As videogames continue to become a more prominent part of how we spend our leisure time, Hollywood has finally decided its time to get in on the action. This isn't a particularly new thing -- there have been games based on movie properties and movies based on game characters for quite some time now, but the more recent paradigm shift involves studios getting into the business of producing games themselves. An article in the weekend edition of Variety highlights how two film giants -- Disney and Warner Bros. -- are going into the industry full force, but in slightly different ways. Maybe this means we'll actually get a good movie based on a game at some point ...
In the old days, studios would license the rights to make games based on their films and characters to a third party developer. Said developers would then churn out some craptastic experience and everyone would make money based solely on the license. The list of examples is way too long to share here, but it was (and still is in some instances) a very common practice. What's changed now is that the studios have decided to take control of their own properties by buying up developers and creating their own game studios. This can still lead to bad games (because I remain thoroughly unconvinced that Hollywood executives understand what makes a good game ... ), but now the giant studios have complete control over what happens to the characters and therefore can make even more money.
Hit the jump for more on how Disney and Warner Bros. are courting gamers.
Disney and Warner Bros. have taken this interest in gaming further than most of their competition. Both companies have been aggressive about getting into the gaming business, just with different approaches.
Disney, naturally, has targeted children and families with their games. These more "casual" gamers aren't as likely to own high end gaming PCs or all three major consoles, but they do love to play games on Facebook or gaming destinations like Pogo.com. Disney's plan is to release more content for social networking sites in hopes of dethroning current king of the hill Zynga (who bring you such classic timewasters as Mafia Wars and Farmville). Disney hopes to make money by creating not only an online gaming destination -- something it's already done with Club Penguin, a subscription-based service -- but through encouraging "microtransactions". Microtransactions are online sales where a player will buy something to spruce up their character or make the game different -- like new songs in a music game, or new cars in a racing title, for example. Microtransactions are controversial in the console and PC gaming community because they're seen as "nickel and diming" players who've already spent $50-$60 on a game, but in the online world, they're generally more accepted.
Disney isn't eschewing console games completely, but they are focusing on the growing social networking phenomenon primarily. Apparently, we can expect games based on the Marvel universe, Pirates of the Caribbean and other Disney characters in the not too distant future. The potential pitfall here, as Variety mentions, is that kids are a fickle audience and keeping their attention from month to month (which ensures Disney is getting their subscription fee) is going to be tricky. Club Penguin has had some issues in this same area.
Warner Bros. is taking a more traditional approach -- aiming primarily at the console and PC gaming market. With successes like the Lego games based on Batman, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Harry Potter as well as last year's gritty hit Batman: Arkham Asylum, the strategy has worked so far. With Warners getting the rights back to Lord of the Rings from Electronic Arts, their stable of potential game franchises is looking strong. WB isn't forgetting about the kid market either -- there are plans afoot to bring Sesame Street games to a console near you soon.
The potential snag in Warner's plan is that console and PC games have long development cycles and cost a lot to develop (console games now have production budgets in the millions of dollars). Console and PC gamers are more demanding about graphics and gameplay and if a game doesn't live up to expectations, negative word of mouth spreads quickly. One or two "misses" in this market can spell doom for a developer. There's definitely a risk involved with entering this market -- particularly since most gamers equate "licensed game" with "total garbage."
At any rate, it's an interesting time to be a gamer and movie fan. The negative stigma of games based on movies may still be prevalent, but we have seen a great deal of improvement in the past few years. It will be interesting to see how gaming continues to evolve and how Hollywood capitalizes (or fails to) on this new revenue stream.
And now, it's question time. Of the two approaches, do you like Disney's casual social media gaming and subscription-based service, or Warner's more traditional console and PC set-up? Share your thoughts below.