The Rise Of The Crossover: How Mash-Ups Are Changing The Game

There has been a subtle shift in the gaming industry, one that’s been so gradual that we’ve happily accepted it and, to be honest, barely noticed it. I am, of course, talking of the steep increase in the number of crossovers that now seem to be arriving into the world, whether they be full games or additional content.

There have been crossovers in gaming in one form or another for a while now. You can make an argument for the Mario Kart series doing it back in 1992, depending on whether or not you classify Donkey Kong Jr. as a Mario series character or not, and 1999’s Super Smash Bros. certainly qualifies, throwing Mario, Samus, Link and Pikachu into one game. However, all of these were predated by Konami Wai Wai World, a 1988 Japan only release that featured King Kong and, rather bizarrely, Mikey from The Goonies alongside Konami stalwarts.

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Even with this long history, crossovers used to be something that only happened occasionally. While they’ve been relatively frequent in other media for years, significant chunks of the comic book industry are largely fuelled by crossover events now, until recently it seemed like it was fairly rare to see characters sharing the same game. Hell, it was still pretty surprising when Mario and Sonic starred in their first Olympic Games title back in 2007, although that may have had more to do with two formers enemies appearing under the same banner.

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They’ve now become incredibly commonplace in a very short period of time. While it was cool to see Kratos and Freddy Krueger appearing in 2007’s Mortal Kombat, it now feels reasonably unexceptional to have Jason Voorhees and Predator cropping up as DLC for Mortal Kombat X. What once was a nice extra how now become almost expected, shifting from an excited “Freddy Krueger? Awesome!” to an almost resigned “Well obviously they’ve got Predator DLC.”

So, what’s changed? It’s not an easy question to answer by any means, but the prevalence of DLC seems to be one significant element. When you had to buy a full expansion pack if you wanted new content in a game then simply adding a couple of bonus characters didn’t really make all that much sense financially. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be DLC that you pay for, it’s often tied to a platform or an extra if you pre-order the title.

While there are many outspoken critics of DLC, the simple fact is that developers and publishers wouldn’t continue to pursue these revenue streams if they weren’t successful. If people stop buying the DLC, or fulfilling whatever criteria is required to get access to some promotional character, then you’ll see these kind of elements tail off pretty quickly, just like pogs. Remember pogs?

DLC is a purely mechanical concern though, it can be used as a delivery mechanism for just about any kind of in game content. The broader reason behind all of this is the growth of mash-up culture. While the culture of any given era has almost always been influenced by that which came before it, the ease with which technology has allowed people to edit and share other people’s content has caused an explosion of remixes and mash-ups that simply wouldn’t have been possible before. Sure, every kid in the playground has asked who would win in a fight between Spider-Man and Batman, but no one then went and produced a video that actually combined the two. That all changed with the advent of YouTube.

The thing is, culture hasn’t stopped influencing itself. Mash-ups are popular, so more people make mash-ups, and then mash-ups become more popular. What was once something that fans did to amuse themselves quickly came to the attention of traditional media, slowly shaping the direction they took.

Then, of course, there’s Marvel. After decades of other companies producing mostly terrible films from their characters, Marvel finally decided they had to take control of things for themselves. I think we can all agree that this decision has been a success of the highest order, far surpassing not only the sales of their comics but the comic book industry as a whole. Iron Man 3’s US box office alone was worth nearly half of the entire North American comic industry in 2013 ($409 million versus $870 million).

Other media creators have looked at Marvel’s shared universe and decided that that’s the key to their success. I might not necessarily agree with that assessment, but it seems that I’m pretty much alone in that. Everyone wants all the characters they can get their hands on in the same space, and that’s how games like Disney Infinity and Lego Dimensions are born, and it’s these games that we’re likely to see become more and more commonplace in the near future.

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2 Comments

  1. With the first half of the article, you can see how the devs/publishers are simply milking already popular franchises and including characters for the sake of faux-fan service. However, as you mention… it’s DLC that people are obviously happy to buy so who’s to argue with market forces.

    Then again, what garners more respect from me is when devs have taken the time to integrate things properly with the game taking things into consideration from start-to-finish. It feels less shameful (with regards to what appears to be an obvious cash-in) but there’s obviously a demand for it or at least community feedback where concepts are being hit on to satiate the likes of Marvel fans, etc.

    Good topic… just weird to dissect in my humble opinion. :-)

  2. I love a good crossover – Project X Zone was a fantastic piece of fan service – and I can’t wait for Shin Megami X Fire Emblem too!

    There’s generally good fun to be had sticking your favourite characters into something else/something unexpected, as long as it still hangs together properly!

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