“the funny thing that Marvel and I talk a lot about, is this is the Iron Man, this is the one that’s going to start it off.” From the article Marvel Exec: Spider-Man ‘Kicks off new era of console games” from IGN.
This quote taken from the Kinda Funny spoilercast between host Greg Miller and creative director on Marvel’s Spider-Man Bryan Intihar has been making the rounds lately, and it’s certainly makes the mind wonder on what this could possibly mean. As someone who thought the great superhero video game boom would come after the success of Batman: Arkham City, I’m more than ready for a steady stream of top quality video games starring some of my favorite Marvel characters in the same way I look forward to seeing them on the big screen every few months. Before everyone gets too excited though, an MGU, or “Marvel Gaming Universe”, on the level of Marvel’s line-up of films isn’t an easy thing to do for a number of reasons.
The first being that the way video games are consumed is far different from the way movies are. Marvel and Disney’s slate of films have a healthy run in theaters for a number of months, then shortly after they make their way to a number of home video digital platforms as well as DVD and blu-ray and eventually streaming services like Netflix. All that is to say is that it’s very easy to gain access to a movie and it comes with a fairly low barrier of entry. A movie ticket, even at the IMAX or premium level, is around $20 or so and you don’t need any specialized equipment, unless you don’t live close to a cinema but even then the turn around from a theatrical release to a home video release is becoming less and less as the years go on. This isn’t the case with video games in the least. Whether you’re a dedicated console player or play games on PC, you’re looking at machines that run several hundred dollars just for the opportunity to play at the bare minimum and then software that in the country I live, Canada, is $90 after tax not counting add-ons like DLC.
Then there’s the little matter that the supposed start of the MGU is a console exclusive. Lets say for the sake of argument that Square-Enix’s upcoming “Avengers Project” is the theoretical next chapter in the MGU. Unless Sony is paying a lot of money to Square-Enix to keep this game exclusive to the PlayStation, which they very well could, logic dictates that like most western developed Square-Enix projects, this game will arrive on the PlayStation, Xbox One and PC. For those who chose to play on one platform only, or simply can’t afford to have a high-end gaming PC with a console or two consoles, that means that not only will a large portion of players be missing out on the first chapter in the MGU, but also future Spider-Man chapters as well. Because Sony is now the publisher of Spider-Man, it may also limit or eliminate altogether that take on the character appearing on other platforms. Sony only this week allowed cross-play between the PlayStation 4 and competing platforms for Fortnite, how long before they let Insomniac’s Spider-Man appear in a game that will appear on Xbox One?
There’s also the difference between how films are made and how movies are made. Marvel’s video game division acts as a liaison to other studios like Insomniac and Crystal Dynamics and doesn’t make video games in-house. Marvel Studios is the sole producer of the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and while films have different producers, writers, actors, directors, etc., all are under the guidance of Marvel Studios and Kevin Feige. Films also have very quick turn around times compared to video games: we’ve already seen two films in the MCU this year with three more coming by the middle of 2019 and who knows how long it will take to see another game in the hypothetical MGU. It took years for Insomniac to get Spider-Man working and I suspect it will take just as long to figure out the logistics of a AAA caliber game starring the likes of Captain America or Iron Man. It would be a unprecedented level of cooperation between studios to make an MGU happen that would be a good thing in the long run, but requiring inter studio communication on the direction of certain franchises could also be a logistical nightmare as an MGU grows larger in scope.
An MGU, if it means an interconnected series of video games and not just a new, golden age of top quality AAA Marvel video games, could also mean that we would see fewer, quirkier titles. Even after the failure of Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, I can’t be the only one who still holds out hope that there will be a new entry in that series, and Marvel I’m sure would love to have their very own EVO darling like WB Games’ Injustice series. What does either of those games look like if Marvel games moving forward all exist in an interconnected universe? Similar things could be said of outliers like TT and WB Games series if LEGO titles. The LEGO Marvel titles have been some of the most enjoyable Marvel video games released this decade, but do they continue in any capacity when Marvel is trying to build a MGU?
Video games aren’t the shortest form of entertainment either. People often wonder why DC’s stable of heroes don’t cross-over with the film or why Netflix heroes such as Daredevil and Jessica Jones don’t pop up in Marvel Avengers Infinity War. There’s many, complicated reason for that I’m sure, but one is that a lot of people don’t have time to consume full season of TV shows before going into a movie. Leading up to the release of Infinity War this past April, it wasn’t exactly out of the realm of possibility for someone who had never seen a single Marvel film to get caught up for the big event that served as the culmination of years of films because a movie is only two hours long. Marvel’s Spider-Man at the very minimum if you’re ignoring side-missions is a twenty hour game alone, so if an MGU builds to something like Infinity War, an average person is not going to probably have the time to go back and play a long series of game each possibly averaging around twenty hours of playtime.
As someone who owns and runs a website about comic book video games, as well as owns hundreds of comic book games – most of which have questionable quality – I’m of course curious to see what an MGU will look like, but for all the listed reasons, I know deep down it won’t look like what Disney and Marvel have managed to do with their series of films. Realistically speaking, what an MGU needs to be is simply a series of high quality games that make us all forget about the likes of 2008’s Iron Man and Thor: God of Thunder. Marvel has built some solid foundation for their video game future going forward with the hugely successful launch of Marvel’s Spider-Man, but maybe the “it’s all connected” part should be left to the comics and movies.