Disney Strikes Again?
On Wednesday, Margaret Weiss Productions announced that they are ceasing production on their recently released Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game. It’s an unfortunate turn for the little company that has been doing big things with some offbeat licenses. It may also be an indication of how Disney plans to manage their licenses in the future, which may have some far reaching implications for players in the gaming industry. Lets give it some consideration below the fold.
To quote MWP’s news feed on the matter:
“The economics of licensing a tie-in product is always something we have to weigh carefully. We brokered an admittedly ambitious license with Marvel. Our first event, CIVIL WAR, was successful and well received, but it didn’t garner the level of sales necessary to sustain the rest of the line. We’ve learned from this and are taking a very different approach with the other licensed properties we’re bringing out to you in the next three years. We believe we created a great game. Those of you that have supported us have been terrific, and we appreciate you. But, unfortunately, we will not be bringing any new product out under the Marvel line.”
All told, a pretty politic message. The subtext, however, is clear: Disney is pulling the license (forcing MWP to can work that is essentially ready to go to press, likely leaving freelancers unpaid), and it probably has less to do with volume sold, than with Disney’s historic trend of consolidating licenses.
Speaking with respect to the game itself, I purchased the core book pdf and assessed that it wasn’t for me (reminded me too much of TSR’s Marvel games from ancient times–not in system, but in scope. I want to make my own heroes, not play Marvel’s…). I also didn’t care for MWP’s plan of launching event-based supplements inline with Marvel’s classic plot arcs. That said, it was quality work with a pretty innovative system, and a dedicated crew of creative types behind it. It didn’t deserve to go out like this.
Given Disney’s recent acquisition of all things Lucas, which was followed almost immediately by the dissolution of LucasArts, I think it’s safe to say that Star Wars liscenees have reason to worry. I’m thinking most specifically about Fantasy Flight Games, who’ve made a big investment in the Star Wars licence. They’ve already launched the basic set for their recent Edge of the Empire line of Star Wars RPGs, and are launching the hardcover core book this summer. This game has been fraught with some controversy over FFG choosing to focus on the fringy bits of the universe–scoundrels and the like–while the Jedi have been set aside for a later game line (rather like their approach to the Warhammer 40K line, which has frankly turned me off to both lines). Given that some subset of the Star Wars gaming fanbase is likely to put off investing in the line until their preferred style of play is in the limelight, one has to wonder if FFG’s game will perform to the standard the Disney expects–and if not, what that may bode even for a gaming industry powerhouse like Fantasy Flight. Only time will tell if the Marvel Heroic RPG situation is a fluke, or a portent.
On a side note, one thing that especially burns me is that MWP is being forced to pull their stock off of store shelves. But not just physical shelves–virtual ones as well. This means that purchasers of digital copies will be unable to re-download legitimate copies of their paid-for books from their trusted e-tailers. This bugs to me no end, as it demonstrates a weakness in the whole ebook ecology. But I’ll save that rant for another post.