Comics & Games Retailer
Let the Games BeginBy Oliver Chin
In this new year, pundits will reel off predictions on the season's surefire hits. In the realm of filmed fantasy, attention will naturally focus on sexy tie-ins: from the next installment of Star Wars, the cinematic debut of Spiderman, to the latest twist of the Matrix in 2003.
But now that the US video game industry dwarfs the theatrical industry, retailers shouldn't wait to be told what line extension is hot or not. The merchandising of comics into animated and live-action has become a two way street, and with heavier incoming traffic than ever from the intersection of toys, TV and video games. Tomb Raider's Laura Croft smashed the glass wall dividing console and PC games, and inevitably became a big screen and then a comics page pinup. Similarly with anime, Bandai's Gundam filled dozens of DVDs, hobby store model kits and graphic novels, and has achieved reincarnation as a Sony PlayStation game.
The living room, a domain once dominated by Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny, is now an international free-for-all. Competing for the attention span and wallets of fans across the globe, Harry Potter wannabes are replicating their properties onto more formats faster than ever. As the relationship between creators and video game developers becomes even closer, comic retailers likewise can seize the opportunity to satisfy their customers on a different yet synergistic plane.
Power to the Player
As noted previously, the battle between Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft has been joined, giving gamers a dizzying array of buying decisions...and the nagging fear that they'll pick a system that won't survive (remember Atari, Mattel, and Sega, anyone?). To diversify that gamble, software developers traditionally have tried to make their games available on all platforms. Their hope is to attract consumers who will become loyal to the title, not the console.
In this vein the major comics publishers, Marvel and DC, are mining their heroes' latent powers in the realm of interactive entertainment. From a publisher's perspective, back issues are no longer merely dead inventory. They constitute scripts ready and waiting for joysticks, templates tailor made for video game's "choose your own adventure" conventions.
Publishers dance with developers for two related reasons. The first is to ensure their comic characters' popularity with younger generations. Their stories can easily be massaged into the myriad of video game genres (role-playing game, 3-D simulation, twitch action 2 player fighting), just as they have been for television and motion pictures. The second is to ensure these properties remain corporate cash cows. Out of sight is out of mind. Public companies are incessantly driven to turn over every stone to squeeze as much ancillary revenue as possible out of their brands.
Plug and Play
This list of comicdom's worlds that fans can summon onto their small screen grows every week.
- The once obscure become cool. Dark Horse's "Men in Black" struck paydirt with a blockbuster film and later an animated TV show. Today Infogrames has adapted it into "MIB: Crashdown", a 1st person PlayStation shooter, where your job, as Agent Jay or Kay, is to bag aliens with dozens of different weapons.
- The perennial become playable. Ubisoft has cast DC's Dark Knight in "Batman: Vengeance", simultaneously released on Sony's PlayStation 2, Microsoft's X-box, and Nintendo's Game Cube and Game Boy Advance. Improving upon Superman's prior exploits on the Nintendo 64, Gotham's protector faces familiar nemeses, such as the Joker and Poison Ivy, while rendered in the attractive style from Bruce Timm.
- The new hope to become better known. Nickelodeon's first "multimedia franchise" Jimmy Neutron (Boy Genius) has been prepped by THQ for PC and Game Boy Advance players, to pave the promotional wave for his upcoming feature film.
Exemplifying the intensifying comics crossover, Activision has capitalized on Marvel's two flagship series, Spiderman and the X-men, whose popularity has soared with recent movie publicity. Sequels abound, with the new "Spider-Man 2 Enter: Electro" (PlayStation, $39.99), as you master web-slinging around the Big Apple. Marked with Spidey's sarcasm and narration of the irrepressible Stan Lee, you must solve puzzles and cavort high and low to defeat a range of familiar foes. (The magic of high technology gives venerable villains like Electro a new lease on life.) In 2001, its precursor "Spider-Man" was voted "Game of the Year" in the PlayStation Choice Awards, became a "Greatest Hits" series (selling over 400,000 units in North America), and therefore was re-released with a lower MSRP to draw in the unbelievers ($19.99). For the mobile tween, Activision is selling "Spider-Man: Mysterio's Menace" for the Game Boy Advance. In this side-scrolling format, old bubble head is the old villain on the block, whom the wall-crawler must overcome.
The uncanny team have been busy at Activision's central casting too. Again for the PlayStation comes "X-Men: Mutant Academy 2" improving the selection of good, bad and the ugly to duel your friends with. Battle mano-a-mano and spout pithy aphorisms in victory (what would the Beast, Nightcrawler, Havok and Forge do?) against the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. With rewarding flourishes (Pitting the Professor against Juggernaut in the pool party backdrop is priceless), it is one of the best comic-derived fighting games. Also for the Game Boy Advance is "X-Men: Reign of Apocalypse"($39.99). As Wolverine, Cyclops, Rogue or Storm, you can defeat that evil scoundrel while interacting with 30 other personalities in the process.
Planning ahead into 2002, Activision has announced "Blade 2" for the PlayStation and Xbox, where the heroic half-breed must save the humanity from the fearsome vampires known as the Reapers. To strengthen it's pop culture hand, Activision also has licensed the TV's Jackie Chan Adventures (airing for the second season on Kids' WB, and is the #2 rated Saturday morning cartoon) as the "Legend of the Dark Hand" (Game Boy Advance, $39.99).
Not to be outdone, the strategic distribution partnership of Pixar and Disney has synchronized Monsters, Inc. to generate a plethora of toys, books (Chronicle Books had published "The Art of…" before the movie's release) and games. Positioned as a prequel to the top-grossing movie, this 3D PlayStation adventure game follows in the successful "Toy Story" and "Bug's Life" formula, where you, light-hearted as a free-range chicken, explore a lush land of make-believe. As Sulley or Mike, to become a pro at scaring kids at the Monsters, Inc. Academy you must master three dozen different techniques. Who said having fun was easy?
The Game's Not Over
The job of prognosticating and placing odds is better left to bookies. However one trend is clear. As electronic gaming continues to soak up more of kids' time, interest, and allowances, retailers need to learn how to play that game just as publishers have.
Is investing in a TV, the latest $300 system, and a few $40 titles worth it to attract an audience? It has to be, if you enable fans to assume the guise of their idols, and live out the deeds that they've read for so long. By giving your clientele a reason to spend a few more hours in your store instead of someone else's, you too can achieve the publisher's dual objectives: build excitement and allegiance with your target market.