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Marvel’s Avengers games: yeah, this is a big deal

This is why we’re excited (and why it took this long)

Iron Man’s glove flickers to electric life. Square Enix/Marvel Entertainment

Marvel and Square Enix have announced that they’ve signed a multi-game deal to bring Marvel properties to games, with a trailer for the upcoming Avengers game already released.

This is a big deal for a few reasons, not the least of which is that we haven’t had a proper Avengers game basically ever. The last attempt was cancelled, despite looking promising.

Let’s dig in.

These are great studios

The teaser listed Eidos Montreal and Crystal Dynamics as the development teams on the game or games, and that’s enough to turn the excitement from “wait and see” to “holy shit, this could be great.” Just in terms of the latest Tomb Raider games and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, these are two studios doing well above average work.

“The first blockbuster game is being crafted by Crystal Dynamics, developers of the award winning Tomb Raider series, in collaboration with Eidos-Montréal, the home of the critically acclaimed and award-winning Deus Ex game series,” the press release states. These teams are great picks if you want one of your largest franchises handled with care.

Fans have long lusted after games as good as Rocksteady’s Arkham series for Marvel characters, and it looks like that time may be coming sooner than we expected.

Disney is now all about licensing, not publishing or development

Despite a valiant — and very expensive! — effort to build a stable of internal development at Disney in the past 30 years, politics and a constantly shifting set of priorities resulted in the effort being dismantled. The lone AAA survivor was Disney Infinity, which was cancelled in May of last year.

You can read more about Disney’s many, many attempts to figure out the game industry in our cover from last year.

Disney has since been focusing on a licensing model rather than a publishing or development role in games, leading to games like EA’s Battlefront which has shipped 14 million copies as of May of last year.

While Star Wars and Marvel have been well represented in mobile gaming, Battlefront was the last AAA release based on a Disney property in some time. Disney is understandably skittish about funding its own projects these days, but there’s likely little financial risk in licensing the Marvel worlds for Square Enix-published games or Telltale-developed adventure games. The return to big budget console gaming has been discussed openly for a while now as well, outside of the Lego Marvel titles. We’ve been wanting a grown up Avengers game for a long time.

So the timing makes sense. Disney went licensing-only for its games in May of last year, and if we assume the phone calls started coming in or going out around that time the teams have had around half a year work on these games. It’s very possible we’re at the “we’re not going to cancel this” stage and, thusly, here’s an announcement.

But wait, when will these games take place?

That’s a very good question, especially since the teaser uses the word “reassemble” and hints that the team has fallen apart. That definitely fits with the events post-Civil War, but of course we’re years away from seeing the first game and Infinity War will be released on May 4, 2018.

It’s possible that this won’t fit in with the canonical events of the Marvel Cinematic Universe however, and will take place in some kind of altered timeline so it doesn’t impact the movie universe in any way. It’s likely Marvel wants to trade on the value of the films, which are arguably better known than the comics at this point, without giving away any plot points of future films.

You can see how ... challenging this approach is by watching Agents of Shield, however. Marvel’s Netflix Marvel shows are increasingly loosely tied into the events of Marvel movies, and further television projects like Agent Carter have escaped the need to tie directly in to contemporary Marvel Cinematic Universe canon by taking place in the past.

I can’t wait to see and hear more Robert Downey Jr!

Well, calm down. It’s unclear whether Disney has the likeness rights for the characters as played by the actors from the films, and the voice-over from the teaser isn’t a recognizable female voice from any actor from the series.

Disney has a lot of incentive to be broad in its contracts however, so it’s likely that they have the ability to use the actors’ appearances in the game without asking them to come in and provide their own voice work. This is how characters like Jack Sparrow were handled in Disney Infinity; that’s clearly Johnny Depp’s take on the character, but it’s not his voice.

On the other hand, the Thor tie-in game came out in 2011 and featured most of the actors from the films, as did 2008’s Iron Man, so who knows?

Ok, but will the X-Men show up?

Unlike its patchwork of movie rights agreements with 20th Century Fox and Sony Pictures, Marvel retains the video game licenses for all of its characters. There’s no legal reason Marvel couldn’t put a mutant character in an Avengers video game.

But this does not mean we are likely to see the X-Men or the Fantastic Four in Square Enix’s Avengers project. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence out there to suggest that Marvel is downplaying the presence of the X-Men and Fantastic Four characters in video game adaptations in favor of characters that they do have the film rights to.

Fans of Marvel’s various mobile games, including Marvel Avengers Academy, Marvel Future Fight and more, have observed that the games have either introduced no mutant or Fantastic Four characters, or have released very few new ones in recent years.

This could be the result of an explicit ban within the company’s licensing agreements — or it could simply be an organic result of Marvel making a series of unrelated, reasonable choices to feature and hype characters that are relevant to its film projects. But either way, don’t cross your fingers for the X-Men or the Fantastic Four to crop up here. It appears that Square Enix’s project is going to be based explicitly on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, even if it’s not directly tied into its ongoing story.

It’s in Disney and Marvel’s best interest to use their biggest MCU video game yet to showcase characters that they can actually use in the MCU.

What about Spider-Man?

Actually, that’s totally possible, maybe even plausible. Thanks to the shared custody arrangement Sony and Marvel worked out for Spider-Man, Peter Parker and his associated cast can appear in Marvel movies — and Sony gets to draw on Marvel executives and the sheer omnipresence of its Cinematic Universe to relaunch the Spider-Man film franchise.

Spider-Man has his own game coming as well, exclusively to the PlayStation 4. This makes sense, since in that situation Sony is funding a game that will hopefully sell the character it has the rights to as well as its video game system. The licensing agreement between Marvel and Sony is pretty weird; they don’t pay for the character’s use in each company’s respective films, but they don’t make money upfront from each other’s films either.

“There may be some opportunities for Marvel to benefit financially from the Sony films, with payments tied to certain box office milestones,” Variety reported. “The financial relationship is likened by sources to the kind of compensation structure a producer would receive.”

So it’s possible, especially since Marvel and Sony would both benefit from the character being a part of a popular video game. Spider-Man is a bonafide part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe now — and he could be a bonafide part of Square Enix’s Marvel games.

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