PAX 07: The licensed games panel

There's nothing more indicative of gamer culture than the fact that a bunch of us got together at a fan event, with games to be played right over in the exhibition hall, to talk about business. We can't help it! We love sales numbers and such.

Vlad Ceraldi and Steve Bocska from Hothead, Steve Bowler from Midway, and David Freeman from Sabertooth Games held a panel to talk about licensed games yesterday at PAX. All of these individuals have unique qualifications to talk about the subject: the two Hothead representatives, in addition to working on Penny Arcade Adventures now, previously worked on last generation's Simpsons games. Bowler worked on NBA Ballers and is now on John Woo Presents Stranglehold, and Freeman juggles licenses in his work with Sabertooth's Universal Fighting System card game.

One major issue that kept coming up was the deadline associated with licensed games. All agreed that the major factor in the often low quality of licensed games is the drive to release the game according to a schedule other than its own. An analogy was made to a giant bucket: the game must come out when advertising for every other associated property hits, so that the advertising for the movie, the show, toys, cereal, etc., helps the game as well, and allows the game to contribute to the total earnings (the bucket) of the property.

Another issue is what Ceraldi described as "too many cooks," which involves licensors and advertisors setting restrictions on what can happen ingame-- one example being that McDonalds wouldn't allow the Golden Arches to be destroyed or used as weapons in Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. Also, the NBA did not allow the use of gold teeth as unlockable items in NBA Ballers (though they later showed up in a Tiger Woods golf game). Namco and Capcom characters could not be bundled together in the UFS card game, although Freeman said that otherwise, his company has near-total freedom with licensors.

The other major problem with licensed games is the money required to secure a license. All of the developers mentioned that the high cost of licensing a game limits the budget for the actual game.

With such investments required, then, it is easy to understand why all four developers supported the shutdown of fan games based on licensed properties. We rarely hear opinions on this from developers themselves, though we never have any problem figuring out how publishers feel about such creations. Ceraldi described a feeling of protectiveness of the license they've laid out so much for and put so much time into.