Licensing and games: dark warning or bright future

There are at least three different interpretations of the current licensing frenzy among the top titles at E3. I'll discuss each of them a little here.

There are three basic attitudes towards licensing in the game market. I characterize them as: the valuable partner scenario, the juggernaut scenario, and the silent takeover scenario.

Valuable Partner

This is the attitude taken by most of the publishing houses right now. It seems as if they've pretty much written off the idea of new, unique game content and are aiming almost everything at a licensed property.

This year's show saw properties such as "Starsky and Hutch", "The Muppets", and even Disney's "The Haunted Mansion" being used as the basis for games.

The appeal is that games based on known properties require less marketing, come with a built-in fan base, and may already have usable art assets as well as story lines.

This attitude looks at the "helpful" sides of this from a cost perspective and sees Hollywood as a valuable partner in guaranteeing at least break-even success for games on licensed properties.

The Juggernaut Scenario

This scenario is based on the same premise of the previous one, but looks at the outcome of this crutch as creating a dependency between the gaming market and Hollywood.

The fear is that as this becomes more popular, no original content will be created and the game market will become to Hollywood what the action figure market is: a place to get a few more bucks out of your intellectual property.

Clearly, the fear here is that as with Hollywood, games will become little more than cookie-cutter productions with high value graphics but with gameplay taking a back seat to the marketing might of the property.

Silent Takeover

This is the most optimistic of the three scenarios. Building on the synergies stated above, it envisions a world where, over time, the game market actually takes over Hollywood in terms of creativity.

The idea is that properties like Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy, and Deus X (each of which either have been released or will be released as at least one movie) show how much richer the game environment is than the movie experience, but also that a movie adapted from a game can be successful.

The theory continues that eventually Hollywood will take its queues from the game market, becoming effectively a 2 hour long commercial for whatever game is coming out.

The key difference between this and the other two is that it sees the game as the source of the intellectual property and thus envisions a world where games will be green lighted and then maybe a movie will be made, instead of the nightmare scenario (for the game industry) of all new games coming from existing movie properties.