Last night the annual DICE awards took place in Las Vegas, Nevada and the big winner of the evening was the WB Games published, Monolith Productions developed Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. While it didn’t take home the coveted “Game of the Year” award, that went to EA/BioWare’s Dragon Age: Inquisition, it took home an otherwise outstanding collection of awards in eight of the nine categories it was nominated in. Cynics may say that this was because 2014 was a particular bad year for games, firstly they would be wrong, and secondly, they would be belittling Monolith’s work on the game. As someone who played and loved Shadow of Mordor, I’d like to extend congratulations to all involved on the production of the game before I proceed any further.
What yesterday evening’s DICE awards prove to developers, publishers, and gamers alike is that a game based on a license can be just as much a game changer as an indie break out sensation or an IP that was started purely as a video game. I think that we’ll always have the stigma that licensed games are of the worst type of games and as long as there are publishers willing to exploit a license to make a quick buck and fund something they’d rather be more interested in doing. But as we’ve seen with the Arkham games, the Lego games and now Shadow of Mordor, it’s okay to be excited when a new game based on a property you love is announced.
As someone who grew up in the LJN/Acclaim area of licensed games and now runs a website dedicated to comic book games, there’s nothing that makes me more happy than a headline stating any game based on a license sweeps an award show. However as happy as I am to hear about Mordor’s continued success, it also frustrates me to no end to see some of the games from last year that should have been amazing. How does a company like Activision produce a Spider-Man game in 2014 that’s worse than a game they made ten years ago in Spider-Man 2, from a developer who has made some really good Spider-Man games no less? The same goes for The Legend of Korra, part of the good Avatar license that I’ve fallen in love with recently, that received a game last year from Platinium, a company who are the leaders in combat action, that was merely okay if you’re being generous.
With how much the world has fallen in love with Marvel over the better part of a decade thanks to their Cinematic Universe, we still wouldn’t have any games from them to play if not for Lego Marvel Super Heroes and Lego Marvel’s The Avengers. There’s so much potential from any number of Marvel properties to give a Mordor or an Arkham a run for their money: Captain America, Iron Man, X-Men, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy and yet all we see are mobile game after mobile game. The people who grew up with these characters are now making the games we play so why Marvel/Disney isn’t reaching out to make even more money than they already are from what they own is beyond me.
A possible reason maybe the worry that some of these franchise opportunities may bottom out, for as popular as a hero like Iron Man has been since 2008, he was more or less a C-list character in the eyes of non-comic reading fans until Robert Downey Jr. breathed life into Tony Stark on the big screen, the same can be said of Thor and Captain America. That doesn’t excuse things like Spider-Man or the X-Men who have experienced increased popularity/awareness due to a steady stream of toys, films and animated series.
Mordor is in a unique position in that it has been popular among readers for decades and has been introduced recently to an entire new audience thanks to the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films from Peter Jackson. It’s also lucky to fall under publisher WB Games who, as evidenced by Batman: Arkham Knight’s lengthy delay, see more value in creating an excellent game over rushing something out under cooked to meet a film tie-in date.
The take away from the 2015 DICE awards is that licensed games need no longer be something to be feared and instead revered like any other type of game that can redefine how we play games. There will always be companies who will exploit a license for short-term gain to capitalize on what’s popular now, but for anyone who’s looking to make the next big thing in gaming, look now further than WB’s success with Batman and Mordor as a shining beacon of how the long game pays off in not only dollars, but prestige from the gaming industry as a whole.