Marvel Games isn’t forcing its developers to tie their video games into existing Marvel Cinematic Universe storylines. This might sound weird, given how interconnected the MCU has been over the past decade, but it’s actually a blessing in disguise.
Marvel Games creative director Bill Rosemann told IGN at DICE 2017 that the teams behind Marvel’s upcoming video game releases were granted the freedom to come up with their own storylines, and they won’t have to match release dates with upcoming films. These include: Spider-Man for PS4, Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, and The Avengers project from Square Enix.
“It’s a bit like we’re saying, ‘Hey you’re the chef, you’re going to make this meal. Here’s all of the ingredients. You pick the ingredients that you like and make a new meal,’” Rosemann said. “We want all of our games to tell an original, all new story.”
This is not an accident. Even though the MCU has been, on average, more successful than the DCEU, Marvel has largely sucked in the video games department. Many of their movie tie-in games were critical and commercial flops, like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (based on the Sony film) or Thor: God of Thunder. Even when they got the original voice cast, like with 2008’s Iron Man video game, the games failed to impress.
It’s partially why in 2014, Marvel Games pressed the pause button on the entire video games division, refusing to renew long-standing licenses for Activision and Capcom. They pulled several titles from Steam, including a Deadpool game that had only been out for six months (it was later reissued after the film’s success). They also refused to make console or PC games for some of their most successful franchises, including The Avengers, whose first-person game had been cancelled two years prior. Since then, it’s been mostly mobile games, along with the occasional Lego release and Disney Infinity, which was cancelled late last year.
Marvel’s games may have struggled, but DC’s thrived. DC has had some of the most successful superhero games in recent memory, including the Batman: Arkham series and Injustice: Gods Among Us, whose anticipated sequel comes out in May. That’s because Warner Bros., which took over DC video game production in 2009, gave developers more freedom to come up with their own interpretations of the comic book characters. It’s clear Marvel took inspiration from DC’s success, and pressed the reset button on their entire video game enterprise so they could start fresh. In fact, Jay Ong, Marvel’s vice president of games, told Polygon in 2016 that they were ushering in a “new era for Marvel Games.” In doing so, Marvel made the right choice.
Players have shown time and time again that they don’t want a simple recreation of a movie they’ve already seen. They want to see their favorite heroes in unique yet identifiable situations they can’t get anywhere else… including at the box office. It’s why Marvel’s shows on Netflix have been doing so well: They’re darker and more ethically complex than their cinematic counterparts, showing fans a different angle of something familiar. Only time will tell whether Marvel Games’ gamble will pay off (Telltale’s Guardians game will be the first test, coming out sometime this year). But hey, at least they’re taking the risk.