I had to pick the title for this piece just right, as I didn’t want to trick people into thinking I was going to step onto the landmine argument of who’s better, DC or Marvel. Short answer: both are great, don’t worry about the publisher of your comics, just worry about the story, art, and characters, it’s all good people! I am going to do a version of that debate, to look at how DC and Marvel handle their stable of characters in the video game world.
Coming at things from the perspective of a pure console and handheld gamer with no history in PC gaming, the way games were played and consumed went through quite the metamorphosis in the seventh generation of consoles. The addition of hard drives and download services allowed smaller experiences to be purchased for less than the going rate of a $40-60 retail game; This feature also allowed games to have additional content, for better or for worse, via downloadable content to expand the experience beyond what was pressed on a disc. Ballooning budgets in games lead to the closure of countless studios and publishers, effectively eliminating “B”-tier games that had no chance of selling ten million copies in their first week. Around this time the mass adoption of smart phones in the world paved the road for games that could be purchased for less than a bus ride or even for free that were just as effective at creating characters and franchises as recognizable as Sonic and Mario.
So what does all this have to do with DC and Marvel you say? Well, lots actually. Heading into the eight generation of consoles, the way Warner Bros. and Disney handle their respective stable of characters couldn’t be more different from one another. Mass adoption of the Xbox One and PS4 consoles appear to be slow, due in large part to a lack of major releases in the present and even more being pushed into 2015. Publishers are still finding life in the seventh generation systems, and we’re still seeing games like Dragon Age: Inquisition, Shadows of Mordor, Alien: Isolation and Disney Infinity 2.0 coming to the PS3 and Xbox 360.
With respect to the handling of their DC characters in video games, WB Games is still playing things very traditionally thus far. As of this writing, the only DC games out now on the eight generation of consoles are the ultimate edition of 2013’s Injustice: Gods Among Us and DC Universe Online, both exclusive to Sony’s PlayStation 4. That will change in about two months when they release Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham on both the PS4 and Xbox One, as well as the PS3 and the Xbox 360 among others, and 2015 will see the first exclusive DC game on the eight generation machines when Batman: Arkham Knight launches sometime next year.
Whereas WB Games are creating traditional games, again thus far, for their DC characters, Marvel has developed a series of platforms in which to inject their characters into, limiting solo games to mobile offerings like Guardians of the Galaxy: The Universal Weapon. Similar to how they’re handling their movies, Marvel is keen on having their games be a shared experience among all their heroes and villains, contrasting DC’s approach to games like Batman: Arkham Knight. To promote Guardians of the Galaxy for example, as opposed to having a big solo game on the horizon, you can instead find them in their free-to-play MMO Marvel Heroes, the Facebook game Marvel: Avengers Alliance, and as toys in the Marvel themed follow-up to Disney Infinity, which also happens to be the only Marvel game from Disney coming as a retail release to consoles. It’s true that in 2013 Marvel had a huge game that covered a lot of their universe in Lego Marvel Super Heroes, but that was handled externally by WB and TT Games.
So which approach is better? That depends on many, many factors. As much as I hate to admit it as I am a fan of traditional gaming experiences, Marvel’s way of doing things is catering to how games are consumed now, as free-to-play experiences on mobile devices and tablets, Facebook, and PC. Sure, we’d all love to see each of the Marvel heroes that we’ve all seen on the big screen lately get the “Arkham” treatment, but with games costing as much as they do to make and purchase, constant studio closures and lay-offs, Disney would not be wrong to move away from that business model. Though the cost to the player is ungodly high, it’s impossible to not be excited about Disney’s universe spanning Disney Infinity 2.0 in a little over a month’s time.
Excited is the key word in that last sentence. Marvel has DC beat in pure volume in the games space (we don’t really know what’s coming after Rocksteady reportedly leaves Batman behind after Arkham Knight) but we’re all excited for release of that game, some even purchased brand new hardware in anticipation for just that game. When Marvel comes out on stage with a trailer during comic-con for a mobile brawler or a Spider-Man endless runner that ties in to this fall’s “Spider Verse” event, it doesn’t have the same impact on the gaming community as DC teasing Red Hood maybe coming to Arkham Knight and the message boards light on fire.
Much like the age old argument of which camp is better, DC or Marvel, it’s really not that simple here to determine who handles their video game properties better. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that I would love to go to my local game shop and put a pre-order down on an Avengers game or a Captain America game, but as the game market moves more towards safe blockbuster franchises, a sense of realism (or dread) sets in thinking that we’ll probably be downloading the app and not taking a disc home. DC still has some great games on the horizon, but they’re also exploring the free-to-play space with titles like Infinite Crisis on the PC. Who knows, the follow up to Injustice: Gods Among Us may just be a free-to-play affair exclusive to mobile, maybe even the next chapter in their Batman series of games as well.