The company behind the Marvel and X-Men: United board games, as well as - bafflingly - PAW Patrol, have secured a deal with Sony Interactive Entertainment to produce physical toy and game lines for several of their biggest digital series, such as God of War, The Last of Us and Horizon Zero Dawn.
As The Hollywood Reporter wrote, Spin Master’s new licensing deal allows them to create the expected action figures, puzzles, plushies and collectibles lines, but also included in the list are tabletop RPGs (spelled role-playing games in the article, but we don’t hold grudges). This means the possibility of licensed tabletop games featuring Horizon Zero Dawn’s post-post-apocalyptic western United States or the, uh… regularly apocalyptic United States in The Last of Us has taken a tangible step towards reality.
Spin Master has only reported plans for toy lines beginning in spring 2024, but the agreement gives them access to both current and future video games created and owned by Sony during the entirety of its multi year length.
Some of Sony’s most popular titles fall into what’s colloquially called prestige video games, a moniker borrowed from character-heavy television dramas such as The Sopranos and Breaking Bad. Also borrowed from their silver screen counterparts is a predilection for older, reluctant father figures forced into the role of caregiver by circumstance and a heart that bleeds just a bit too much. The Last of Us and God of War are standout examples of these dad stories, and while the world backdropping their narratives would serve as passable settings, these entries tend to focus on an ensemble of characters in a specific place and time - not exactly the best foundation for a tabletop RPG.
More likely candidates would be Horizon Zero Dawn, with its deeply realised American west populated by people who have survived a global devastation at the hands of mechanical monstrosities - even if it does get appropriative with the indigenous iconography. Killzone, Guerilla Games’ more dismal view of a world engulfed by violence, has enough meat on its worldbuilding bones to support an RPG setting, at the very least.
Spin Master’s game division has a robust history as a publisher of board and card games. Their most well known titles are Marvel United and the follow-up, X-Men United. The Canadian-based company also helps make Santorini and the Marvel-themed social deduction game, Hail Hydra. If they wanted to step a toe into the tabletop RPG waters, expect another studio with experience bringing licensed properties to the realm of pen and paper. Steamforged Games has already worked within Horizon’s world for a board game and recently published the troubled Dark Souls RPG.
Licensed TRPGs have been gaining a fair bit of momentum in the tabletop Market over the past couple of years. Crowdfunding successes such as Magpie Game’s Avatar Legends capitalised on an existing fanbase, while publisher Renegade Games continues to pull from the well of nostalgia with RPG adaptations of G.I. Joe, Power Rangers and Transformers. There’s even a Cowboy Bebop RPG coming to Kickstarter sometime this year that focuses on recreating the feel of the original anime over Netflix’s poorly received live-action translation.
Sony likes safe bets. The massive financial success of The Last Us, Part 2 likely greenlit the upcoming HBO television series starring Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey. While a big series with bigger names on the studio that hosted Game of Thrones to the bitter end doesn’t guarantee success, the production will have enough revenue to at least look slick.
And perhaps that’s my worry with the idea of licensed RPGs becoming the flavour du jour - record-breaking Kickstarter funds or the financial security that comes with one of Sony’s precious children will no doubt produce a beautiful, well constructed tabletop book but cannot promise quality design.