EA and Marvel ink superhero deal

Expect a new raft of Marvel vs. EA beat-'em-ups, complete with homemade EA superheroes.

EA and Marvel have signed an agreement which grants the publisher rights to develop and distribute a new generation of beat-'em-ups starring Marvel superheroes and a new, original cast of EA superheroes.

Under the terms of the agreement, EA's Canadian studio in British Columbia is now developing the first of what could be several "Marvel vs. EA" beat-'em-ups, reportedly due out in late 2005. The license grants rights to develop for all current and next-generation platforms, handhelds and PCs, although EA's announcement didn't clarify which platforms the first game will target.

Fans of the Marvel vs. Capcom series of beat-'em-ups, however, might well point to the series' relative lack of success particularly on Xbox in speculating on the format. On the other hand, that raises a far more important issue - how does the EA deal fit in with Marvel's existing licenses, granted to the likes of THQ for The Punisher and Activision for X-Men and Spider-Man?

According to EA representatives, the publisher is clear to use licensed characters, albeit with some restrictions. THQ declined to comment when Reuters called on Friday, but Activision CEO Bobby Kotick reportedly said that his company had opted not to license Marvel characters for fighting games due to the difficulties involved.

By the sound of it, few if any familiar faces from the Marvel universe will be off-limits for EA Canada, but that does of course still leave the question of EA's superheroes. Given that Marvel's troupe of artists and storytellers took years to sculpt the likes of Spider-Man out of the fabrics of their imagination, isn't it a bit much to expect a cast of fully realised and intriguing characters from EA within 18 months?

Apparently not if the announcement is anything to go by - as part of the deal, EA has also granted Marvel exclusive rights as worldwide licensing agent for all product and media licensing emanating from the new EA heroes. Marvel will even write comic books for them. Both companies greeted the deal warmly, and it's clear they already have "convergence" in mind in terms of the series' marketing potential.

Still, while it's an exciting development for fans of... in fact, everyone (after all, who isn't a fan of Marvel superheroes?), it'll be interesting to see how this one turns out. Since they probably won't be sending Ty the Tasmanian Tiger scampering into battle with Wolverine, or throwing Tiger Woods into a cage with Ben Grimm, EA has a lot of creative thinking to do between now and "late 2005", and one could argue that it's a risk compared to their usual polished, gimmick-driven mainstream franchises.

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