Columns & Blogs

Disney’s gaming future bright after Marvel buy

Disney announced Monday that it was buying Marvel Comics for $4 billion, acquiring the comic book titan’s 5,000-plus characters.

It’s a huge deal for both entities, giving Disney some credibility with males, and likely giving more Marvel characters their chance to shine thanks to Disney’s deeper pockets and huge marketing arm. Can you imagine a Pixar/Marvel movie?

While Monday was full of Mickey Mouse-joining-the-X-Men jokes, this merger has huge ramifications across the entertainment world, and especially with video games.

While DC Comics has the two most famous superheroes — Batman and Superman — Marvel retains the rights to nearly every other comic book hero that non-comic fans would know — Hulk, Captain America, Spider-Man, the X-Men, Fantastic Four, Thor, Daredevil, Iron Man and many others.

This merger could be a tremendous boom to the growing Disney Interactive Studios. Disney’s “Pure” was the most underrated game of 2008, and next year’s “Split Second” — both developed by the in-house company Black Rock Studio — looks equally strong. These two games are a giant leap forward from most of the previously released Disney games, which are usually movie tie-ins.

Most Marvel franchises are already tied to companies — Activision already has a long-term deal with the X-Men and Spider-Man franchises, and Sega and THQ also have contracts with Marvel characters.

When those deals expire, Disney will have an opportunity to continue working with those companies or moving the development of Marvel games in-house. Either way, that should mean good things for gamers, because Disney’s in-house studio should be ready to go with some great ideas and games or Activision will have stepped up its game enough to earn a new deal.

I already think Activision generally does a good job with Marvel games. “Marvel: Ultimate Alliance” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” were both very strong games. “Spider-Man: Web of Shadows” was awful. The company will get another chance with the release of “Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2” on Sept. 15.

The gaming Web site reported that Disney’s senior vice president of investor relations told investors Monday, “On the video game front, (Marvel) have some smart licensing agreements with some of the best video game manufacturers in the business. While we have been steadily moving in the direction of video game integration, we don’t rule out the blend of licensing and self-produced and distributed video games.

“As these licensing deals expire we have the luxury of considering what’s best for the company and the products.”