The Film Industry Sure Sounds A Lot Like The Game Industry

What do films and video games have in common? Nobody really knows what they're doing. A long lecture by film director Steven Soderberg has been making the rounds over the past 24 hours. It's an interesting read with some good thoughts on the film studio system, the idea of "cinema" and the role of independent film. It should also sound really familiar if you follow the video game industry.

See, while reading Soderbergh's thoughts on Deadline today, I couldn't help but notice some blatant parallels between film and gaming. For example:

Speaking of meetings, the meetings have gotten pretty weird. There are fewer and fewer executives who are in the business because they love movies. There are fewer and fewer executives that know movies. So it can become a very strange situation. I mean, I know how to drive a car, but I wouldn’t presume to sit in a meeting with an engineer and tell him how to build one, and that’s kind of what you feel like when you’re in these meetings. You’ve got people who don’t know movies and don’t watch movies for pleasure deciding what movie you’re going to be allowed to make. That’s one reason studio movies aren’t better than they are, and that’s one reason that cinema, as I’m defining it, is shrinking.

Sounds like the world of big video game publishers, don't you think? We hear so often — and this is generalising, of course — about executives at big game companies who just don't play games. Replace the word "movies" with "video games" in that paragraph and it sounds almost word-for-word what some game publisher meetings are like.

Also, as Soderbergh writes, nobody in the film world really knows whether something will be a hit or a flop:

So the obstacle here isn’t just that special subject matter, but that nobody has figured out how to reduce the cost of putting a movie out. There have been some attempts to analyse it, but one of the mysteries is that this analysis doesn’t really reveal any kind of linear predictive behaviour, it’s still mysterious the process whereby people decide if they’re either going to go to a movie or not go to a movie. Sometimes you don’t even know how you reach them. Like on Magic Mike for instance, the movie opened to $US38 million, and the tracking said we were going to open to 19. So the tracking was 100% wrong. It’s really nice when the surprise goes in that direction, but it’s hard not to sit there and go how did we miss that? If this is our tracking, how do you miss by that much?

This might sound familiar to Square Enix, perhaps the most recent victim of tracking gone wrong. The Japanese publisher expected to sell 5-6 million copies of Tomb Raider; instead they sold 3.4 million. Their predictions were totally wrong (and rather unreasonable).

Go read all of Soderbergh's lecture: it's fascinating, and the parallels really are uncanny.


Comments

    Interesting, might have a look at some point.

    A couple of points:
    1. Steve appears to be suffering from something called 'Moral Panic.'
    2. He sidesteps his own question of whether 'expensive to produce art' is justifiable by answering his own question with 'it's not bad.' Steve, that wasn't the question you posed. The question was, is it justifiable? If you have an Ocean's 11 cinema set costing $60,000 per day in electricity, the question isn't 'is it bad or is it good.' The question is, what else could you be doing with that money that would have a more beneficial impact to humans.' Presumably, he doesn't answer his own question as a denial/defence mechanism: I can empathise with that deep seated fear that what you're doing isn't valuable compared to other activities, but I'd prefer Steve acknowledge that than, well, basically, lie about his motivations for the 'rant.'

    Neil Gaiman once wrote in Sandman something to the effect of, 'Everyone knows the truth about existence, we just choose not to acknowledge it.' A mental survival mechanism, if you will. I kinda agree with it, except that when I stop to acknowledge that everything I know and believe in is a self-imposed construct, I find the joy I see in my wife/child's/parents/friends/dogs eyes as perfectly acceptable reasons to exist.

    Or, as Jim Gordon once said. " I think of Sarah. The rest is easy."

    Interesting parallel but ignoring a whole lot of context of how different the industries are and different sets of problems they are facing.

    Independent/foreign cinema is also widely more available, successful and flourishing due to technology opening things up both in the process of making a film and even distrubution/finding audiences. Indie games while selling well every now and then are hardly the tip of the spear in gaming.

    Another point is that things like royalties don't exist for the usage of video games. Copying of TV content does generate certain royalties and influences spending and budgets.

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