Merchandising isn’t a new concept from the first general stores with windows, endless displays within department stores, to today’s photo galleries of online products. Merchandising is part and parcel of the modern world. However the idea of creating products using intellectual property that belonged to someone else is where we get licensing. This method of good production gained traction with the rise of television but blew up during the late 70s and early 80s. I mean why sell just a lunchbox when you can stick Howdy Dowdy or Knightrider on it?
The 1987 film ‘Spaceballs’, a definite parody of Star Wars and hilarious screwball comedy by Mel Brooks, takes a dig at the industry of product generation based on intellectual properties. The scene starts with the proclamation and a carbon-copy of Yoda aptly named Yogurt spouts the following wisdom:
While over the top in the film I’m starting to wonder if holders of intellectual properties everywhere haven’t just adopted this as their model for producing just about any item you can imagine with an appropriate character, symbol, or phrase from a board game or video game. You cannot walk into a store that does not contain some product tied to the Fortnite or Overwatch properties. These days they are on everything from coats, pajamas, cups, bottles, underwear, and even food products. Most of this is targeted to a younger age bracket as well despite the games being rated T for Teen. This isn’t true of just these games but any game looking to be a long term or online service based game.
The analog world is not immune to this phenomenon either with popular games like Magic: the Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons being licensed for all sorts of products: t-shirts, mouse pads, bags, hats, etc. Then of course there is the license market for game accessories to accompany the games themselves whether by third party or the game creators themselves. Typically the analog rehash cycle is slower for pen & paper or board games, while the collectible card card goes through a cycle regularly through new wave releases and whole new licensed games using existing or slightly tweak mechanics from existing platforms.
With the ability to create content, sell said content, then license that property for products it seems the focus for any content makers is to create brands rather than just awesome content. I believe this leads to the CoD-cycle of development of said content, the tweaked but always the same formula year after year. Cause even with a decline of sales for said content the generated licensing rights and product sells will cover and probably exceed any lost sales of the content itself. Which is why we continue to see the same methods used over and over in creation of gaming content.
The scene above mocks merchandising of the film itself, it is a statement that the content is important not the licensed items that come after it. This is perhaps the greatest irony that the film promotes such tactics despite there were no merchandising options from the film what so ever. Mel Brooks wanted to make the film without legal entanglements so sought out George Lucas to get a ‘fair use’ agreement, despite parody being protected speech. This allowed him to create the film he wanted too make without legal concerns. Sure he missed out on some revenue without his merchandising of “Spaceballs The T-Shirt” but instead he was able to focus on making what is definitely a cult classic. If game creators were turned loose with such freedom, imagine the possibilities.
So we’d like to know . . .
Do you think that Triple-A publishers have gotten stale with their games?
Do you find Indie produce games to be a growing niche or thriving market?
What game do you believe was ruined by the pursuit of profit over content?