Two intrepid G.I. editors discuss all the reasons triple-A publishers are blowing it by ignoring this obvious game idea.
Jeff M: So Cork, there’s no shortage of gamers on the Internet who think they’ve got a brilliant idea for a video game, despite having zero programming or game design experience.
Jeff C: Such as, “Smash Bros., but with fatalities”?
Jeff M: Exactly! It’s really easy to throw out dumb ideas when you’re not the one who has to figure out how to actually make them.
Jeff C: I don’t think that’s a dumb idea, but I see your point.
Jeff M: But it still blows my mind that someone at Activision/EA/Ubisoft/etc. hasn’t figured out that they could make a guaranteed buttboatload of money on a Hunger Games video game.
Jeff C: It is stunning. We live in a world where people have looked at Sour Patch Kids, 50 Cent, and Burger King’s corporate mascot and thought: “You know what? That was MADE for video games!” But for whatever reason, The Hunger Games – a hugely successful franchise that has “GAMES” in the freaking name – has to sit on the sidelines while a genre clearly inspired by it flourishes.
Jeff M: I’ve seriously been wracking my brain trying to think of reasons why this hasn’t happened yet, and I’ve got nothing. So let’s just run through all the reasons that triple-A publishers are stupid for not leaping out of their chairs with briefcases full of cash at this amazing opportunity, shall we? We won’t even charge a commission at the end of our pitch.
Jeff C: First, and most obviously, this is an IP that absolutely cries out for an adaptation. The setup is perfect. Unlike, say, Quiddich, which is a broken, unbalanced mess of a game that doesn’t make any sense, The Hunger Games has a cruel logic to it that’s a natural fit for competitive gaming.
Jeff M: It is essentially one big last-man-standing deathmatch, an established classic in multiplayer modes.
Jeff C: Exactly. You start with a field of combatants, and one by one they’re either killed by their fellow players or the elements.
Jeff M: Which could give it an interesting survival genre twist, if you have environmental pitfalls and/or deadly weather that players also have to contend with. But the most important thing is the developer wouldn’t have to figure out how to shoehorn gameplay into an IP, or figure out how to make vague and absurd rules work in a gaming scenario. Also, The Hunger Games is a billion-dollar IP that’s aimed at young adults. I hear those people play a lot of video games.
Jeff C: It’s clear that people have an appetite for the IP, too. There are a fair number of battle modes in survival games, and, “It’s like The Hunger Games!” is a common rallying cry for players. Indie developers have already aped the setup without the license, but that still doesn’t explain why a large studio with deep pockets hasn’t made what is, if you’re smart like we are, an obvious choice.
Jeff M: DayZ, H1Z1, The Culling, and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds are all hugely popular examples of the formula already working – even if they haven’t been directly inspired by The Hunger Games, they clearly share a lot of the same themes. But their existence is another reason I can’t believe a big-name publisher hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon. While I was watching our stream of Battlegrounds yesterday, all I could think was that it looks cool, but I wish it had the visual and gameplay polish of a triple-A multiplayer game. And that’s been true of all of these games – there’s obvious interest there, but no one has nailed the formula, and no big developer has even tried to yet.
Jeff C: And, once again, I think that’s why The Hunger Games license seems so appealing. The genre is still fairly new at this point, and we all know how risk-averse larger studios and publishers can be. A publisher isn’t necessarily going to want to jump into it while also creating a new brand. The Hunger Games’ name carries a lot of brand recognition with it, including an immediate shortcut to letting people know what it’s all about. I’m having a hard time thinking of a book or movie that’s a better pick for a game. It’s the lowest-hanging fruit imaginable. Maybe there’s a curse that we’re not aware of?
Jeff M: I mean I guess if a publisher wanted cool-guy street cred, they could opt for Battle Royale instead, but people would throw money at The Hunger Games even without the proven gameplay formula. And here’s the best part: No matter what triple-A publisher you’re talking about, they all have an in-house developer capable of nailing the gameplay. We’re talking a large open-world map (which is every game nowadays), competitive multiplayer (practically a necessity for big franchises), and character customization (also expected for multiplayer-focused games).
Jeff C: And don’t forget about archery!
Jeff M: The video game weapon of choice in 2016! Even if you want to lean more on melee combat, a developer like DICE is already 90 percent there. Ubisoft Montreal’s work on Far Cry, Rainbow Six Siege, and Assassin’s Creed would make it a good fit. Any one of the Call of Duty teams could handle it – hell, just Zombie mode demands more time and effort than what most battle royale-style games are delivering at the moment. Most of them only have one map!
Jeff C: Most of the survival games I’ve seen look more like proofs-of-concept – the core idea is there and the gameplay is serviceable, but there’s so much more you could do with a larger dev team and a bigger budget. Having in-depth skill trees, deeper weapon crafting and customization, destructible environments (with traps!), and even the ability to paint yourself to look like a log could be fun. Games could take place over several “seasons,” too, giving veterans an edge in battle – and creating opportunities for emergent storytelling and exciting upsets, both for the players and the viewers who tune in to watch the proceedings. And yes, you could even design the flaming dress of your dreams, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Jeff M: Yeah, it definitely doesn’t just have to be more polished controls – those are all examples of things that the indie developers behind the current crop of battle-royale games simply can’t afford to invest in. Publishers like EA or Activision are already used to delivering them, on top of pitch-perfect gunplay and rock-solid framerates. Given the ever-increasing importance of esports, just jumping into the burgeoning-but-already-immensely popular genre is a no-brainer. Throwing in the Hunger Games license is icing on the money-printing cake. Why aren’t we millionaires yet, Cork?
Jeff C: This is a question I ask myself a lot, Fava.
Jeff M: At least we’ll get to say, “We told you so!” when somebody finally stops being stupid and makes this awesome game.
Jeff C: Indeed. Now about that “Smash Bros. with fatalities” idea…