If you haven’t seen Avatar yet then you owe it to yourself to correct this omission as soon as possible. Avatar is a hugely significant jump in what constitutes human culture and its ramifications will impact heavily on the future of all entertainment media worldwide. Gaming will be influenced enormously.
I have written here before about entertainment media increasingly supporting just two sorts of output, blockbusters and niche products. We are seeing this in games, television and in film. Avatar is the blockbuster of all blockbusters. Rupert Murdoch invested $300 million in the making of it. Already it is the fastest film to reach a billion dollars of box office receipts. These are heady figures but, increasingly, this sort of commitment will be what is needed in order to play with the big boys. Which in turn will lead to further publisher consolidation so as to be able to handle the financial risk. Middle sized IP publishers will just not be able to play with the huge numbers involved.
Obviously Avatar is a global release. If you are not global then you will be out performed by competitors that are. Only global sales can bring in the returns necessary to fund the huge investments.
Avatar is a technical tour de force. Real film footage seamlessly integrates with motion capture, CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) and, my favourite, true facial expressions on the CGI characters. Humans communicate emotion using an array of facial muscles which are in continual movement. Previous CGI attempts (Gollum, Jar Jar Binks) to replicate this have been less than convincing, making a mouth wider is not a realistic smile. Avatar got round this by continuously recording the actors’ faces during motion capture and then merging the footage of the expressions into the CGI. There are lessons here for the game industry as we continually strive towards realistic representation.
Another lesson of Avatar is that it is new and original IP. This is not Jaws 47, or whatever. Avatar is part one of a planned trilogy. The second and third parts will obviously be easier to make as all the groundwork is done. However as old IPs become tired we need a constant pipeline of new IPs to serve to the public. Whilst some, like Hornblower, Biggles and Poirot are strong enough to survive many iterations, most reach their sell by date much earlier. Console gaming has been very weak for new IP, especially from third party publishers. We really do need to allow creativity and imagination to flower and Avatar can be held up as a superb example of how successful this can be.
Then there is 3D. The temptation is to use 3D to create spectacular effects. The problem with this is that it reduces the audiences’ sense of immersion. Avatar, very cleverly, does the opposite and uses 3D to increase the sense of immersion. It is an immense success and surely sets a benchmark for the future of 3D in screen based entertainment. 3D is set to become the norm for films, television and gaming. A whole new age has just opened up.
Of course the success of Avatar is not just down to artistic merit. As I have pointed out on here marketing is three times more important than game quality. So it will come as no surprise that Murdoch invested $150 million into the marketing of Avatar, for a total spend of $450 million in bringing this film to its public. There is no point in making fabulous IP if you don’t communicate effectively with your potential customers.
The overall effect of this (and very much more that went into Avatar) is to create a must see event. The force of compulsion to see this film is immense, making it a significant collective human experience. Also, like the original Star Wars trilogy, it will support repeated viewings and will enter into the human psyche. Video games are still a long way from doing this.