When the film adaptation of Suzanne Collins' popular young adult book series The Hunger Games hits theaters on March 23, independent developer Funtactix will launch a tie-in social game on the same day -- the only game announced so far for the action movie.
The Hunger Games Adventures won't be Funtactix's first go at an online title based on a feature film -- it previously put out virtual worlds and Facebook games based on Paramount Pictures' animated release Rango and last year's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol.
Funtactix's focus on creating games for movies comes at a time when some traditional publishers are divesting themselves from the business -- just last month, THQ announced it will no longer work on kids licensed games like Kung Fu Panda 2 or Up.
And during a talk about the convergence of movies and games at trade conference Digital Hollywood two years ago, Take-Two Interactive Studios' then-CEO and president Ben Feder declared to attendees that "Licensing content is dead."
New York City-based Funtactix doesn't think movie tie-ins are dead, but the studio's head Sam Glassenberg tells Gamasutra that he believes they are dying for traditional publishers that put out uninspiring games.
"The console-based film games business is rapidly disappearing," he claims. "The game quality has fallen for years, and consumers have come to realize this, resulting in a collapse of the console-movie-games market."
But that's not the only problem movie tie-ins for console suffer from. Glassenberg adds, "The production cycle for a good console game has grown to two to three years, which is longer than the production window for a film... Hitting day-and-date on a quality game is a near impossibility."
He points out that social game developers, however, can bring a Facebook title to market in months, not years, making it possible for those studios to put out a high-quality release day-and-date with a movie debut.
Glassenerg also says that, compared to their expensive console counterparts, licensed social games can potentially reach a much wider audience to promote movies to, as they are free-to-play and playable in users' browsers, providing a much lower barrier to entry.
Some, though, might argue that Facebook isn't always be the best platform to target for certain properties. The original books that The Hunger Games Adventures pulls its inspiration from, for example, take place in a dystopian, Battle Royale/The Running Man-esque world where teenagers are forced to hunt and fight each other to the death, for the entertainment of viewers at home.
"Yes, we are translating the universe to a casual genre," the Funtactix CEO admits. "[But] there's so much to the universe than just the killing in the Hunger Games. Working with Suzanne, the focus has been on exploration and adventure -- not player-on-player killing."
Instead, The Hunter Games Adventures invites players to create their own characters in that dark setting to complete quests with friends, customize personal forest retreats, and interact with characters from the young adult books/movie. The game also features microtransactions for users to "deepen their experience or hasten their progress" with cosmetic items and energy packs.
Glassenberg says it's crucial for social game developers to work directly with the creative teams behind the properties for their projects, which is why it consulted heavily with both Suzanne Collins and Lionsgate (the film distributor behind the movie adaptation) to develop this virtual and less bloody version of The Hunger Games' world.
"Fans can tell when something is not authentic and we're not interested in something that isn't true to the vision of the creators," he says. "The Hunger Games Adventures is not an afterthought to the world created in the books and visualized in the film, it is part of the same experience."