From: L A Times - "The Avengers" is the first blockbuster hit of the summer, with its muscular superhero roster of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and the Hulk not only saving the world but conquering the box office, with nearly $1.4 billion in global ticket sales to date.
That's why the lack of a new "Avengers" console game at Disney Interactive Media Group's booth at this week's video game convention in Los Angeles was so conspicuous.
There were no Marvel-inspired console games on display at Disney's booth at E3. The space was dominated by a sequel to Disney's popular title, "Epic Mickey," with glass displays focused on memorabilia related to one of the game's central characters — Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, an animated predecessor to Mickey Mouse.
The only "Avengers" console game showcased at E3 is one being developed under license by a third-party software company, Ubisoft Entertainment. That game, "Marvel's The Avengers: Battle for Earth," due out later this year for the Xbox 360 Kinect and Wii U consoles, is not based on the movie.
Walt Disney Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Robert A. Iger has said the entertainment giant's ability to leverage Marvel's thousands of comic book characters across its business units was part of the justification for its $4-billion acquisition of the company in 2009.
On a recent call with investors, Iger talked about how Marvel Entertainment's hit film translated into brisk sales of "Avengers" merchandise, including superhero action figures, T-shirts and costumes, Lego models and even "Smash" cologne inspired by the big green superhero with anger issues. A movie sequel already is in development.
But console games, like movies, have long development cycles — and in the case of Marvel, existing licensing agreements with third parties would stand in the way of Disney immediately bringing projects in-house. Independent game publisher Sega, for instance, had the rights to develop games based on Marvel's first three movies, "Iron Man," "Captain America: The First Avenger" and "Thor."
Movie-inspired console games have a dubious track record, in part because games require two years or more to develop, while movies often can be in flux — with script revisions and casting shuffles — up to a year before a premiere, said game industry analyst Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities.
One of the biggest bombs in video game history was "ET: The Extra-Terrestrial," an Atari game released in the early 1980s based on Steven Spielberg's 1982 film. Millions of unsold cartridges ended up buried in a New Mexico landfill.
"Inside the industry, this is the thing people point to when they talk about taking risks on games," Pachter said. "The worst failure in history happened to be a movie tie-in."
Giant game publishers such as Activision have solved the problem by creating "Spider-Man" and "X-Men" titles not closely tied to film versions. Warner Bros., meanwhile, launched million-selling games "Batman: Arkham City" and "Batman: Arkham Asylum" based on the popular comic book character — but independent of the successful films directed by Chris Nolan.
Mike Vorhaus, president of Magid Advisors, a media research and consulting firm, said the interactive entertainment industry has been moving away from games timed to go on sale the day a movie opens in theaters. Too many of these games — which can cost millions of dollars for software developers to license — are rushed to take advantage of movie promotional campaigns, only to flop, critically and commercially.
"The trend is more toward the Warner strategy of building movie-independent games based on movie intellectual property — but not based on the movie," Vorhaus said.
In the case of "The Avengers," a console game planned to draft off this summer's film appears to have been a casualty of the financial woes of THQ. The struggling game publisher was working on a licensed title but abandoned it in August, according to three people with knowledge of the situation who were unauthorized to speak publicly.
As with most licensing agreements, Disney had the option of picking up where THQ left off to finish the "Avengers" console game. Disney chose not to make the title, said a person familiar with the negotiations who declined to be named, citing the confidentiality of the talks.
"'The Avengers' could have done quite well," said Billy Pidgeon, an analyst with M2Research. But the risks would have been high, given the tendency for games based on movies to sell poorly.
Seeking to capitalize on the marketing blitz surrounding the picture, Disney released a Facebook social game, "Marvel: Avengers Alliance" — a less costly and time-consuming undertaking that could be turned around quickly. It now ranks as the company's most popular social game, with 10 million players.
The absence of Marvel titles in Disney's E3 booth shouldn't be interpreted as a lack of support for the studio's games division and its valuable characters, said a person close to the matter who was not authorized to speak publicly. Disney's games unit has been limiting development of expensive, high-risk console games and investing in newer mobile and social platforms.
In the case of Marvel, Disney's group is developing an "Iron Man 3" console game to coincide with the 2013 release of the next installment of the popular film franchise, said a person with knowledge of the plans who declined to be identified for fear of damaging business relations. Marvel's characters also will be the first Disney-owned brand to be integrated into its popular "Club Penguin" online virtual world for children, said the person.