What happened to all the Marvel games?

Title What happened to all the Marvel games?
Author Nick Diamon
Posted in News
When January 2, 2014

Did you play any of Activision's recent games based on Marvel Comics? If you didn't, you're probably not missing much. The licensed games didn't get stellar reviews. Unfortunately, if you were curious and wanted to pick them up on a discount, you may be out of luck..

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This raises some questions about digital property.

Since companies treat digital media as a service you pay to receive rather than own I am starting to wonder if this implies that all digital media will only be available for as long as the company selling the media retain the rights to it and it's characters. This may not just be a problem for Activision in the future.

The rights to use other people's intellectual property doesn't last forever, and if you don't own any digital media you pay for, things produced by a 3rd party with licensed ip's may dissappear over time. However if you own the disk you own it outright.

All digital is not seeming the amazing future it once did.

The same thing happened a few years ago with THQ's mobile Star Wars games. If you bought something, it's yours, but no one can buy it anew now.

Licensing kind of sucks that way. I'd love to see some movie-tie-ins or arcade ports from the 1980s, but many of those companies are gone now.

This is like the various Lord of the Rings titles that EA put out. There was actually a pretty high good-to-bad ratio for them, with the Battle for Middle Earth titles and The Two Towers being highlights. Now you can't get them anywhere.

To me this doesn't raise any new questions about digital "property" or rights.

For me the big question is "Who in the hell is in charge of marketing at Marvel?" A maintenance of product rights agreement costs both Marvel and their game licensees very little if negotiated properly, and allows existing games to exist as marketing for Marvel's brand and characters. It also disallows companies to use that license to create new games, and allows Marvel to negotiate a license for creation with new developers as they see fit.

If I'm a publisher like Ubi or EA, I'm going to be bringing this up when Marvel's properties folks want to talk about creating an Avengers or Spidey game in the future. Not a smart move, at all.

The only way this sort of thing makes sense (and it's far from the only time it's happened with licensed games) is in a mindset coming from a world where you, say, license a TV channel to show a movie for a certain period of time. There's no earthly reason why games that were already produced should cease to be on sale because the licensing is time limited. I suppose the lawyers would argue that the existing games are rivalrous to new games produced under a new licence, but how true is that really, even in a long tail marketplace? And it's not like old licensed films cease to be available on DVD when the new versions come out, and those should in theory be much more rivalrous, given the slower pace of technology.

Its all about the dollar. Everything else can go get stuffed.

This is what I'm wondering. How do you just let the contract expire? I'm guessing the answer comes down to money but still, in what business plan does it make sense to shut down avenues of selling your stuff?

Exactly. It just seems like one of those penny-wise/pound-foolish decisions that get made by people who probably shouldn't be in charge of generating sales revenue.

I'm going back to Star Wars, because I think it's the poster child for licensed properties.

Old versions of DVDs are certainly pushed out of the marketplace. Star Wars Special Edition has bumped the older "non-special" versions out of the way, except for secondhand sales. I'm sure the rights holders would like to eliminate the secondhand sales, which is effectively what they're doing by killing new sales of old digital properties. (again, if you already bought them, you can keep them, which is only fair)

Disney bought LucasFilm (Star Wars) in 2012 and recently granted a 10-year license to EA for making Star Wars games. Disney bought Marvel in 2009 so it will be interesting to see what they do with the big license in this case. The Marvel media omniverse was not as well established when these Activision games came out -- they're the game versions of the pre-Disney FF4 and Hulk movies. If Disney/Marvel/gamedevX can tie together stories, characters, and other interactions as well as the films have been done, I say bring on the brave new future.

As for why the old things aren't available, I guess nobody wants old "classic" titles stinking up the chances of selling the new hotness.

A few points, if you did buy these games you still have access to them. They are no longer available for purchase in digital format but no one is losing a game they paid for.
Secondly, digital does NOT have to mean loss of ownership. It is just that most digital distribution bakes DRM into the product from the get go. If you look at the GOG.com model you actually are safer with the digital copy.
The GOG.com digital copy can be downloaded as many times as you want, from any computer you want. Since there is no DRM on the installer and it does not require an internet check in you can backup that installer to external drives, to cloud storage, to CD/DVD, and keep that game for as long as you keep a copy of the installer.
With most disc based games, whether PC or console, there is DRM that prevents backing up the disc. So if the disc is lost, destroyed, or stolen, you lose access to that game unless you buy it anew.
Digital copies are clearly the best in most cases, with the caveat that they are DRM free or limited to something offline, like requiring the input of a key. That allows you to backup the installer and if necessary the key so that will, in theory, always have access to that game. I have downloaded all my 60+ GOG.com library so that even if GOG.com goes out of business, even if the internet itself goes down for an extended period, I can still install and play those games.
I think expanded platforms and expanded competition will push digital games towards being DRM free in the future.

Let's hope so, on some digitally downloaded games I have heard they require online check ins are required to use said software offline. My concern is that as soon as a product is no longer supported because of a loss of license by the producer that these check ins may no longer be possible.

The GOG.COM model looks like a good one in terms of customer rights and ownership but I am not going to assume such a model is adopted by everyone shelling out digital media. This article mentions Consoles and it's digital games on consoles I am primarily concerned.

It really comes down to how competitive the market becomes. With AAA games you had a small number of publishers and a small number of platform holders, so they don't face a lot of competitive pressure. With mobile platforms gaining in popularity and the rise of indie developers on the PC, with an increase in PC sales due in large part to digital distributors like Steam I think that the games industry will see a lot more competitive pressure for gamer's dollars than ever before.
I could be wrong of course and we may see things get worse, not better, but I look at a company like Ubisoft ditching attempts to force always online as indicative of the direction we are heading in, which is less onerous DRM solutions.
As with all prognostication time will tell.

I see a lot of different forces trying to decide the future of online media sevices, it would be great to see things become more free, open and more consumer friendly in fact I think their is one group in particular that has counted on it.

A little off topic but the group I speak of are Internet service providers. Right now most isp's allow a model where you can use as many gigs of data as you like a month for a flat fee so we as consumers have gotten used to streaming data and downloading digital games. I think soon we will see isp's switch to a more metered plan meaning you pay for what you use... they would profit massively from this model, unfortunately for the consumer it means we will either have to pay a premium for unlimited content or be more careful about what we download/stream which will be a blow to the digital media industry.

Back on topic about the games no longer being sold due to a loss of license, if check ins were mandatory beforehand in the discontinued software then who do customers check in with now? The old publisher no longer holds the rights to the software so I doubt it would be them, and I doubt it would be consoles as they have been stung by attempted drm in the past. Perhaps all it would take would be a patch? But like I said, This raises a lot of questions about digital ownership.

The metered internet scam is something I think won't work out in the long run, but that is another discussion all together.
Just to clarify for you, the only thing that happened is that the contract allowing them to sell these games digitally has expired. The games STILL WORK for everyone who bought them. No one can buy a new copy through a digital distributor like Steam. That is all that has happened.

The arbitrary control rights-holders have over sales and distribution is in my opinion the defining problem with digital media and the one that really, really needs a more consumer-and-posterity-friendly solution soonest. Or at the very least before we go fully digital. DRM is a very real secondary concern for its own deleterious effects, of course, but it's not really relevant if nobody can buy the media in the first place.

"Marvel vs. Capcom 3 [and] Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3"

Your scarce bandwidth prediction is how it used to be back when you were charged by the minute for internet access (or ISDN or Telecom Gold or Compuserve or a bunch of other services that only me and the dinosaurs remember.) It's unlikely to go back to that because all it takes is one ISP to say this is dumb, we'll offer you an all you can eat buffet of data for a fixed price. Where you have a problem in the US is that large portions of the country have little competition but that won't always be the case. eg Google's idea to create a mesh network of balloon-borne Wimax repeaters.

"The licensed games didn’t get stellar reviews."

Sure, since all the reviewers share the same hivemind, just look at Tom Hack, CHick, whatever his name was. Deadpool was a bloody good shooter to run through once, same as with other High Moon games, those guys know how to make a great shooter. Of course, you'd never know it from reviews in, say, PC Gamer, by some game afficionados like Rob Zacny (a strategy games lover who didnt even play X-Com, yeah, a compatriot of Tom "I hate Deus Ex" Chick), who branded Transformers :WfC as below mediocre, and nobody at the said magazine even bother to play the amazing sequel.

Spider-Man Shattered Dimensions is basically Contra Marvel Corps, a neverending stream of great boss fight after great boss fight. Also the entire Deadpool level in that game, my God !
Web of Shadows is also worthy of note as the best Spider-Man game in history in terms of simply swinging about the city. Unrivaled. Sure, web doesnt actually stick to buildings like the overhyped and idolized Spider-Man 2, but who cares, when it feels so good ! What other game can give you such smooth city traversing ? No Prototype and the likes are THAT good.

Actually, yes, the Prototype games are that good and better, and Saints Row IV beats both of them. Web of Shadows was still pretty fun, though, and you might be surprised to learn that Tom thought it was a great "zombie" game back in the day. (They're not strictly speaking zombies, of course, but the feel was similar.)