In what Marvel COO Bill Jemas referred to as 'by far the largest and best electronic game deal in the history of Marvel,' the 'House of Ideas' has licensed Vu Games, a subsidiary of Vivendi Universal to create a worldwide, multi-lingual, massively multi-player on-line game based on Marvel's universe of more than 4,700 characters. The massively multi-player online games' segment has been one of the fastest growing segments of the electronic gaming industry thanks to successes like the fantasy game Everquest (see 'White Wolf To Publish Everquest RPG'). Everquest has become so successful and popular that detractors often refer to it as 'Evercrack,' thanks to its addictive powers and hold over hundreds of thousands of players, who pay a monthly fee to play and have to pony up for extra charges to 'improve' their character's online power and position.
While the Marvel universe is undoubtedly a potential goldmine as a setting for a MMORPG, it alone does not provide the proper incentive to rush out and buy Marvel stock. For one thing the Marvel MMORPG isn't due until 2005, so any effect it will have is at least several years away -- and while Everquest is highly successful, many other attempts at duplicating its success have failed. Even the MMORPG pioneer game, Ultima Online, has had tough sledding in the recent past.
For retailers the effect of a successful MMORPG is hard to judge. Whatever it contributes to Marvel's bottom line is good since it will strengthen the financial position of one of the industry's key publishers, but it also has the potential to lure hardcore Marvel fans away from reading books by substituting online Marvel-based activities -- and even if it doesn't affect older Marvel maniacs, it could siphon off potential young readers into the intellectual quicksand of online gaming. But this would happen only if the game is successful, and that depends on Vu Games being able to come up with a method to portion out or make use of the Marvel characters in a MMORPG context. Just how many online Spider-Men will we have, and how will they relate to each other? Or will players have to develop their own characters, who will then get a chance to interact with heroes and villains from the Marvel universe. It should be interesting to see how this plays out, but for now the Marvel MMORPG is just another example of Marvel's aggressive licensing program, which has helped the once financially-crippled publisher climb out of a pit of financial distress.