiple times to break into the industry only to be rebuffed. They stopped making Infinity early on and go through third parties now, and prefer to sell to little kids with iPads and iPhones. MGM, Viacom and Universal had their own home divisions at one time, now gone. Many of the games produced by these companies were part of the "interactive movie" craze of the mid 90s that fizzled out. Lucasfilm, seeing the video game industry as a natural medium for an special-effects laden sci-fi action IP like Star Wars, entered early on, but they developed a lot of original IP like their adventure games and early first-person games like Rescue on Fractalus and BallBlazer. They're gone now, victims of declining sales and the Disney buyout. Star Wars games are made by third parties. 

One factor that may play into this is that a lot of video game companies actually outgrew legacy media companies. Even Nintendo could buy its own major movie studio, albeit at great risk. They're worth more than WB Discovery and Paramount are. They could afford to buy Mortal Kombat, Bugs Bunny, and Batman. They could probably buy a sizable stake in Universal Studios from Comcast if they were so inclined to cement Universal as a Nintendo movie studio after the Super Mario Movie. Now, movies that tie into video games are made. Warner Bros had more success leveraging Rampage, a long-dormant video game IP, into a movie than they've had trying to make their movies into video games. And that's not even going into the mammoth budgets sported like companies like Microsoft and Tencent.

Setting that aside, with few exceptions, I don't care for licensed games. I'd rather play actual video game IP. I'd rather play Mario or Zelda than Spider-Man or Lord of the Rings. I'd rather play Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy than Game of Thrones. Metroid is a better Alien game than any of the actual licened Alien games. No Man's Sky and Starflight (in the 1980s) captured the spirit of Star Trek perfectly in gaming without being tied to the license. The best 2600 game ever made, Solaris, started out as a tie-in to The Last Starfighter. Untethering it from the license helped make it into a game that could hold its own against a lot of NES games.  Licensed games are a trend that I'm glad to see going away, especially when the SNES/Genesis, PS2, and PS3/Xbox were so glutted with them.

I will say that I do enjoy video game based TV and movies, however, and I hope to see Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Fire Emblem movies in the future.

There are exceptions to licensed games for me as well. I loved Konami's licensed arcade games (TMNT, Simpsons, X-Men, Aliens). I even bought the Cowabunga Collection and Shredder's Revenge last year and would buy The Simpsons Arcade Game in a heartbeat. I enjoyed Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle. And I even had Judge Dredd for SNES, and it was fine. It just didn't get as much play time as Super Metroid or Donkey Kong Country.

The Last Ninja

06/25/2023 at 10:04 PM

Wow, thanks for the input! I think you're right, licensed games were a trend that is all but gone now, and now we ARE getting more movies based on video games, and they are much better (overall) than they used to be. 


06/26/2023 at 02:12 PM

I think Cary and SanAndreas explained it very well. I assume it's a cost cutting thing. Must cost a fortune to get the actor's likenesses and in some cases voice work for a game. 

I've played a bunch of TV licenced games recently like several Ben 10 titles. There's a new One Piece game and a TellTales story based game connected to The Expanse just came out that I want to play. 

I like the idea of playing a game version of a movie and going through the plot of the film. At some point I might try a lot of those games that came out in the 360 generation just for fun. The Transformers ones are apparently not bad. 

The Last Ninja

06/27/2023 at 11:49 AM

There were a ton of games where you played through the movie's plot in the early 2000s (although sometimes they changed little things in the game, like in Spider-Man 2). I think a big draw for parents and kids was having the same actor/voice actor in the games as the movie. 


06/30/2023 at 12:11 PM

Yeah, there's something really cool about that, especially if you liked the movie. 


06/27/2023 at 05:55 PM

If we're talking about AAA-quality games, I think development time is a big factor. It takes longer to make games than it does to make movies, so synchronizing release dates is very difficult. The other big thing is mobile and service games. The financial risk is so much lower to have a tie-in with Fortnite than to make, promote, and distribute a new game. There are also several Marvel service games on mobile and I imagine they have events to promote new movies and whatnot. Plus, the way you tell stories in movies and games are different. Movie plots usually have to be expanded to fill a satisfying gaming experience, so why not just start with that in mind? Plenty of movies could have awesome tie-ins, but I don't think the movies studios/execs are generally willing to put in the time/energy/money to end up with a good game at the end. Heck, we've seen plenty of examples of game company execs not understanding the process of making games.

The Last Ninja

06/28/2023 at 12:12 PM

Good point, mobile gaming has probably been a big factor. I don't play mobile games, but I imagine there are quite a few Marvel and movie-based mobile games, and like you said, those are much easier to do than big budget console games. 

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