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Analysis / The Problem with Licensed Games

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Why do video games based on established properties almost always seem to suck? Here's why:

They are just products

Licensed video games are often just part of The Merch; they are just like the toys, the clothes, the cereal, the coffee mugs, the bed sheets, the shampoo, and so forth. They are meant to be bought, not to be played.

How to avoid this:

Treating the licensed game with respect, with the same care that the source material receives (or more, if the source material is being treated like crap).


They have a harsh time constraint

They usually have to be made in a short time to be released at the same time as the source material or before the license expires. This especially happens with games based on movies. Add the fact that the game developers probably never watched it to know what it's about, and the game is doomed to fail.

How to avoid this:

Give the developers a better time schedule to finish the game; that's why games based on movies that are years old when the game came out are usually better. Another great option is making a game that has little to do with the movie or better yet, making a licensed game of the franchise but not directly based on an already-told story, instead having an original story.


They sell just because of the name

These games are meant for fans of the source material, since they are going to get these games no matter if they're good or not; quality is just optional. This is even worse with games for kids.

How to avoid this:

Once again, treat the game with more respect and know that quality is a factor that helps boost sales.

It's not always easy to adapt a different medium to a game

Even if a work is pretty good in its own right, that doesn't mean it has potential to be adapted to another medium, and adapting something into a video game can be really hard. Video games are a medium where a plot isn't structurally essential to the genre, the most important is the gameplay, and that can't always be translated well between mediums. Sometimes many different and discordant gameplay genres are added to the mix due to the variety of the source material.


The worst cases are game adaptations of properties that have little potential for a video game, like psychological dramas or sitcoms with no action or tangible conflict during most of the plot. Typically, their gameplay is very linear and involves the player being forced to do a lot of artificially hard mundane everyday tasks occasionally interrupted by a cutscene.

How to avoid this:

When making a licensed game, choosing a franchise that can be turned into a video game with ease, like is said right above. If you absolutely have to adapt a Slice of Life-type plot, making the game have a original story instead of adapting a story that was told in the source material may help. If the source material has nothing that can be made into a game, then you shouldn't even try.

Trying to mimic a popular game genre to sell more copies

When making a licensed game, choose a genre that fits very well with the source material. If it's an action movie, make an action game; if it's a musical, make a rhythm game; if it's a mystery book, make it an adventure game; if it's a racing movie, make it a racing game. There are many instances where the executives choose to make the game in an unsuitable genre similar to the more successful games around (this especially happens with licensed games for kids).

How to avoid this:

Choose the genre better suited for the source material.

Not consulting, or not listening to, the people that made the source material

Even though video games are a medium unlike any other, that doesn't mean the people that made the source material so good and successful aren't necessary for the video game adaptation. They can help with the plot, the writing, the jokes, the new characters, the puzzles. If they resist the temptation to turn the video game into a film (see point 4), they can ensure that the adaptation stays true in spirit to the original work.

If the original staff doesn't have input, or their input is ignored, the video game can end up being an insult to the source material by way of messing up the characters, plot, or nuance - or, worse, by being an In Name Only adaptation.

How to avoid this:

Obviously, having input of the original staff on the game adaptation.

Adapting a franchise with nothing that can be used in a proper video game

Let's face it: Not every franchise makes a good video game. Barney's Hide and Seek is a very infamous example of shoehorning Barney into the medium.

How to avoid this:

Once again, pick something where the characters can actually transition to proper games easily (such as My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Kamen Rider, or Jewelpet).


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