The Show Must Go On

The Los Angeles Times takes a look at the neverending trend of movie-based video games. Perhaps surprisingly, considering the reputation movie licenses have for being money in the bank, the article's author notes that licenses may not be the guarantee they're cracked up to be. Ubisoft's tie-in Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie, designed by the acclaimed Michel Ancel (Beyond Good & Evil), was hailed as one of the all time best examples of a film to game adaptation. Despite the hype and the positive critical reaction, the game apparently didn't see the kind of retail sales that were expected from such a high profile property. Ubisoft still considers the game a success in terms of the positive effect it had on the company's interactions with Hollywood, and soon after the game's release, Ubisoft president Yves Guillemot noted that he'd like to see 25% of the company's revenue come from movie licenses.
Movie producers and game designers have tried for decades to cash in on each other's appeal with movies based on games and with games based on movies. Flops have far outnumbered hits. Even as technical differences erode -- games are more cinematic, movies rely heavily on computer effects -- the gap between the two remains difficult to bridge.

Only one game with a movie tie-in, "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith," ranked among the top 10 best-selling U.S. titles of 2005, according to NPD Group video game analyst Anita Frazier. In contrast, Frazier said, "King Kong" came in 72nd.

With the cost of game development continually rising, particularly with the current console transition, many are reevaluating the benefits of movie licenses, which are often very expensive for publishers to acquire. Activision just spend an estimated $70M on the Bond license, but that opportunity was only made available after Electronic Arts dropped the license to move away from content not entirely controlled in-house.

As most gamers know, movies and games have not traditionally been nearly as compatible as many Hollywood and game publisher executives have hoped. Still, more and more Hollywood filmmakers have expressed interest in moving into the video game space, even in the case of games that are not solely adapdations. Last year, Electronic Arts announced that Steven Spielberg will be contributing to several upcoming video games. Action director John Woo is making what is essentially a sequel to his classic film Hard Boiled, but instead of a movie, the followup is a standalone video game. Actor Vin Diesel's game studio Tigon has contributed to Starbreeze's Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay (a rare example of a well-received film adaptation) and an upcoming original property The Wheelman, which is being developed both as a game and a film.

Despite the less than promising results of the past, it seems that the possible payoffs from a crossover between two incredibly lucrative industries are simply too attractive for game publishers and film studios. Expect the film-to-game trend (and vice versa) to be relentlessly pursued, with the occasional success fueling the fire.