Games Confab Shows Movie-Based Games Have Evolved29 Apr, 2009 By: Chris Tribbey
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — It’s widely considered one of the greatest commercial video game disasters of all time: Hot on the heels of Steven Spielberg’s wildly successful E.T. — The Extra-Terrestrial, in 1982 Atari rushed to market the game of the same name.
Developed in less than six weeks, the game was universally panned by critics. Millions of units were reportedly left unsold, Atari posted a $500 million-plus loss in 1983, and the video game industry crashed in 1984. Thousands of copies of the Atari 2600 game still sit in a New Mexico landfill.
“E.T. was a disaster,” said John Kavanagh, SVP of video games for Paramount Digital Entertainment. However, he and representatives from both the studios and the video game industry were on hand April 28 at the L.A. Games Conference to show that when it comes to movies and video games, a lot has been learned since then.
“Twenty-seven years ago, Atari and Universal release E.T. for the 2600,” said Bill Kispert, VP of interactive for NBC Universal, as he held up one of the Atari 2600 cartridges. “Three weeks ago, Atari and Universal released Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. A lot has stayed the same. But a lot has changed in terms of understanding between [studios and game developers].”
Approaching the once-wary studios about video game tie-ins has become a lot easier for developers since the studios have seen their properties become successful on DVD and on gaming consoles.
“It was a tough process to go through, but it was well worth it from our perspective,” said Dave Long, CEO and founder of Exponential Entertainment. Long is the inventor of one of Hollywood’s more successful gaming lines, the "Scene It?" interactive DVD board games.
“Game developers open up a new distribution avenue for the studios,” he said, adding that Warner Bros. has done exceptionally well recently tying in games to its properties, including the “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” franchises.
“We’re finding new ways to think of games earlier on in the process,” said Spencer Hunt, VP of game development and digital delivery for Sony Pictures Television. “It used to be an afterthought. … Now we’re seeing we can move the high-res assets of a film [to a game].”
He said that directors are now asking “where’s my game?” early on in the film process, whereas before the films’ creators didn’t want to cede any control over their product to people like video game developers.
“Directors and filmmakers are now actually into the video games,” Kavanagh said.
“Or their kids are,” Hunt said.
Timing, of course, is important, the panelists agreed. To avoid rush-jobs — like the one that plagued E.T. — collaboration on games between developers and studios starts earlier, with video games becoming prequels or sequels to films. Releasing the games to coincide with the film is also important, panelists agreed.
“The goal is to released them both day-and-date, and there are so many good reasons for that,” said Kispert, pointing to marketing and retailer tie-ins and consumer awareness. And of course, if the movie performs poorly in the box office, and the video game hasn’t been released yet, “shelf space may become an issue.”
And while everyone expressed interest in the world of downloadable games, they noted that much like movies, the money still lies in physical product.
“And the kids today, they actually expect there to be a game with most of these films, like those from DreamWorks,” Kavanagh said.
From left, Steve Goldstein, senior counsel for Stubbs, Alderton, & Markiles, Bill Kispert, VP of interactive for NBC Universal, Spencer Hunt, VP of game development and digital delivery for Sony Pictures Television, Dave Long, CEO and founder of Exponential Entertainment, and John Kavanagh, SVP of video games for Paramount Digital Entertainment, discuss the relationship between movies and video games April 28 at the L.A. Games Conference in Hollywood, Calif.