As of yesterday (Jan. 1), Activision and Marvel have ended their 16-year partnership. If you're looking to download some of their jointly produced titles on Xbox Live, PSN or Steam, you're out of luck. If you're in the market to purchase Activision Marvel titles, you may be in for a rough ride, especially if you game on a PC.
Although publisher Activision (best known for its blockbuster "Call of Duty" franchise) has produced 35 Marvel titles (34 of which were part of the original 1998 licensing agreement), it is unlikely to produce any more in the future. When Disney acquired the rights to Marvel and all its properties in 2009, it had the opportunity to renew its ties with Activision, but elected to let them expire instead.
In practical terms, this means that as of Jan. 1, 2014, consumers can no longer buy Activision/Marvel games from digital download platforms. Users will be unable to download fan favorites such as "Spider-Man: Web of Shadows" and "Deadpool," as well as real clunkers like "X-Men Destiny" and "Spider-Man: Edge of Time," among other titles.
This is not necessarily disastrous news for consumers, as the Activision Marvel games tended to be hit-or-miss and most gamers interested in playing them have likely already done so. However, if you've just caught a good sale on an Xbox 360 or a PS3 or built your own gaming rig, it'd be shame to go without the gory catharsis of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" or the surprisingly decent open world of "The Amazing Spider-Man."
On consoles, tracking down these games is not hard. Any company that specializes in used games, from Amazon to GameStop to eBay, will have these games in great supply, although they're about to get much more expensive.
Having these games available as digital downloads meant that there was more or less a ceiling on the prices. If the only way to play them is to buy used copies, prices may shoot up — at least for good games. Out-of-print or not, no one is chomping at the bit to buy a bad game like "Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions."
PC gamers will have a considerably harder time. As digital download platforms such as Steam and Origin have conquered the PC gamer market, DVD copies of games have just about vanished. You can still walk into a retail store and buy a PC game, although you'll be getting a code for a digital download rather than a disc. That won't do you any good if the game no longer exists on that platform.
Users who already own these games on platforms like Steam have nothing to worry about, however. Although new users won't be able to buy copies, existing users will be able to re-download and reinstall these games to their heart's content.
Otherwise, buying DVD software via Amazon or the budget section of a big box store such as Best Buy might be your best bet. Older games like "Spider-Man: Web of Shadows" are available on disc for less than $10 (opens in new tab), although newer games like "Deadpool" are not available at all. Be cautious of buying used PC games, too: They're often worthless without a product key, and the first owner likely already used his or hers.
Keep in mind, too, that this is not the end of all downloadable Marvel games. From the online role-playing game "Marvel Heroes" from Gazillion, to Traveller's Tales' kid-friendly action/adventure "Lego Marvel Super Heroes," Marvel licenses extend beyond Activision. Games released by other publishers are not affected by the contract's expiration.
Who will produce the next Marvel action games is also an interesting question, although Disney has not provided any hints yet. Gameloft has produced a number of mobile action titles starring Marvel heroes such as Thor and Captain America, and Sega has overseen movie tie-ins to the "Iron Man" series. Neither company has much experience developing original superhero titles on home consoles or PCs, though.
Given how popular the Marvel films and comics have become, it's only a matter of time until Disney contracts a new publisher. That said, the current titles will likely stay as they are: available on disc, gone forever in digital.