Crispy Gamer

It?s A Small World, After All: What the Disney/Marvel Deal Could Mean for Video Games

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We’ll finally get to see whose berserker rage is more fearsome: Donald Duck or Wolverine. And, can it be long before we see a family feud with the Incredibles meeting the Fantastic Four? Early this morning, Disney Entertainment issued a press released detailing heir acquisition of Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion dollars. It’s the kind of mega-conglomerate corporate merger that hasn’t been seen in the last decade, made all the more unique given the current economic climate.

During an investor call earlier today, Disney execs called out their company’s strength at marketing and distribution combined with Marvel’s “treasure trove of content.” They also name-checked Pixar in terms of how acquiring the animation studio contributed to their overall technological strength. They see Marvel in the same way, as an acquisition that could benefit both comapnies. Disney also cited respect for Marvel’s already existing video game deals, chacaterizing them as smart licensing agreements with some of the best video game manufacturers. They also said that they’d honor existing licensing deals in film and other media, with the option to re-negotiate as the deals expire.

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Right now, Marvel’s video game licenses aren’t consolidated in one place. Activision’s been doing Spider-Man games since the Sam Raimi-helmed movie franchise launched in 2002 and they’ve been doing X-Men games for almost as long. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 will be released this fall from ATVI as well and a new Spider-Man game for 2010 was announced weeks ago. Under CEO Bobby Kotick, Activision’s made a point of not risking big dollars on developing new intellectual properties, preferring to iterate on existing ones. Marvel’s current licensing deal with Activision won’t end until 2017, but the possibility remains that Disney/Marvel could dangle enough cash to get their properties back. THQ will be shuttling out a Marvel Superhero Squad game to tie in with the upcoming animated series and Sega’s already got the rights to Hulk and Iron Man with a second game in the works for the armored Avenger and is presumably in the early stages of games for Thor and Captain America.

In terms of future video game strategy, they see a blend of licensed Marvel titles co-existing with self-produced and self-distributed ones. When it comes to self-produced video game content, though, Disney Interactive’s still a division of the larger conglomerate that’s finding its feet. It’s only made baby steps beyond derivative tie-in games for Hannah Montana, High School Musical and G-Force. But some of those baby steps have been promising–like last year’s Pure and their upcoming racer Split/Second. If Marvel’s video game future will rest primarily in Mickey Mouse’s giant gloved hands, Disney Interactive will have to figure out how to satisfy the kind of hardcore gamer fan base that they’ve heretofore only tentatively acknowledged. Still, well-done games based on Marvel characters will give Disney instant cache with an audience that's been dismissive of their output before. And, hey, industry legend Warren Spector’s working on a Disney steampunk MMO. Maybe Spector’s Junction Point team can get their hands dirty with the Marvel universe, too? It'd be an auspicious start.