I can still remember one of the first gaming related conversations I ever had with my partner. When she mentioned that she played video games it took everything I had not to jump a mile in the air and squeal like Ned Flanders. Of course, after gathering my emotions (though my demeanor totally remained Vulcan-like in its stoicism….totally….) the next step in the conversation was asking what sort of games she enjoyed playing.
Partner: “Well, I quite like the Shrek game.”
Me: “Oh ok…any others?”
Partner: “Hmm….ooo, the Harry Potter games on the Wii!”
Me: “Cool, cool…”
Partner: “Oh, and I also quite like…umm…”
Partner: “…the Incredibles game!”
You see the pattern that’s emerging here.
Let me preface this discussion by saying that I realize that many people enjoy these sorts of games, and I would in no way want to cause offence. If anybody wants to spend a Friday evening with a few fermented vegetable drinks playing Ratatouille, have at it my friend. This is just something I’ve had on my chest for a little while now and I’d like to take a thermometer reading of the gaming community on this topic.
Firstly, to clarify: when I use the term ‘movie-based video game’, I am referring to video games that are literally a mere re-telling of the film they’re based on. They’re also usually released around the time of/very shortly after the film release (though the game release preceding the film release is not unheard of). In that regard, The Incredibles, Shrek, and Harry Potter and the ________ all fit this criteria and so are counted. But games like Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor and Alien: Isolation, though based on film franchises, would not be included on this list. They are not mere re-tellings of actual films, and were not released in conjunction with said films.
Now that’s out of the way, the question I really want to ask is: does anyone else have beef with these games?
Because I do. Major beefs.
Beef #1: Lack of originality
I go to the cinema and pay an extortionate amount of moolah to watch, say, Brave. Awesome film. Thought the story was fantastic and that Merida is a wonderful character and an inspiring role-model. So why, really, should I pay a further £20/£30 for what more or less amounts to simply a playable version of the film? I know who the characters are, and the values they represent. I know how the events are going to unfold, and how the story ends. The only thing that’s different is that the playable character probably does a lot more jumping in the game than in the film, and there’ll be some form of collectible currency. That’s it. Everything’s set in stone; there’s no freedom to push the boundaries of the story. There’s no joy for me if I’m not constantly thinking about possible plot twists or potential character development routes. There’s none of that if the game is shackled to its big screen counterpart.
Beef #2: Most are just cash-cows
“But Zerathulu, surely the goal of all video games is to make money?”
Well of course. But this beef, when accompanied by Beef #1, paints the film studios in a very poor light in my estimation. In essence what they’re doing is getting people to pay a second time for an experience they’ve already had, whilst hardly adding anything. It’s not like the game developers have had to worry about characters, writing, environments etc. The whole reason the games are brought out close to the time of the film release is to capitalize on the popularity and fervour currently surrounding the film to persuade people to part with their cash. A discrepancy of a even a few months between film release and game release would impact game sales dramatically, as people start looking towards the next big thing. And quite often the studios cut corners to widen the profit margin: sub-par graphics quality, stilted animation, and sometimes to retain the original voice acting cast.
And the cost-saving measures are often symptomatic of a larger problem:
Beef #3: Time constraints
All games have deadlines, but usually they’re self-imposed. Sure, people invariably end up getting agitated when a developer provides a release date only to have it pushed back a few months as the date draws near, but gamers would much rather have a working, polished copy of the game than something that was rushed out. So there’s little evidence to suggest that delaying game releases massively impacts sales.
Not so for movie-based games.
As I mentioned in Beef #2, the game is usually released right on top of the movie release to capitalize on the film’s current popularity. So the developers of movie-based games generally don’t have the luxury of pushing back deadlines; the further the game release is pushed back the more cash they’ll lose. And of course, we all know what happens when a game developer prioritizes getting a title out on time over rigorous QA testing.
Yep. Come on, you knew that was coming. Poor quality, reduced QA testing and just the general air of a lack of effort are prevalent whenever I look up one of these titles.
Yes, there are bound to be exceptions, like GoldenEye 007. But for the life of me I can’t think of too many. I vaguely recollect being entertained by the 1996 Toy Story game for the Sega Mega Drive, but being around 6 or 7 years old at the time what wouldn’t have been entertaining? Anyway, that’s my rant. Does anybody share my views? Are these games useless, superfluous by-products of capitalism? Or do you think I’m being a sanctimonious, snobby old sod and you want to tell me that the Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007) release was a jam? Let me know in the comments!
(header image source: https://www.gameskinny.com)