When you think about it, a lot of computer games recently have been based on various movies or …other games. Games like Spiderman: The Movie – The Game (yes, that’s really the title), and Return of the King, and Leisure Suit Larry 8. Then again, there are also games coming out based on nothing but themselves, like Everquest, and the original Diablo.
The big difference between these two types of games is the origin of the game world. Just like the game engine, which we looked at last time, you basically have two options when it comes to the game world: lease one, or create your own.
Just like the engine, there are a couple big advantages and a couple big disadvantages to each choice. Let’s look at both options in detail, as we tend to do in this column:
Lease an existing world: What was the first thing that went through your head when you heard about Star Wars Galaxies? Was it “Hey, I wonder what they’re going to do with the Wookies, will they be able to dance?” Of course not. The first thing you thought was “Holy crap, they’re doing a Star Wars game! I hope it doesn’t suck.” The single biggest advantage to leasing a world everyone’s familiar with is that it comes with a built-in audience.
Think about it. Star Wars fans are ravenous, and they’re everywhere. Star Wars Episodes 1 and 2 were significantly sub-par, but Lucas still made a fortune off them because the fans were so familiar with the original (good) trilogy, and came to the table with their own preconceptions that all things Star Wars must be good. If you design your game around an existing world, the fans of that world will naturally flock to your game.
The second huge advantage is that the work is already done for you. You don’t need to worry about designing races, weapons, vehicles, or anything else, because they’ve already been created. Just like time saved by leasing an engine, this is another several months you get to shave off your concept timetable. You don’t need to design the environment, just the things that go inside it.
The other side of the same coin, though, is a leased contract is very, very restricting. If you lease the license to the Star Trek universe, you can’t add any races to it. You’re not allowed to redesign the bat’leth if you use it, you must keep to the strict canons set down by Gene Roddenberry in 1975 and 1989. Not having to create the world comes with an added clause of not being allowed to change anything within it.
Another disadvantage is money. If you lease the game, you’re going to have to pay an initial cost, plus royalties. This will limit your profit margin, and if your game does poorly you could potentially be spending more on the license than you’re earning on the game, depending how your contract is worded.
There’s also a hidden disadvantage that I haven’t seen covered anywhere else. If you’re using a license, the potential player already has expectations about your game. Sometimes it’s hard to live up to them. However, the part most people don’t consider is what happens when the world you’re basing your game on takes a turn for the worse.
Let’s suppose you leased the license for, say, Dead Like Me, a very funny dark comedy series on Showtime in the U.S., and on The Movie Network in Canada. What would happen if shortly before your game came out, the show tanked and was pulled off the air? Interest would be down, and the built-in audience wouldn’t care any more. They might even avoid your game, to spite the show’s creators. If you’re leasing a license for your game, then your game necessarily shares the fate of the original product.
Create your own gameworld: The easiest way to get around those pesky licensing problems is to avoid them entirely, by creating your game’s world from scratch. The biggest advantages of this option are the lack of royalty payments, world limitations, and every other disadvantage that comes from leasing a license. Those are the obvious (read “boring”) advantages. Let’s dig a little deeper.
If you create the world, then you control everything about it. If it suddenly occurs to you that you need another race, or another species of enemy, you can just go ahead and add them. Weapons can look however you want them to. You can craft the world to be exactly what you desire from the world of your game.
Secondly, creating the world is really, really, …really fun. You should hear some of the things we talk about around the concept table while throwing ideas around for our worlds. Of course, both these advantages segue nicely to the two large disadvantages.
It adds a significant cost to your project if you have to create your own world. Firstly, there’s the added time developing it. If it takes you six months to dream up the world and the items in it, with 10 people working at $40,000 a year, that’s an extra $200,000 you need to come up with. In addition to that, there’s no built-in audience; your marketing costs become inflated, because nobody knows about your game’s world.
The second big disadvantage is how difficult it is to market the game in the first place. When you’re using a leased license, everyone already knows a great deal about the world your game takes place in, and consequently you don’t need to spend as much on marketing. When you’re creating your own world, all anyone knows about it are the few pieces of information you let out to the public. It’s much harder to build interest in your game when you’re going from scratch.
Just like the hidden disadvantage in leasing the world, there is a hidden advantage to creating your own. Do you remember back in Column 6 when I interviewed Bill Roper?
[INDENT]Behind the Veil: How did it feel to finally have [Warcraft] on shelves and be able to say, “That’s ours, we did that?”
Bill Roper: It is one of the more satisfying and gratifying moments I have ever experienced. When you walk into a store or, most importantly, talk with people who are playing the game you helped create, it is such an amazing sense of accomplishment.
Blizzard created everything to do with Warcraft on their own, and the sense of pride was immense. When you create something from scratch, and it becomes a hit, the pride you feel just might be the strongest feeling you’ll ever experience. The difference is between “I did that,” and “their world helped me do this.”
So there, in a nutshell, are the two most viable options for your gameworld. The third, which is far less likely to happen, is to actually purchase the license. When you own the license, you can do whatever you want with it unless instructed otherwise as a condition of sale. Then the hard part is done, but you can change whatever you want to make the world better suit your game. The downside to this, of course, is that it’s usually really, really expensive.
So, have you got five million dollars lying around?
Disclaimer: Behind the Veil was written by Chris Marks and hosted by Diabloii.net. The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.