Wednesday, May 14, 2008

When You're Backed into a Corner

Take a look at this first (skim it if you're impatient).

While you're at it, try to skim through the comments as best you can. I can wait.

Basically, what Leigh Alexander of Sexy Videogame Land is trying to say is that games have been 'discovered' by mainstream movies just as comics were 'discovered' by mainstream movies in the late 70's, early 80's. See the first Superman movie, the first Batman movie for examples. Of course the Reeves Superman was a child of the Star Wars science fiction movie boom, but the Keaton Batman was an attempt to take the commercial success of the Frank Miller "grim and gritty" Batman character and punch it up for film release.

So now that game movies have found a few AAA releases (see: Halo movie, WoW movie, and now the Bioshock movie) are they headed for a Star Wars style boom, followed by a decline, followed by a set of serious movies ten years later that actually explore the possibilities involved? Most likely.

Is there any way to stop this train? Not a chance.

That's the reason for the title of this post, it's from the entertaining picture Leigh Alexander used for the header of her thread. An image from Paranoia Agent. The idea is that, when you're backed into a corner, you can call on this boy with a baseball bat ("Little Slugger") to come and knock you on the head and solve all your problems.

In a sense, games feel 'backed into a corner' right now - everyone talks about the '7 billion dollars a year' industry, everyone wants a piece of that pie. Kids want some of that money making games. Stores want some of that money selling games. Movie studios and baseball players, and so on, want to buy in now so they'll be all set for the waters to keep rising. And they hear the best way to buy in is with a big chunk - so they go right for the AAA games and the MMOs, and most of them are DOA.
But enough new chumps are lined up at the door, so there's not much worry that AAA games will stop being made.

Until, of course, the bubble pops - and Viacom unloads Activision for a song, or whatever. Then a lot of money men will be unhappy, but more importantly, a lot of game developers and publishers will be out of jobs for a while.

So why are games backed into a corner? Because small developers can't afford to live on one small title at a time, and larger developers tend to depend on larger titles. And larger titles need more money, which puts them more in thrall to the people with the money. Which makes them dependent on the boom and bust cycle of the market. So they're in a tough place with no way to get out.

Why off on the tangent - what's this got to do with movies? Well, movies are one of the directions suits like to go in when they have no idea what to do. Say you're on the board of Viacom and you don't like the projections for Activision's next quarter. Maybe a AAA game got canceled or postponed or poorly reviewed, and you know if the money projection isn't where it needs to be, shareholders will lower the price of your stock, and you'll be sad. What to do? Increase 'shareholder value' by trading on existing properties in a new medium.

So we get toys, we get card games, and finally we get movies. But movies are very, very hard to do right, and so far the rate of successful big budget game movies getting made (much less showing a profit) is 0%. Everyone in the business ought to recognize by now that the hill is steep and there's a gunner's nest on the top. But the generals keep ordering one more push...

Ultimately there will be successful game movies made, without a doubt. I just wish they'd go to the indie market first. There are a lot of smaller filmmakers that could do something very interesting with a Silent Hill-type property (of course not Silent Hill; that bird has flown). But that wouldn't help the suits make their next quarter projections, so it won't happen.

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