In a story that has, for some reason, managed to captivate the discussion of video games the past two days, yes, Lego: Lord of the Rings and Lego: the Hobbit are no longer listed for sale on digital marketplaces.
These games were, obviously, licensed adaptations of movies — which used to be a very common thing in video games but is less so now. Even though questions sent to Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment were answered with a boilerplate non-answer and no reason why they were taken down, it’s no mystery nor scandal: The licensing terms for selling these games expired at the end of the year.
I said “for some reason,” above because not only is the explanation very simple, we’re not talking about LEGO Silent Hills or LEGO NCAA Football here. Steamcharts lists an average of 54.7 players of Hobbit for November (this is PC only, I know) and 57.0 for Rings in the same month, with peaks for both around 150. I used November because playership spiked in December, a month in which, lo and behold, both games were offered free by Humble Bundle in the middle of the month. Wonder why!
All of that adds up to, as one colleague in here dryly noted on Thursday, “game you didn’t want is no longer for sale.” And furthermore, if you already had it, but in digital form only, you can still redownload it through the marketplace where you bought it. I didn’t hear this level of concern when Rory McIlroy PGA Tour was removed from sale and re-download from its console marketplaces (as well as EA Access) back in the spring. And I bet that thing had more than 57.0 average daily players when it went bye-bye.
I suppose we’re taking notice of this now more and more because, as I mentioned, licensed movie adaptations are fewer and fewer. Publishers put out an average of 23 per year from 2000-2009. Since then, it’s less than half that (and 2010-2012 accounts for the bulk of what has been published. This is what helped kill THQ, remember?)
From 2000 to 2009, publishers likely also had a limited time in which to sell these games at retail. When they were gone from shelves then, no one raised a fuss, right? People do now, and my hunch is it’s because online marketplaces have come in and become more popular as movie-games have grown less so, if not gone away (as we once knew them). There’s still a consumer expectation of permanency that physical storefronts don’t face, mainly because a digital copy takes up no space that needs to be used by something more current or better-selling.
This still barely qualifies as news. Actual news would be “Hey, thing is coming off marketplaces in TK months, might want to go get it.” And we routinely write run those kinds of closure notices when we get them, although usually that’s for online services to an existing game. But in our defense, these aren’t plans publishers like to announce, because it disappoints fans (all 54.7 of them) and it doesn’t help them sell any soap. If we can’t get an answer out of a publisher about a de-listing after the fact, good luck getting one before.