When people think of the game industry, they probably don’t draw an immediate parallel to the movie industry. Sure, both deal in entertainment, but movies and games are so fundamentally different that trying to draw parallels between them is sort of like comparing apples to oranges. However, the game industry has slowly evolved into something strikingly similar to the current Hollywood “system,” and that’s not necessarily a good thing. There are several ways that the game industry is like Hollywood and taken together, these new trends could be potentially damaging to the industry as a whole.
It’s All About Sequels and Remakes
No one can’t say that the game industry has ever been one to shy away from piling on the sequels—countless Mario and Sonic games on classic consoles are evidence of this—but this is a trend that’s gotten way out of hand. Games that don’t have at least moderate sequel potential are barely released anymore, and it seems every developer wants to be on the cusp of the next big franchise.
While it is fair to say that most people love a good sequel (when it’s good), they have the tendency to stifle creativity and stall the industry. Hollywood’s trend toward remakes and sequels hasn’t exactly generated much excitement over the years (with a few very notable exceptions); as Hollywood churns out more and more of the same, consumers get bored. The game industry would be wise to take notice of this trend and start looking less toward automatic sequels and more toward new IPs.
“Star” Developers Are Touted instead of Substance
This is one area where the game industry is taking cues from Hollywood in a slightly different direction. Often, new movies are marketed by their stars, and it’s common for moviegoers to want to see “the new Tom Hanks movie” or the “new Steven Spielberg movie.” In much the same way, players are eager to try the new game from Rockstar, BioWare, or Epic Games.
Putting the name behind the game first, before what is actually in the game, sells the content short, which can work in a game’s favor in the short term. But if the game fails to live up to expectations, this can backfire. Many an actor has promoted a horrible movie that has stalled or even ended, in extreme cases their career. Movies and games should be promoted based on their content, not who is making them.
Development Cycles Are Fueled by Early Sales
In the movie industry, decisions about movies in a series are generally made after first-week box office receipts are tallied. If the movie does well enough, that money is immediately funneled into a sequel, spinoff, or related project involving the same director or actor. Capital is almost never reserved for independent projects that are not directly related to something already out there, and any money gained is directed right back into a circular system that thrives off putting out the same old garbage.
Unfortunately, games are the same way. Decisions about making and financing sequels rely on first-week sales, and money is hardly ever directed toward new projects that aren’t at least in some way related to what’s already out there.
Fortunately, the game industry does have a leg up on Hollywood in this area: digital distribution. Independent developers have flourished on services like the PlayStation Network, WiiWare, and Xbox LIVE, and developers like Mojang, Team Meat, Thatgamecompany, and Twisted Pixel Games have found enough success in this realm to get noticed and become able to fund more unique products. But as bigger companies also take advantage of the downloadable sphere, it wouldn’t be surprising if it gets harder for smaller developers like these ones to get noticed.
Marketing Is Bigger Than Ever
Back when the gaming industry was relatively small, marketing efforts were very concentrated. Ads for new games were published in trade magazines and would find their way onto television every once in a while. Marketing was focused, inoffensive, and probably pretty effective. However, in recent years the game industry has adopted a scorched-Earth policy towards marketing their games.
Trailers played before first-run movies, city buses wrapped in logos, moving billboards, and even publicity stunts are often employed in support of new games, which can make consumers feel a bit overwhelmed. The marketing campaign for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is a good example of marketing gone extreme, and unnecessarily so.
People were already excited about the game, and most people wouldn’t think blanketing whole cityscapes in MW3 logos convinced too many additional people to buy the game, especially when that money could have gone back into the development pool for another game.
Hollywood is also guilty of this type of over-the-top marketing and has also proven that it doesn’t always work. Movies like Sucker Punch and Mars Needs Moms had serious marketing campaigns behind them, and both flopped incredibly at the box office. Consumers are smarter than companies give them credit for, and while some marketing is always necessary, going over the top is not going to convince many more people. It just takes money away from projects that could put it to better use.
How the Games Industry Could Be Better
Unfortunately, the gaming industry is taking a lot of cues from the movie industry when developing its marketing and financial strategies. However, this isn’t a good thing, and the gaming industry could be more productive if it would just buck the trend and forge its own path. By going back to the basic strategies used in the 80s and 90s, I think the gaming industry could get a lot more quality games produced, and avoid the “dip” in quality and revenue that the movie industry is currently experiencing.
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*