Cashing In 2.0: How the Licensed Game Has Evolved

For better or worse, the original exploitation genre has changed.

Originally published September 18, 2018 for 

With Marvel’s Spider-Man breaking records and hearts alike, let’s have a look at how the licensed video game has evolved in 2018.

Before we get into it, let’s define exactly what I mean by “licensed game” since it applies to every other major release. The Metro 2033 and The Witcher series are technically licensed, being based on book series, so are the Warhammer and Dungeons & Dragons games by adapting tabletop RPGs, and even the Super Smash Bros.and Kingdom Hearts games since they’re all about mashing dozens of iconic characters together in a single game. All the annual sports games, like FIFA and NBA 2K, the WWE wrestling games, Rock Band and its foundation of licensed music, the Tony Hawk skating games – I’m already bored with this paragraph and I’ve barely started.

What I’m talking about specifically are tie-in games. Games based on popular stuff like movies or television shows that catch the eye from a store shelf. More technically: the products of marketing synergy, the ones that effectively exploit and build upon an active interest in a brand to create a more successful, profitable product – exciting stuff. They sound like soulless husks of half-broken software – and they definitely can be – but every so often they’re something special.

Marvel's Spider-Man

There are a handful of licensed titles that I completely adore – The Simpsons: Hit & Run and SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom are my favourites – but what the best licensed games really accomplish is letting you play inside your most-loved worlds. They’re playable versions of your favourite television show, cartoon, anime, movie, comic or epic poem, where you dive into detailed recreations of these worlds and indulge as a fan. They’re unique in a way that even the best original games can’t compare to: festivals of unfettered nostalgia that also happen to be fun video games.

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