Science fiction / fantasy have given us some of our most enduring and powerful Deeply Immersive Narrative Universes (DINUs). Tolkein’s Middle Earth, Herbert’s Dune, Roddenberry’s Star Trek, and perhaps the biggest of all: Lucas’s Star Wars Universe. The places, characters and events of the Star Wars Universe are ingrained in pop culture. As a result, Lucas and his companies (and an entire cottage industry) have reaped the financial benefits.
I’m not a hardcore game guy like my friend Rich Gallagher over at Liquid Architecture, but I follow it enough that I was puzzled to see ads for Soul Calibur IV, a game franchise I wasn’t familiar with, that featured Darth Vader and Yoda. Soul Calibur, which is a popular and critical favorite among the gaming world, is not part of the Star Wars (Gaming) Universe. So why would Lucas allow two of his most important properties to appear in an unaffiliated game? Soul Calibur is a Namco game, not Lucas Arts. I’m puzzled by this seemingly short-term decision.
But let’s be honest, at this point, a cameo by Darth Vader and Yoda in a non-Star Wars video game is not going to bring ruin to the Star Wars franchise any more than the 1978 Holiday Special did.
But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the brand you manage doesn’t have the equity of Star Wars. Creating and protecting your DINU is critical to developing a relationship with your consumers. They have to believe in the integrity of the DINU. That’s where the magic is. It’s tempting to create partnerships, cross-overs or other deals to expand your audience, but you have to respect your hardcore fans as well. If you’ve created a niche product with a DINU, eventually it will be very tempting to take it to Target or McDonalds or some other mass channel, but once you do that you risk passing the point of no return. Grant McCracken talks about this in Flock & Flow.
I guess I’m a bit of a purist on this one, I don’t see that Lucas’ short term gain is worth the loss of credibility with old time hard core Star Wars fans like me. Perhaps the kids who grew up on the Second Trilogy – the ones most likely to play Soul Calibur IV – don’t have a problem with this. But it’s not a risk I would want to take with my brand after I had spent so much time creating the best known Deeply Immersive Narrative Universe.