You couldn’t go anywhere over the last few weeks without hearing about The Hunger Games. From non-stop TV ads to countless articles to seemingly everyone you know chatting about it, anticipation for The Hunger Games movie hit epic proportions. It was like the last episode of Seinfeld, the Superbowl, and the moon landing all rolled into one.
Feeding this hype was a well-oiled marketing machine that knew all of the right buttons to press, and one of those buttons was launching two Hunger Games video games the same day as the movie. One of those two games materialized. The other didn’t.
Promising players a chance to explore the world of Panem first hand, The Hunger Games Adventures by Funtactix was scheduled to launch on March 23rd to coincide with the release of the motion picture. When we first heard about this, we couldn’t help but think it strange. Why wait until the launch of the movie? Wouldn’t it make more sense to launch in advance to help fuel the hype?
But I suppose being paired to the film release could have its advantages too; if word of the game began to spread just as moviegoers were exiting the theatres, the adoption rate could be huge. And with a $155 million opening weekend, that’s a lot of potential players.
But alas, now it's a lot of missed opportunity.
As I write this, it is Monday, March 26th. The film’s opening weekend – the highest point of buzz most movies get – is officially behind us. And The Hunger Games Adventures is still nowhere to be seen. What’s more, visiting the Facebook page for the game encourages players to sign up for the beta to get in early, but more than a few potential players have been complaining about never receiving an email to get access (myself included). It would seem that beta access is determined by as random a lottery as The Reaping itself (and no – putting your name in more than once doesn’t net you any extra food or fuel).
We reached out to Funtactix over the weekend to ask what’s up, but their response was less than clear: “We're still in Closed Beta and will be announcing movement into the next development phase shortly.”
My first thought was that maybe the response to the game was so overwhelming that they weren’t prepared to support as many players as a public launch would necessitate, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that can’t be the situation. Our own Joel Brodie had a chance to check out The Hunger Games Adventures at GDC, and in his preview reported that “when I spoke with Funtactix about the possibility of millions of Katniss-wannabes swarming their game on day one, they assured me that their game is designed to very scalable, and they are excited about the prospect of a crowded game world on day one.”
So what could the holdup be? Is the game unfinished? Are their technical problems? Or are they worried that the game will no doubt suffer the same criticisms that are being heaped onto everything else Hunger Games that hit this weekend?
Let’s face facts: the reviews of the mobile game Hunger Games: Girl on Fire haven’t exactly been glowing. Sure there was a superstar indie team behind the game, but it was very much a one trick pony and was over just as soon as it began. And then there’s the criticism about the movie itself.
Gamezebo isn’t a film site so I’m going to try to keep my thoughts on this short, but despite what Rotten Tomatoes might suggest, anyone who has read the book and isn’t a 14 year old girl is going to walk out of that theatre terribly disappointed. Brandon Judell of the blog Culture Catch really hit the nail on the head: “This is sort of a BookRags.com take on a classic. You get the characters and the plot basics, but the art is missing. And without the art and the details of Katniss's world, you are stuck with characters just going through the motions of an epic tale.”
Are the folks at Funtactix worried about a similar criticism? After all, simply creating a virtual playground of Panem for players to explore could easily go astray, missing the point of the book entirely (as the film did in my opinion). If that’s a serious concern for Funtactix, I can see why they might be hesitant to release their game right now. Waiting a few weeks (or even a month) until the film ceases to be cultural zeitgeist could help dull the negative feelings many of the books fans are experiencing right now.
Either way, even with my recent disappointment in the film and mobile game, it’s hard to not look forward to another opportunity to visit Panem. Here’s to hoping that Funtactix doesn’t make us wait too long, no matter what the reason for the delay might actually be.