Who Currently Owns the IP for the Monkey Island Series and Who Will Develop the Next Title?

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Kyle Smith

Publish Date:

19 Jan 2021

Back in the early 90’s, our old DOS based systems were graced with some of the best Point-n-Click adventures games out there, but most notable of all, Monkey Island! The game was known for its extremely sharp wit, light-hearted humour, and overall silliness. Protagonist Guybrush Threepwood was a hero who had absolutely none of your typical hero qualities, except a “wit as sharp as a sword”. Insulting, spitting, stealing and smooth talking his way through his adventures, our hero Guybrush would ensue comedy in nearly every given situation, where he would break the 4th wall and comment to the gamers as he progressed through his journey. In 2013 Disney acquired LucasArts in the interest of gaining control of Star Wars and ultimately shut the games development arm down, leaving fans with a sour taste in their mouth. Quite commonly people wonder who owns the rights to Monkey Island, as the game was written and directed by Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer who both split off into different directions in the game development world. The simple answer is that LucasFilm Games owns the rights to the game, but it goes so much deeper than that. So, let’s talk about where these 2 influential writers are today. To note, Dave Grossman was the programmer for these games and was a huge part in the creation of Monkey Island 1 and 2. Although he left the duo and has went on to work for different development companies since, showing no particular interest in Monkey Island since.

Tim Schafer after leaving LucasArts went on to create a Development company called Double Fine Productions. The company did work with LucasArts on game, pre-Disney, making games such as Full Throttle and Grim Fandango. Monkey Island however, was created prior to Double Fines founding in the year 2000 making it the property of LucasArts. Though, Tim Schafer has created some absolutely fantastic games with Double Fine such as Psychonauts, Brutal Legend and The Cave. In 2019 Double Fine was acquired by Microsoft, in which the team has been funded to create the sequel to Psychonauts. Tim Schafer has never explicitly stated his views on the idea of his original games being under the control of Disney, although has simply shown a passion to move on and work on new IP’s and manage his Double Fine library of games, as opposed to re-visiting his older games, which we will get to in moment.

Ron Gilbert took a quite different approach to games development to that of Tim, where Gilbert experimented for a while, opening a games development company called Cavedog Entertainment, creating a blog under the guise of ‘Grumpy Gamer’ and working on games, more aligned in the indie scene by collaborating and eventually joining Hothead Games. In this time Gilbert supported with games such as Penny Arcade and became the creative director of DeathSpank. At this time LucasArts had given Gilbert an opportunity to support the episodic adventure games creators, Tell Tale Games and in making the next Monkey Island instalment. Gilberts primary involvement was supporting the brainstorming events of the games story during early development. Unlike Schafer, Ron Gilbert has actively shown an interest publicly in re-claiming Monkey Islands rights, and even tweeted Disney directly asking them to sell him the Monkey Island IP shortly after they closed down LucasArts.

So, now we know who owns the IP and who’s interesting in progressing it, let’s talk about the concept/rumour that LucasFilm Games might be pitching for another instalment to this popular adventure game. The rumour comes from multiple sources, ranging from Disney speaking with Microsoft, through to Disney speaking with Double Fine. To be honest, I don’t know how much I trust these rumours although based on the past events, I can’t imagine that it would be easy to get all 3 of the original creators to return. I personally think that its most likely that both Grossman and Gilbert would be likely to return, whilst Tim Schafer might be a bit more reluctant to join. Tim Schafer has the most established career out of them both, in having his ties to Xbox and running Double Fine. He is actively polishing Psychonauts 2 with his development team and has started the journey of planning an entirely new IP. Schafer also stated that he no longer wanted to look back at the past, but instead wanted to be developing brand new shiny games. He can be found quoting the following: “Let me tell you, next game is not going to be a sequel […] Starting with – Broken Age, which it sort of got a nostalgia thing cause it’s an adventure game […] that was a little bit of a retro thing and we did all those remasters of Grim and Throttle and Day of the Tentacle which is great fun, but that was also kind of a trip to the past. And now we’re doing Psychonauts 2 which is a sequel so I feel like ever since 2012 I have been looking backwards a little bit and I’m like ‘okay, for now on after this game – for a long time we’re just gonna do original and new stuff.’ Brand new; shiny new stuff.” This statement doesn’t secure the fact that Schafer won’t return, as he knows as well as anyone else that Monkey Island is a beloved game series, with a pretty active fan-base (still). Although, with him not returning to the Tales of Monkey Island like Gilbert, it does give some nod to his mindset about working on his history with games.

In summary, I can’t predict the future and maybe Disney is securing a deal with Microsoft as we speak, looking to put Double Fine onto a brand-new Monkey Island game, or even that maybe Disney don’t ever want to do another Monkey Island. But based on the past and the events in the gaming world, I feel that if Disney were pitching the game, it is more likely that we would see a Gilbert and Grossman Monkey Island, rather than one with Schafer involved. Let’s hope I’m wrong and we can get a Monkey Island game with all 3 at the helm, which ideally releases for all consoles and PC platforms! Because everyone deserves to play such an amazing series, backed by some of the best humour.

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