How To Make Licensed Games a Hit

How To Make Licensed Games a Hit

Let’s talk about video games based on TV shows and movies.

(The audience groans. Somewhere far to the back, there is the echo of retching.)

There, there. It’s not a pleasant topic; most video games based on television properties and movies are just awful. But that’s not always the case, and what’s more, that doesn’t have to be the case. If publishers followed a few rules, the quality of games based on licensed intellectual properties (IP) might jump up a few notches.

For instance, MTV Networks recently announced that it’s launching a video game studio, 345 Games, that will make titles based on television properties from Comedy Central and SpikeTV. If that sounds like a recipe for mediocrity–well, we don’t have a counter for that. But for the sake of positivity, let’s acknowledge that dedicating a studio to knit together games based on established properties is, in theory, better than the usual practice of farming licensed games out to the lowest bidder. If MTV is responsible for the games that will represent its properties, it might think a little harder about making those games decent.

Even if we’re talking about games based on the cartoon Ugly Americans. All right, moving on…

Some of the most beloved games on the NES were licensed Disney titles put together by Capcom, including Duck Tales and Chip N Dale: Rescue Rangers. Other licensed success stories include the 16-bit Aladdin games and Spider-Man 2 for the PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube. What made these games attractive? They were carefully made, fun to play, and paid homage to their source material. Always a good start for a game in development, licensed or no, but there are a few more things developers and publishers can do to make sure their licensed title is worth playing.

Don’t Rush: Insanely tight deadlines are probably the main reason why so many licensed games end up as discount bin fodder. Nobody wants to play a buggy piece of crud that drops off a cliff near the endgame because the developers never had time to put a decent title together.

Consider the Game’s Genre Carefully: Kids’ movies are well-suited for action games. Fantasy movies and TV shows are well-suited for role-playing games. Titles based on Burn Notice might be okay for third-person adventures – ’nuff said.

Focus on Properties That Won’t Melt Away After a Burst of Popularity: Typically, a game based on a movie is developed and released to match the movie’s theater date. In some instances, the game comes first. Said game usually ends up being a mess. Whenever possible, it’s better to work with properties that have some longevity. Take the necessary time to embrace the franchise as a whole. What’s preferable: A rushed Harry Potter game that focuses on the events of The Deathly Hallows movie, or a game that embraces the Harry Potter series from its first book (and movie) to its last?

Tell New Stories: Many movies and TV shows that hit the big and small screen begin life as stories and books. A studio that’s making a game that will capitalize on the movie might also want to draw inspiration from any related literature. Movies often leave out interesting plot developments and characters, and fans of the property will appreciate the studio’s dedication to detail. Either way, once you’ve witnessed a magic moment on the big screen, it’s a case of been there, done that – with so many interesting stories to tell in so many rich universes, there’s no excuse for making players relive it again.

All Ages Should Be Able to Enjoy: Unless a studio is putting together a game based on a particularly bloody property, the game should be developed with all ages in mind. That means not dumbing down the gameplay, or making it stupidly hard. There should be a good, balanced challenge at the game’s core, possibly with a feature akin to Nintendo’s “SuperGuide” option. That way, older players can enjoy a game (even Disney movies attract viewers of all ages) while very young players have the option to skip a level if necessary.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.


  1. I think sometimes the studio is too keen on staying too close to the source material. Look at the Chronicles of Riddick games. They were prequals I think or just a continuation story and they had nothing to do with the film. Highly rated games too. If we’re talking consoles I think the Disney games for Aladdin and The Lion King were well rated also.

Leave a Reply