What Can Games Learn From Marvel?

Marvel Studios makes a big splash every few years at San Diego Comic-Con, announcing its upcoming projects in one big wave and then heading off to make those films a reality. It’s a whirlwind of media coverage for the Disney-owned production house, and it’s an approach that has a lot of advantages. It clearly works for films. Could it work for games?

Announcing a whole batch of projects years in advance clears up a lot of problems blockbuster films can encounter, and these same problems happen with games. It’s a way to lessen the problem of leaks, since if it isn’t a secret that you’re making something, it’s not a problem for people to find out. It stakes out a full agenda for the company, so while there are still fans out there who want new projects in popular franchises or showcases for new characters and ideas, people generally understand that you’re booked for the foreseeable future and get less mad at each individual project for what it doesn’t happen to be.

It’s also a benefit to the company beyond simply avoiding traditional pitfalls. Marvel’s announcement of Eternals and Shang-Chi gives time for more people to discover and explore these characters and worlds, much like Captain Marvel and Guardians of the Galaxy before them, and by the time they release, they’ll be as talked about as the rest of the lineup instead of a curious niche project.

So could this work for games? Sure, we’ve heard about far-off projects on occasion, but generally speaking, we get a blitz of the next year’s games at E3 or another big event and we repeat the cycle every few months. Announcing, say, “here’s our new console and every first-party game for its first four years” would be an interesting approach, and one that would let players prepare for what they’re getting and know when their favorites are making a return.

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There’s one company that’s actually tried this sort of thing once, and we’ve yet to see how effective it’ll be: Bethesda. At last year’s E3, the core RPG studio at the company mapped out its foreseeable future, putting games like Starfield and The Elder Scrolls VI at points on the horizon in much the same way as Marvel. Whether this affects these games’ reception (or whether they’ll be irrevocably undercut by the recent troubles of Fallout) is something we won’t know for a long time, but we’ve already seen the conversation change around what they’re doing next. Knowing that Starfield is next but there’s definitely an Elder Scrolls on the way means that there’s less pressure on Starfield to be the next Skyrim. It can be its own thing, because as far off as it is, the next Skyrim is coming. Like Shang-Chi doesn’t have to be the next appearance of a big MCU character because of both the new Black Widow and Doctor Strange movies and the host of fan-favorite characters making a return on the Disney+ streaming shows.

It’s not an approach that would work for every company, and long-known projects in games have something of a battered reputation since, to this point, they largely only happen when they’re troubled and delayed. But could we see, say, Sony come out and reveal the PS5 while announcing when to expect the next Uncharted, Bloodborne and God of War games? Even if they’re years away? That may make some sense. 

Graham Russell
Graham Russell

Contributing Writer
Date: 07/31/2019

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