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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.

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This entry was posted by Chris Avery.

3 thoughts on “Disney Strikes Again?

  1. Wow, I feel bad for MWP and those that purchased the game. I wanted too, but funds were short. Hopefully it won’t go as downhill as all that for Star Wars, Chris. Time will tell. As for FFG’s marketing strategy, I too was a bit turned off that they didn’t release a book with playable Jedi in it from the get-go. It was almost like they were just trying to make more money – because if people like their offering, you know they’ll buy the book that has Jedi in it, so it helps future sales. But that doesn’t help those that want to play the most popular type right off.

    Caffeineforge continues to be a great source for information and insights. Thanks for the blog post! Have a great weekend!

  2. Yeah, my sympathies are with the freelancers who’ve put in the time on books that won’t see the light of day. They’re doing the work, anticipating the paychecks… Of course, I’m not sure the blame lays with MWP in this case.

    As for FFG, they definitely know how to make a high quality product, from their boardgames right on down to their RPG’s, but I’m pretty resentful of their approaches to the 40K and Star Wars franchises. I’m hoping that the Star Wars line is somewhat more interoperable/compatible across the line than the 40K games are. If that’s the case, I may pick it up… but they aren’t going to get my money until I see that they aren’t following on the heels of 40K.

    And thanks for reading!

  3. This sort of story is sad but doesn’t surprise me. BOOM comics had a contract with Disney to put out their comics but once Disney bought Marvel that deal was allowed to run out, and now Marvel is publishing those Disney-related tales.

    Star Wars is mentioned in this article too in regards to games, but let’s also consider how Dark Horse has spent decades putting out Star Wars comics. Clearly those days are numbered now that Disney bought the whole property from Lucasfilm and has a handy comic-book company they could use to publish titles (mark my words, we will have Marvel-published Star Wars comics sooner than later).

    Those two things are just examples of comic-book properties, but as this article states, Disney sure does like to consolidate, even if it hurts people in the process. Woe to any who dare take on the mighty empire of Mickey Mouse.

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