Opinion: Star Wars, Avengers, and the Sad State of Disney Licensed Games

For franchises with such strong attachments and money-generating capabilities, it's odd that both Marvel and Star Wars are so poorly represented in the gaming space. 


Anyone who has set foot in a casino has probably seen a licensed slot machine. They tend to line the walls, sporting decals covered with familiar characters and logos, churning out characteristic noises and theme music. They're recognizable, iconic, inviting. But at their core, they're soulless time wasters designed to entertain in the short term while ceaselessly tempting money of consumers in the long. Such is the current fate of Star Wars and Marvel games on mobile.With a few exceptions--looking mainly at you, pinball--an overwhelming majority of both Star Wars and Marvel games on mobile are as cynical as the villains in each respective franchise. 

We live in a capitalist society, and I'm not necessarily bothered by the notion of a company chasing the almighty dollar. That's what companies do. Instead, I'm bothered by the tendencies of each to do little more than stretch out a glossy licensed veneer over a soulless free-to-play trap. 

Remember Tiny Death Star? It's no longer available on the App Store, but at one time, it was the Star Wars version of the overwhelmingly popular management game Tiny Tower. In Tiny Death Star, players acted as one of the top brass in the Galactic Empire, building new additions onto the deadly super weapon while also assigning various stormtrooper and officer units to different tasks. Tiny Death Star was free-to-play, often in somewhat questionably explotative ways. But there's a key difference here; it never surrendered the soul of Star Wars and had an earnest, genuine quality to it. Star Wars (and Marvel) lends itself well to many different styles and genres of games, and Tiny Death Star's cheery, approachable nature was as endearing as it was engrossing. 

Even the original Angry Birds Star Wars crossover had some earnestness to it. Of course it was a shameless crossover meant to capitalize on the fans of Star Wars, the runaway success of Angry Birds and the newly-developed tech in Angry Birds Space. But there wasn an attempt on the behalf of the developers to assign each type of character with a Star Wars theme, be it lightsabers, cloaks, stormtrooper helmets, or Princess Leia's famed double buns. It was Angry Birds, but the flavors of Star Wars were still very much evident. 

Now, many of the games available on mobile feel like "me too" copycats attempting to mix the popularity of massive licenses with familiar elements of chart-topping hits like Clash of Clans. 

Star Wars Uprising might be the only realistic objection here, since it is a wholly mediocre dungeon-crawling RPG featuring Star Wars races and locations. But Uprising had heart, a sense of earnest desire at its core to be a truly great Diablo clone set in a galaxy far, far away. 

The same cannot be said of the others. Star Wars: Commander - Worlds in Conflict is a base building strategy game with a core concept that appears in line with the Star Wars philosophy, but is a time- and money-sink through its exploitative microtransactions. Players hit a difficulty wall head-on when they don't invest money into their bases, and the whole economy creates a system of haves and have nots punishing those who don't choose to feed money into its hungry mechanics. 

Galaxy of Heroes is a strategy game featuring iconic and timeless characters and heroes in the Star Wars universe, but even that feels like a hollow attempt to marry a so-so strategy game with the true essence of Star Wars. It's like being on a themed ride at an amusement park; the setting, characters, and situations might be familiar, but they're all little more than wires and steel frames going through the motions. 

And don't even get me started on the card trader app, an entire program asking people to chip in real momey to purchase and trade intangible JPEGs images. 

The Avengers sadly haven't fared well either, mostly limited to poor film adaptations, hero battle games like Avengers Alliance, management games like Avengers Academy, and meager fighting games like Contest of Champions. There's an eerie amount of parity between the games flaunting both the Star Wars and Marvel banners. It's as if there are a set list of game templates massive entertainment studios can plaster with a popular franchise and flip around to draw in money. Ther's little care or thought put into the design to make them into something congruent to the values and themes these franchises embody.  

Perhaps it wouldn't be such an egregious oversight if there were better alternatives available on other platforms. DC Comics has done a markedly beter job with just the Batman property by letting developer Rocksteady take the Dark Knight's world and build amazing action games around it. 

Star Wars has a somewhat promising future in store, (although we're more than happy to donate a few suggestions to them), but nether the Avengers nor Guardians of the Galaxy have any meaningful or notable games available on other platforms outside of the LEGO games and Disney Infinity

It's a sad reality coinciding with a time-honored tradition of licensed games being churned out to capitalize on the release of major movies. But that shouldn't serve as an excuse anymore, especially because we've seen many of these franchises adapted into fantastic games. It's bizarre to consider, seeing as both are blockbuster mega franchises pulling in more money than even Scrooge McDuck could swim across. They both mean something to fans, and meticulous care has been invested in making sure the different media adaptations are as accurate and faithful to their source material as possible. Why not treat their video games the same way?

Contributing Editor
From The Chatty
  • reply
    April 6, 2016 1:00 PM

    Cassidee Moser posted a new article, Opinion: Star Wars, Avengers, and the Sad State of Disney Licensed Games

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      April 6, 2016 1:05 PM

      It is strange and disappointing that Disney for whatever reason has never been able to break into the games market.

      They've given it several shots, you'd think there'd be a ton of games out with the new Star Wars movie.

      Or, revisit some of the classic hand drawn animation films that Disney did. It'd be awesome if they took a "Child of Light" approach. That'd be killer.

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        April 6, 2016 1:27 PM

        The odd thing is, is that most of the time when they do dip their feet in those waters, they end up developing or producing really good stuff.

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        April 6, 2016 2:55 PM

        Doesn't seem like they've ever had the kind of dedication needed to be a game publisher.

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        April 6, 2016 3:51 PM

        All of their top people are not gamers and have no experience with it. John (Lasseter), Roy (Disney), Bob Iger and all the previous ones (Eisner, Frank Wells and Katzenberg) were not.

        The only thing they get is toys and the only way they approached game development is toys to life. Anytime they tried they always failed because they wanted too much control (The SNES Disney games) or went too far the other way (Epic Mickey). They've never been able to start up a studio because none of them at the top are gamers.

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      April 6, 2016 1:11 PM

      My heart weeps that Marvel Heroes was not mentioned here, especially given how much love Gazillion has put into that game. The tie-ins are always top notch (Yesssss, come to me, Jon Bernthal Punisher skin!) and it's high-quality for a free-to-play game.

      I will agree with your point on Star Wars, though. I am sad for Star Wars.

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        April 6, 2016 2:42 PM


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          April 6, 2016 2:58 PM

          I've definitely played it more than Diablo. It's not a challenging game, but they've done a great job making the core game loop fun and providing lots of stuff to do.

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      April 6, 2016 1:19 PM

      "a glossy licensed veneer over a soulless free-to-play trap. "

      My eyes are just tired enough to have read that as "free-to-tap", which is really what GoH is. There really isn't all that "play" in it. Bit of strategy, and a WHOLE lot of rng.

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      April 6, 2016 1:37 PM

      I love the direction Shacknews is going. It was hard to stomach the endless pile of press releases disguised as news stories. If the past few days/weeks are any indication, we're returning to when this was a respectable news site. Bravo.

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        April 6, 2016 1:41 PM

        Yup this has been a great week

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        April 6, 2016 2:35 PM

        Top 10 Reasons Shacknews Isn't Just a PR Feed Anymore:

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        April 6, 2016 4:24 PM

        Agreed but credit to those who did push out listicles and help keep the site afloat and--against the odds--growing.

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          April 6, 2016 4:36 PM

          Listicles are, and continue to be, a necessary evil. There's no reason they can't coexist alongside the other content here, especially if they keep the lights on.

          Also, Greg works his ass off. He deserves all the props for the effort he puts in.

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            April 6, 2016 10:09 PM

            greg, heretofore known as geoff burke, has done a good job of framing his listicles to not even be obnoxious to me any more. heck, I've started enjoying them.

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            April 6, 2016 10:24 PM

            Not talking about the crappy listicles, I'm talking about the crappy press releases framed as news.

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              April 6, 2016 11:05 PM

              ie. what steve was phoning in for a few years

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        April 6, 2016 4:30 PM

        Agreed, I'm reading the articles on Shacknews again! Although I would love to have a choice of a dark theme, black on white is fine on mobile, but I prefer white on black on my monitor at home, makes it easier on the eyes when reading.

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        April 6, 2016 4:54 PM

        Yeah it's been really good. Not that people before didn't work their ass off and keep the site alive, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with video content but I'm a fan of written stuff like this.

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      April 6, 2016 1:40 PM

      KOTOR 3 can solve all of this stupidity in one move. hire the folks that write for Rebels and what not and make an SP/coop game.

      no one cares about a bloated MMO. no one cares about that bastardized kinect shit that hopefully got people fired, then incinerated, then launched into orbit. or perhaps handed over to ISIS.

      make KOTOR 3 you stupid motherfuckers.

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        April 6, 2016 4:52 PM

        Did you play SWTOR? I saw that as a spiritual KOTOR 3. I played through a couple of storylines either by myself or with friends. Never really touched the PvP stuff or MMO stuff. I more than got my moneys worth out of it.

        You just have to set the expectations bar differently. Especially once they added that bonus XP for class quests feature. That pretty much allowed you do only do the class quests on a planet.

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          April 6, 2016 5:13 PM

          For people that just want the stories out of it, the original release was a bit of a slog/grind. I put in 50 hours with one character and was done with it, as the time requirement was too much. I understand they've made it possible to just go through the stories now, but I think most people would've much preferred a proper singleplayer sequel.

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            April 6, 2016 6:15 PM

            True, I would have preferred a singleplayer game as well. At the same time it was amusing to play through with a couple of friends and see those stories progress at the same time. Even the light/dark paths were enough different that I ended up replaying some of those with different choices.

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              April 6, 2016 6:21 PM

              Yeah, that's roughly what I did, and we loved it. I played it with my wife and our roommate, generally with a fixed party of 3. It was kind of like running around in a pen and paper RPG - our characters had their own stories and interactions with each other, haha.

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            April 6, 2016 7:27 PM

            Yup, I mostly played it at launch just for a Massively Single-player Online (MSO) game for the stories. I couldn't make it through all of them. I keep wanting to go back, but it's just too much of a time sink to get to all the story bits.

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              April 6, 2016 8:05 PM

              If they still have the XP bonus going it actually isn't that bad (compared to the original level progression). You can pretty much ignore all the sidequests if you want and just do the main story quests.

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          April 6, 2016 8:09 PM

          I only played it with the story quest reward bonus. I can't fucking stand most MMO quest design, and honestly a lot of the story quests even pushed that button. I tried 3 or 4 classes but only finished one (agent), the rest of them were pretty boring and the none of the stories were particularly good.

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            April 6, 2016 8:21 PM

            I had a lot of fun playing through some "hippy" sith characters with a friend. We rolled Sith force users, but chose all light side options whenever possible. It was really entertaining as they actually planned for people to break with the normal evil Sith mold. There we even some encounters where characters would start to plead for their lives and we were like "Sure we'll save you, and have some credits too!". To which they responded something like "Uhh....really? But aren't you Sith?"

            We started some evil Jedi as well, but never got through all of those storylines.

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        April 6, 2016 5:03 PM

        I would love BioWare to take a crack at a modern SW RPG. Doesn't even have to be KOTOR. Maybe without turn based combat, something akin to Jedi Knight, but far more advanced.

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        April 6, 2016 6:28 PM

        Holy fuck, how do I INF this more than once?

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      April 6, 2016 1:52 PM


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        April 6, 2016 8:34 PM

        I want Marvel to give Volition the rights to an open world build-your-own superhero game.

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        April 6, 2016 10:15 PM

        Some marvel characters are designed for grimdark. See ghost rider, or punisher

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      April 6, 2016 10:06 PM

      decent write-up. I'll allow this hire.

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