Game versions of popular films are nothing new, although the games can often be poorly received if they are hastily cobbled together to meet the cinematic counterpart's release date. Activision's Spider-Man 3 in 2006 was an exception. The game surpassed expectations, and the US studios are recognising it is worth putting in the extra time and effort rather than going for the quick cash-in.
From the early days of video games, when it spun off a Jaws title for Nintendo, Universal Pictures has been cranking out tie-ins. But in the last five years, it has upped the ante, creating big-selling titles such as King Kong - which shifted over 5 million units - and even reaching back into the archives to re-imagine Brian De Palma's Scarface into a video game in partnership with Vivendi Games.
A new phase of development has also arrived with a title such as The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, an extension of the film rather than a straight-up video game spin-off. Inspired by a line of dialogue about Riddick's prison-break skills, Universal's digital platforms division created an entire game around the concept.
'We had likeness rights and voiceover rights,' says Adam Rymer, Universal's senior vice-president of digital platforms. 'We created entirely new characters nobody had ever seen in the film before.'
Riddick did not live up to box-office expectations so Universal never proceeded with a mooted theatrical trilogy, but Escape From Butcher Bay allows the studio to keep a franchise alive that might otherwise have withered on the vine (the title was highly praised in the games press and shifted over a million units on Xbox).
Although Diesel did voiceover work for Escape From Butcher Bay and Al Pacino signed over likeness rights for Scarface, getting talent on side for game spin-offs is not a sure thing. 'Some people are harder, some are easier,' says Rymer. 'We try to get those rights in the agreements wherever possible. Now that we've seen what the potential is for gaming, we work very closely with our theatrical production team, so as they're developing the scripts, we're already there meeting with the directors and producers.'
Rymer has noticed a shift in attitude from film-makers, including Russian director Timur Bekmambetov who invited the digital platform team onto the Prague set of Universal's action thriller Wanted and has been deeply involved in the development of his movie's game. Wanted is also the first title where Universal is funding the game development itself before seeking a publishing partner.
'Now we're saying if there's a property we believe in, let's start developing and funding it ourselves so we can start earlier,' says Rymer. 'To be a next-generation movie studio, you need to be thinking about how you extend your brands successfully to all the platforms that they can be released on.'