Before we start I do know all about Golden Eye, the exception that proves the rule. This was made by Rare at the height of their pomp yet ironically by a very inexperienced team there. It sold over 8 million copies back in 1997 and is considered a seminal game in the development of video gaming as a media. But one success in 30 years of trying does not make video games spun off from films a good idea.
Compare and contrast Golden Eye with Avatar from Ubisoft, this has turned out to be a very damp squib which is very rare from Ubisoft, who are perhaps the best performing publisher in this generation of game consoles. Yet it is based on what is already one of the highest grossing films of all time. And they did everything right. But still they would have done better commercially if they had used their resources to produce a game from one of their existing properties.
So why do games made from films do so badly?
- Films, like the books they are so often derived from, are sequential media. One frame follows the next in an unbroken sequence from beginning to end. This sequence is used to tell a story, usually in the time proven three act structure. Games however are non sequential and often don’t tell a story. Instead the best games allow the player enormous latitude to do what they want, when they want. The most non linear games are called sandbox games, Elite being one of the all time classics and Grand Theft Auto being a massively successful current franchise.
- The film industry sees video games purely as just another form of merchandise for the film and another income stream. Their priority is getting people into movie theatres and getting them to buy DVDs. They may pay lip service to video games but the reality is that their concern is secondary at best. In fact the film company should be paying the game publisher to make the game, not vice versa as it is now. The game is valuable marketing for the film.
- Films are not interactive, you sit down and get comfortable and then the film is imposed on you, you have no influence whatsoever over events. Video games are the exact opposite, they are very highly interactive, the player directly influences events on screen. So one is a passive media, the other is an active media. Also films are totally lacking of the fundamental mechanism of games where the player is rewarded for their success.
- Perceptions. Because of its history, star structure and ubiquitous marketing the film industry is perceived as being bigger and more important than the video game industry. It isn’t. The biggest grossing first week of an entertainment property was a game, Modern Warfare 2, the second biggest was also a game, Grand Theft Auto IV. The biggest games now do half a billion dollars in their first week. And Modern Warfare 2 has already gone on to gross over a billion dollars, something that only 5 films have ever managed to do. World of Warcraft has outgrossed every film in history.
- Huge difference in development timetables and philosophy. A film spends a long time in pre and post production. Actually shooting the footage is immensely expensive for every day, so is compressed into as short a timeframe as possible. Mainstream console games contain vastly more human labour than films do. A large and highly skilled team will spend two years or more working long hours to generate the content. There is (wrongly) very little pre or post production. So when a film and a game work together for a simultaneous release there are massive problems. Tellingly the Golden Eye game was release two years after the film.
So there we have it, games and films need completely different creativity and content, they are like oil and water. And it works both ways. Films made from games are pretty rubbish too.