The Acitivision Suit

For the last few years, several mainstream media publications, including Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide, have run pieces trying to dissect what is wrong with the Star Trek franchise. Many of their theories overlapped, several of which I agreed with and several I felt were missing the point.

What was clear, though, was that Paramount’s franchise was in trouble as ratings dipped, first on Voyager and then on Enterprise, coupled with the disastrous box office results of Nemesis.

The one developing story that I really wanted to see play out, though, just got settled out of court. Two years ago, Activision filed suit against Paramount, accusing them of ruining the franchise and therefore hurting Activision’s ability to profit from games based on Nemesis.

In memory, this was the first time a licensee sued the licensor for harming the property. Had this gone to court, the arguments on both sides would have been, ahem, fascinating to observe.

Instead, the entire matter was avoided with a settlement that left the terms undisclosed.

Acitvision will go on making their games and Paramount has recently annoucned plans for an eleventh feature film, yet another look backwards to the origins of the Federation and Starfleet.

One comment

  • I, too, was interested in this suit, largely because of the industry in which I work. Even now I get people asking, “What Star Trek games do you have?” To think, there was a time when we merchandised a special Star Trek section in our stores. Not now–there’s nothing to stock.

    Activision is something like the sixth or eighth largest video game publisher in the world. Activision got there through its movie licenses. Spider-Man 1 and 2. Shrek 2. Activision doesn’t have a lot of original properties to exploit–the World War II shooter Call of Duty, Doom III, a few others–so they rely on IP licenses to move their games.

    And that means striking while the iron is hot. And by that I mean, synergy. Simultaneous release of movie and game. Spider-Man. Shrek.

    Other companies do it, too. Vivendi released the craptacular Van Helsing game simultaneous with the film. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King launched prior to the film’s release, and was one of the most critically acclaimed games of 2003. Enter the Matrix launched alongside The Matrix Reloaded and, despite sucky gameplay, went on to be one of the best-selling games of 2003.

    And then there’s the synergy between the Star Wars films and their games. Republic Commando, in stores now, is billed as the prequal to Episode III, while there will be a rash of Episode III games in the next three months (including Lego Star Wars, the one I’m anticipating the most).

    The games are, essentially, a coat-tail product, and the companies making them know that.

    My understanding is that Activision’s main complaint was that Paramount thwarted their plans to make a Nemesis game for simultaneous release with the film in 2002, leaving them with a sticker on the front of Starfleet Command III calling out Nemesis as coming soon to theaters which really helped no one cross-promote and cross-pollinate their products. I’m genuinely curious what kind of game Activision might have made to ride on the film’s coat-tails. We’ll never know.

    Ultimately, Activision made a bad deal. They paid too much money for a franchise that, despite the best possible brand name recognition, wasn’t exploitable in the gaming market in the same way that other licenses–Star Wars, Spider-Man, even the excretable Van Helsing–were. That’s really what the lawsuit came down to. It wasn’t so much about the franchise being broken, though that’s the way it was reported in the media. It was about how the franchise was marketed.