Jul 10, 2023 - Technology

EA's Black Panther announcement raises surprisingly risky superhero bet

Image of a Black Panther logo above logos for Marvel and Cliffhanger Games

Image: Electronic Arts, Marvel

Electronic Arts confirmed on Monday that it is making a video game based on Marvel’s Black Panther, one of five major superhero games on the horizon.

Why it matters: Hollywood already has a constant flow of superhero movies, and now big-budget gaming is in the mix. But what might have once seemed like a safe bet hasn’t proved to be with recent superhero games underperforming.

Details: EA’s Black Panther game is coming from its new Seattle-based studio Cliffhanger Games, which is led by top people from Warner Bros.-owned Monolith Productions, another major studio in the area.

  • EA says the game will be a third-person, single-player adventure set in an “expansive and reactive world.”
  • Technically, their Black Panther title has been in development for over a year after word of it leaked last July via Giant Bomb (and was corroborated by Axios in October).
  • EA and Cliffhanger did not announce platforms or a release timeframe, suggesting there’s still lots of dev time ahead.

State of play: EA has signed to make two other Marvel games, including a single-player Iron Man adventure that was announced last year.

Yes, but: Recent big-budget superhero game development has mostly been a struggle.

  • WB’s Rocksteady Studios, which developed three acclaimed single-player Batman games that released from 2009 to 2015, has had to repeatedly delay a game based on DC’s Suicide Squad and seen its co-founders exit the studio recently. The game is built around support for optional co-op multiplayer and a heavy emphasis on collecting statistically improved gear–elements popular in games such as Destiny and Diablo.
  • Crystal Dynamics just concluded support for Marvel’s Avengers, which released in 2020, also took the Destiny/Diablo co-op loot game approach and was poorly received critically and commercially. Its sister studio Eidos Montreal released Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy to acclaim in 2021, but the game missed its publisher’s expectations. Both studios have since been sold off to a new owner.
  • WB Montreal’s Batman spin-off Gotham Knights (2022), an open-world game with a focus on co-op and loot collection, had middling reviews and sales.

The big picture: The proliferation of superhero games, at least the ones featuring Marvel heroes, comes from Disney, which has been aggressively licensing its top franchises, including Star Wars, to top publishers in recent years after backing off prior strategies involving internal game development or long-term exclusive partnerships.

The bottom line: Insomniac’s Marvel’s Spider-Man and 2020 spinoff Miles Morales are the genre’s big recent successes, seemingly making the case that teaming a talented studio with a top superhero is a winning formula.

  • But recent performance of these games suggests that success is hard to replicate, even as many top teams are in the midst of trying.

Sign up for the Axios Gaming newsletter here.

Go deeper