Publishers leaning on licenses

Dragon Ball accounts for nearly half of Atari sales, whereas THQ reaps a quarter of its revenues from WWE, another quarter from Pixar and Nickelodeon.


It's no secret that big-name licenses sell games, but annual reports this week from THQ and Atari are putting into perspective just how much publishers depend on the intellectual property of others.

THQ in recent years has repeatedly touted its stable of million-selling franchises, but those games haven't always lived up to expectations. In particular, last year's Stuntman: Ignition and Juiced 2: Hot Import Nights fell short of expectations, so much so that THQ shelved both franchises indefinitely.

Fortunately for the publisher, its licensed games have been picking up some of the resulting slack. THQ noted in its report that games based on its three biggest brands--World Wrestling Entertainment, Pixar, and Nickelodeon--accounted for 54 percent of its net sales over fiscal 2007 and fiscal 2008. The same trio accounted for 47 percent in fiscal 2006.

WWE sales in particular have surged as of late, reaching $232 million during calendar 2007, or roughly 25 percent of THQ's total revenues. That dollar figure is up from $166 million in 2006 and $135 million in 2005.

The jump isn't entirely surprising, given that the WWE SmackDown vs. RAW franchise saw its debut on the PlayStation 3, Wii, and DS, whereas 2006 marked the first Xbox 360 edition of the game. Despite a lack of new platforms to expand onto, WWE sales may continue to grow thanks to the addition of a second WWE game on the release schedule, Legends of Wrestlemania, set to launch alongside the annual Wrestlemania pay-per-view event in March 2009.

Having sold off its internal development studios, fellow publisher Atari is also leaning more heavily on licensed games, specifically Dragon Ball Z. According to its annual report, Atari garnered more than 49 percent of its annual revenues for fiscal 2008 from Dragon Ball Z, compared to 45.7 percent in fiscal 2007.

Despite the relative increase in Dragon Ball Z revenue, the actual dollar amount that the series brought in slipped. According to Atari's own figures, Dragon Ball Z games brought in $39.34 million in fiscal 2008, down from $55.88 million during the prior year. The current year might be a better one for the license because last month Atari brought the popular franchise to the Xbox 360 and the PS3 for the first time with Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit.

THQ and Atari share more than just a dependence on high-profile licenses. They've both been involved in legal disputes with the rights-holders of those franchises. WWE has been trying to have its licensing agreement with THQ voided for years and still has a case pending against the publisher, despite last year's dismissal of a separate racketeering suit. On the other hand, Atari settled a suit brought against it last year by Dragon Ball Z rights-holder FUNimation. That settlement cost the publisher $3.5 million.

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Avatar image for K696969

We need more info on this game

Avatar image for LindBergh2007

nappan. That's what causing the software market to decline. The market is being oversaturated with the same problems it had back in 1983 with every publisher trying to publish big name cartoon franchise titles, and over hundereds of dreadful movie titles or overhyped medicore material. Believe when I say this. This is a bad sign for the industry. If the price of games jumps to $70 soon(which I believe it will) and in a retail market being devestated by the slumping economy and inflation expect a possible collapse and sharp decline in software sales, and if the software titles stop selling then the 3rd party publishers will collapse and if there are little games to be released for consoles, how will this effect console sales? It could hurt them drastically. I 'm glad that both Madmangamer and Bigdaddy agree with me. I don;t want to be the prohpet of doom here but I want all of us to get real, it was problems like this that caused the 1984 crash. If we want to see the market get oversaturated with BAD multiplatform games and then try to sugarcoat it and say that this is okay and that all publishers should have the right to flood the market with garbage then we'll be the guilty ones if the market does crash before next year. People like Nate,Madman and Big Daddy and I are just looking out for the industry it's not adeqaute to be naive about a ecomony that is in reccession and where retailers are raking in historical losses on Blu-Ray DVD sales, the electronic market is being hit. All i'm saying is that you don't have believe me, but I hope you all don't ignore the warning signs I wish I could understand why some of the publishers have NOT learned from the crash era of 1983-84 that big licenses and little effort on developing B+ titles are what causes people to be turned off by games.

Avatar image for Narroo

If only Atari could make a good DBZ game. Why can't a studio make a good game, why does it matter so much who makes the game?

Avatar image for GundumSage

@Cecalder People post these comments to relieve stress and vent. We know that, for the most part, our cries and please will go unheard if the companies/corporations/etc. are still making a quick buck off of the crap shelled out... No reason to get all sanctimonious on us crybabies, though...

Avatar image for cecalder

Why are people upset at THQ and Atari. The fact that these licenced titles continue to sell well can lead to the conclusion that the people who continue buying them are enjoying their purchase. The notion that everyone must enjoy games that you enjoy is quite egotistical. If you don't enjoy these games, don't buy them. If you don't enjoy the state of the video game industry, don't play video games. Idealistic rants regarding the way you think the industry should run is of absolutely no consequence. Your efforts will be more useful if you take an economics class detailing the subject of supply and demand.

Avatar image for Skreb-Masters

Since the dawn of time, 'casual' consumers have always leaned towards licensed products, because that's what they recognise. More people know about DBZ/WWE than Okami, hence why it sells more. I can't blame the publishers for making licensed games. They are businesses after all, and they need to make the money so they can produce the really good games (I hope). Brand recognition, it's a wonderful thing.

Avatar image for ps3thabest

all the games are badass

Avatar image for Blaiyan

Seeing as how I own all the ps2 DBZ & Smackdown games I hope they keep making a profit. Looks like this years smackdown will hold some promise hopefully the next DBZ game will feature all characters plus something like a new movie storyline and villain or add something to the shows story in between all those missing years. Something like SW:TFU is doing for the star wars movies. Also dbz could use a serious graphic upgrade.

Avatar image for nappan

Those are some pretty sad numbers, especialy given that with the exception of a handful of DBZ games, none of those titles interest me at all. The lack of creativity and productive risk taking in the gaming industry is staggering, and dissapointing. Psychonauts was one of the few really innovative games in the last few years, and it's a console old. *sigh*

Avatar image for living_wmd_888

THQ has always largely relied on licenses. That said, I've said it a million times: Licensed video games do no justice to video gaming. They are basically commercials for which gamers are paying $50 a pop for, and are no different than the cheap little toys you can find inside your Burger King Kids' Meal.

Avatar image for grigjd3

While I'm not a fan of any of the titles mentioned above, I would like to point out that there seems to be just as many crappy non-licensed games as licensed ones.

Avatar image for Sagacious_Tien

Thankfully, for the most part, all these games are decent, and it is working out for them as well.

Avatar image for BewilderedRonin

So what if they use IPs? Atari has held the D&D license for years and I'd rather play a D&D game that uses "someone else's ideas" than some of the other horrendously stupid RPGs that are out there. To say that these games are crap because they use an existing IP is abhorrently ignorant. Baldur's Gate 1&2 are regarded by many as one of the best RPGs of all time and it used D&D IP. Besides, who hasn't, at some point in time, wished they could play the characters from their favorite TV show or novel? In order to do that, publishers must secure intellectual property rights. This isn't to say that devs shouldn't try to be original. There are many great, successful IPs that developers have created on their own. However, it is a matter of fact that it is usually easier for a developer to sell a game idea to a publisher using an existing and popular IP than to try and sell something with an unknown, self-created IP.

Avatar image for ZippyDSMLee

Mass market mass appeal PABLUM FOR ALL!! Hitting a qaulity title in mass market CPs is like tossing rocks in the government and hoping to hit someone living, it can be done but its a rarity.

Avatar image for supernova777

Yep this is true. I mean what other game do these two companies publish that you would actually buy into? Intellectual property -- big words. Mean these company can't think up there own story and make them reality. They take the next man's vison and make it a game that will sell because they know the fan base is already there. If they continue on this path in will spell there eventually ruin. As with madden no one like the same game re-hashed year after year with few new ideas in play. Good day I say. Good day indeed to you all.

Avatar image for mattcake

And the problem is they dig up all the old games like AITD that so many of us had great memories of, and F it up royally, relying on the name alone to sell it. I always get the feeling developers dont try as hard with known franchises, whereas a new IP has to be good enough to demand attention in its own right, not because of its name.

Avatar image for peeweeshift

Rock the dragon!!!

Avatar image for oli54321

Hmm well I think Atari are pretty much screwed now since Alone in the Dark was so bad.

Avatar image for cooldude03

The only title that I am even partially interested in out of this story is the WWE title. And personally I think it's to Madden'ized with yearly updates with minumum improvements. Why not give us downloadable roster and wrestler updates every 3 or 4 months? I'll pay. Oh I guess I answered that question myself, they won't do it because they want me to pay big, $60 big, every year. Legends of Wrestlemania will be a breath of fresh air. Although I still miss my old Nintendo 64 WCW vs NWO Revenge and WWE No Mercy, wrestling hits. there's hasn't been a wrestling game with that kind of great control sense the N64.

Avatar image for combatsoldier

i like the games and it is no suprise to me how well they are doing. wwe has a fan base that is huge all around the globe. as for the dbz thing i just hope that they can keep there heads above water. the reason that dbz is slippin in sales is because they keep pretty much the same theme and hardly any new content. now this year for dbz was truly a treat and something special. adding the online feauture was genious and the graphics were solid. however there are some stuff that still needs improvement. on the other hand this was the fist dbz on a next gen title and i thought they did very well and expect even better next year. all i can say about this is good job to everyone and keep up the good work.

Avatar image for PatlaborAV98

you should try fire pro wrestling returns more complex and doesnt look great as the flashy wwe games but i think its fun MR Sparkle!!!

Avatar image for Ranteal

No surprise on the WWE sales. Wrestling, no matter how bad it has become, will always sell. The problem now is that the WWE is starting to get like Madden. One every year, pretty much same gameplay, features, and characters. I can only stand HHH and Cena so much. Not gonna lie, I am looking forward to the legends game though.

Avatar image for dulun19

Dragon ball z is gold pig for Atari just like Naruto for Namco-bandai (or it is Bandai namco)???.... i'm sure we notice the increase of these two anime/manga based games recently..

Avatar image for deactivated-57af49c27f4e8

eww all terrible games.

Avatar image for Madmangamer364

Call me crazy, but I find these figures to be quite disturbing. When half of a company's success depends on a property that's not even their own, something just doesn't make sense. It becomes too easy to rely on this, especially if you know that you can get away with it every single year, and cause you to not want to come up with original and quality products. I find it all painful, but it's not like I can't say that this isn't working at the moment. Both THQ and Atari better hope that these properties don't fall into the hands of another developer or lose their steam, or it could be serious trouble for both of them. Still, the fact that developers know that success can only be a license away really scares me as a gamer. I think LindBergh2007 hit it right on the money. If the video game industry wants to continue to grow, this isn't the way to do it. Sure, it may be a nice way to gain money for a while, but developers should put more focus into coming up with new names that aren't part of any other media to lead the way and generate revenue. At the moment, no other form media relies more on the others than video games, and this should be the media that others are focusing on more. I'm not going to be as drastic in saying that the video game universe is setting itself up for another crash with the ways things are going, but looking at things like this doesn't exactly excite me about the future of gaming. But I digress a bit. Congrats to THQ and Atari, I guess... :|

Avatar image for DeltaSpirit

Stuntman: Ignition and Juiced 2: Hot Import Nights fell short of expectations seriously any gain on those games is more than anyone can hope. Anyway yes some publishers depend a lot on licenses (like most other things) since you'll already have a big audience especially THQ which needs to step up their smackdown! game

Avatar image for maaly81

ok. so did they make money or they did not make as much money as they projected?? sounds like they made the money but not as much as they would like.

Avatar image for Viral-venom13

With this much leaning towards licenses i believe that all of their games if not most should be solid hits and even if they're not the publishers should see to it that they are. The wrestling series has always been good for the most part in my favor and have gotten way better over the years so kudos to THQ however in Atari's case the DBZ games could use some work. The Budokai series were good well mainly part 3 and the Tenkaichi series were leaning towards more of the action and fighting i wanted from the series a long time ago but the way of how they were executed made the game stupid at times as with the Tenkaichi series one could win a fight by basically pulling off the 1 same move over and over that just made the game experience LAME, especially when playing against friends who know they couldn't win so they leaned towards that 1 move to bring them victory which made the game a huge drag.

Avatar image for ctg867

If that what makes them money, then who cares. What a pointless article.

Avatar image for Mych53

Not surprising at all. Both the DBZ and WWE franchises are geared towards the masses. They'll sell because people want to experience their favorite movies or TV shows. Nothing wrong with that. The problems I have are 1) with the developers, who put out yearly versions of these games with minor tweeks, and 2) with the fanboys who would buy the crappiest game ever if it had the title of a favored property. Please, if a game sucks, let it be an economic failure. Then good games might be released instead... (Ok, maybe a little to much hoping.)

Avatar image for kos1085

So thats why Atari keeps making the same DBZ games over and over. Its because it is half of their sales. They need to stop leaning on the DBZ series because it is dead and is not even played on TV anymore.

Avatar image for LindBergh2007

This one of the many reasons while the 3rd party market is getting ready to crash. These licenses are being manhandled and none of the developers are taking time out to even develop a B+ title for the consoles. The sings are getting worse. The market is oversaturated. The economy is in reccession. Development costs are rising. And major U.S, publishers are facing buyouts. It looks like 1983 all over again.

Avatar image for carneyfolk

The problem with licences doing most of your business for you is, when the contract runs out, you better have a plan b if they dont reup.

Avatar image for taino1128

Really Atari and THQ aren't that good. The only time you here about them IS when they release a licensed game. Most of their other games are trash

Avatar image for megamanzero32

BigDaddy973 Speaks the truth

Avatar image for taj7575

Bigdaddy, Wii owners do know when to buy good games. brawl, zelda, mario kart. they have sick games.

Avatar image for NA3D

And the fact of leaning on the licenses is why they are not making amazing games. They have to have the balls to go all out and make something new to make something amazing, as well as make a lot of money. With great risk brings great reward, but there is also a chance of great failure. (At least you learn from a failure though, these guys are learning nothing doing what they are.)

Avatar image for Lisandro_v22

@dr_jashugan: most anime series get fighting games that are all the same and sell well anyway

Avatar image for BigDaddy973

I mean you gotta scrap the crappy games and boost the good ones, I mean look at the Wii, the thing about that system is that even a bad game will sell because the players no nothing about gaming, its so casual that people will buy what "looks good" based on box art. Where as 360 and PS3 owners want our AAA games!

Avatar image for dr_jashugan

Big-name licenses sell games ONLY if those games live up to their names. 8)

Avatar image for jakob_187

ZOMFG, GAME COMPANIES ARE RELYING ON OTHER PEOPLE'S PROPERTIES TO RAKE IN MONEY?! SAY IT AIN'T SO!!! POURQUOI?!?!?!?!?! Look, what's it matter? People play the games, they enjoy the games, and that's how it works. The whole point of licenses are for maximum appeal to customers while offering up a chance to become part of that world for a short period of time. So whatever. How this is a news story is beyond me.

Avatar image for Nerkcon

It's sad. These publishers, and I hate to say it because it may not be true, have no talent or desire to make good games. Once in a while they get something right but then they screw it up. These games sell mostly on name alone (I LOVED the Smack vs Raw games until they did the big change were you get red damage VERY easily and they decided to keep like that I gave up the series) how great would it be if a developer could get their hands on a WWE game and turn it into a more challenging, fun, and competitive game. Same with Dragon Ball Z. But really, they just do what they can to make it playable. Then they release them in a timely mater and collect their money based on how popular the licenses are, not by how good their work actually is.

Avatar image for SuperTrunks11

interesting info