Come on, DC: Give Batman his own social game

When it comes to comic book characters, you can’t get much bigger than Batman. He’s been on television (in one animated series or another) since 1992, his last three movies have grossed $2.2 billion worldwide and there are currently 13 “Batman Family” comics in publication. Oh, and his public figure page on Facebook has 5.7 million Likes. So why isn’t there a Facebook game starring the Dark Knight?

Despite his widespread popularity and marketing power, the Caped Crusader has been notably absent on both social and mobile platforms. The only game to show up on in the immediate search results on Facebook is what appears to be a clone of the Flash title Batman: Gotham City Rush. Meanwhile, the only recent Batman games on iOS  are Batman: Arkham City Lockdown (a tie-in for October 2011′s AAA game, Batman: Arkham City) and Gameloft’s licensed version of The Dark Knight Rises. User reviews of these reveal similar experiences: Despite very strong artwork and presentation, there’s a number of complaints about shallow/buggy gameplay.

Superman hasn’t fared any better. In spite of his popularity and next summer’s film, Man of Steel, he doesn’t have much of a presence on Facebook either. The only game showing up in iTunes searches is Chillingo’s eponymous Superman (which launched in November 2011); the majority of reviews we’ve seen note that the game is fun, but nothing noteworthy thanks to its shallow plotline and mechanics.

It’s not like DC hasn’t had an opportunity to leverage a social game based on the DC Universe in a timely manner. The Dark Knight Rises was one of the most anticipated sequels of all time when it came out in July, but the only game treatment it received was an advergame called The Fire Rises; the title used Facebook Connect to login, but used the movie’s IP so little that it was nearly impossible to tell it was a Batman game.

By contrast, Disney-owned Marvel Comics has been hitting home runs in the social games scene. Marvel: Avengers Alliance stormed up our weekly gainer charts thanks to all the marketing it received from this summer’s The Avengers film (which is now the No. 3 grossing movie, worldwide). Likewise, we’ve gotten a preview of what the company is planning to do on mobile devices and we’re very excited about what’s coming in the near future.

DC’s vaults are filled to the brim with iconic characters like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, not to mention countless others. Characters like these are arguably more prevalent in pop culture than Marvel’s own big names — including Spider-Man.

So why isn’t DC jumping onto the social/mobile bandwagon? There are a number of possibilities, but the biggest is probably the fact that DC’s got a mixed success rate when it comes to video games. In spite of some major successes lately, DC is still sporting some pretty ugly black eyes from its previous video game efforts. In fact, three DC titles often wind up on sites’ “worst games ever made” lists: Superman 64, Batman: Dark Tomorrow and Superman Returns. Now that DC’s starting to get a reputation for great games thanks to Batman: Arkham Asylum, DC Universe Online and Batman: Arkham City (not to mention all the excitement currently being stirred up thanks to Injustice: Gods Among Us), developing high quality social and/or mobile titles seems like a no-brainer.

Back in 2010, Warner Bros. announced its Montreal studio would be focused on making lower budget social and mobile games. Why the company hasn’t decided to let casual gamers live out their comic book fantasies is, honestly, mind-boggling. Not only would games like these be dreams come true for most comic fans, they’d also likely be a license for Warner Bros. to print a near-limitless stream of money.

After all, if there’s one thing Bruce Wayne knows a lot about, it’s making lots of money. Well, that and fighting crime.

No, EA, you are not “standing up for the industry” by suing Zynga

Earlier this week Electronic Arts COO Peter Moore talked to Eurogamer about his company’s lawsuit against Zynga over The Ville. One of Moore’s biggest points — which has made a lot of headlines since — is that EA is “standing up for the industry” by taking Zynga to court.

Moore’s statement mirrors an earlier claim by GM of EA’s Maxis Label Lucy Bradshaw, when she said, “By calling Zynga out on this illegal practice, we hope to have a secondary effect of protecting the rights of other creative studios who don’t have the resources to protect themselves.”

What Moore (and the rest of EA) isn’t willing to address is just how potentially damaging this lawsuit could be to video game industry at large if it actually sees the inside of a courtroom. While EA claims Zynga copied exclusive elements from The Sims Social when it created The Ville, the complaint also alleges Zynga copied things like the game’s customizable skin tones and isometric camera perspective. Mechanics like these are present in more games than can be counted, so what happens if they’re considered evidence in this suit?

In a worst case scenario, this could open a legal Pandora’s Box. If legal precedent is established that lets companies claim ownership of mechanics, it could very easily lead to developers taking each other to court in order to engage in patent trolling. Maybe the next step would be EA going after developers who’ve created city-builders, since SimCity pretty much created the game type. Or perhaps Taito will start filing lawsuits against groups like King.com and Peak Games over their success with bubble shooter games after Puzzle Bobble popularized the genre. Based on this train of logic, Atari could probably be able to take everybody to the wall. It also bears noting that EA is already on the receiving end of similar legal trouble as one of the named defendants in Gametek’s recently-filed patent lawsuit over virtual currency and goods.

It’s no surprise EA was unhappy when The Ville launched, as the similarities between it and The Sims Social were immediately obvious. Of course, this isn’t the first time Zynga has been accused of cloning (or “fast-following”) a successful social title, and even when the company’s been publicly called out for the behavior in the past it’s showed no remorse. However, this is the first time that Zynga poked a proverbial bear as large as Electronic Arts, which has to prove to both the public and its shareholders that it will fight to protect its intellectual property.

Based on public reaction, one would think that EA taking Zynga to task for its shenanigans was so delicious that it just had to be fattening. EA’s been continuing to win the general public over by making the company seem like the kid on the playground who finally stands up to the bully stealing everyone’s lunch money. It’s certainly a smart tactic: Lots of mainstream gamers and developers we’ve talked to are rooting for someone to take Zynga to the cleaners and make it much more difficult for them to continue their fast-follow practices in the future.

It’s a brilliant piece of spin, but let’s address the gorilla in the room. EA isn’t standing up for the little guy. EA is standing up for EA, and EA’s interests just happen to run parallel to those other companies who feel they’ve been wronged by Zynga in the past. We know it, and EA knows we know it.

The problem is that EA doesn’t seem to realize — or perhaps care about — is how it’s making game developers much more tempting targets for patent warfare. If that happens, we all lose.

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