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Monday, February 16, 2004


Matt Hilliard

The movie industry makes sequels for the same reason the games industry does: they are a little more reliable in terms of ROI. However, the movie industry has less sequels because (a) with the exception of five or six big franchises consumer loyalty is tied to actors/actresses and directors at least as much if not more than stories. (b) AAA-level games generally take at minimum two years to go from game design to gold master while movies take generally a year at most to go from script to being in the can...thus a game percentage-wise ties up more resources and thus is a much bigger risk. (c) While the movie industry, like the games industry, frequently spends too much on its high profile products for them to be profitable, there is a lot more competition at the low end. Low budget movies are big hits ten times as often, at least, as low budget games. (d) Finally in the movie industry most of the risk is assumed by the studio that is funding it, a massive entity, leaving most of the people making the film insulated from the fallout if it is a bomb while in the games industry most of the risk falls on the developer, who generally is not even funding the game themselves. A single failed game can be enough to bankrupt the developer in many cases.

All these things make the games industry necessarily more risk averse and gives it fewer options toward safeguarding its investment.

Nathan McKenzie

Sequels are a funny thing in gaming.

I tried making a list once of games I consider personally noteworthy (I'm not good at saying something is my favorite, so this was about as close as I get), and the overwhelming majority of them were sequels. And many of them were considerably better than their original source.

Super Mario 3, Mario 64, Final Fantasy 4 and 6, Super Metroid, Metroid Prime, Grand Theft Auto 3, Zelda 3, Zelda 64, the GBA Zeldas, Diablo 2, Warcraft 2, NHL 93, Street Fighter 2, Doom 2, Castlevania: Symphyony of the Night (and Aria of Sorrow and Dracula X on the TurboDuo), Megaman 2, Heroes of Might and Magic 3, Suikoden 2, Virtua Fighter 2, Contra 3, Tie Fighter... I am capable of making this list very, very, _VERY_ long :)

If I were to list movies I find noteworthy, on the other hand, I'm not sure if there would be any sequels at all(well, with the exception of one or two trilogies).

It's true that there are a lot of completely uninspired sequels in gaming, but I don't think the sequelness is the primary reason for a lack of inspiration or quality. Many of the sequels I listed above have more originality in them than the overwhelming majority of non-sequel-non-license games, I think.

Games sequels to movie sequels is apples to oranges - people love to deride game sequels as proof that there is no more creativity in gaming, but that doesn't seem to mesh with my own experience at all.


I'll agree with Nathan there in that gaming sequels are a chance to fine-tune and tweak the original, as it's usually the gameplay that keeps us coming back, as opposed to the content. Of course there are many 'out-of-the-blue' gameplay successes, but still. I'll stick by that general idea. Of course a great game would get better in gameplay AND content as it went on... We as gamers are often fine with mediocre stories as the gameplay is (debately to some, I'd guess) the meat of games.

I forget who said it, but a short while back I read someone saying that they didn't care if game graphics ever got better. 3D was enough. From here on out it's all about gameplay over graphics. Obviously not everyone agrees, but it makes you wonder about the importance of graphics, story, and gameplay. Sequels have to take the same forumla from the previous one and improve in these areas. (Or change enough and still be recognized as good.)

Jeff Mackintosh

"a) with the exception of five or six big franchises consumer loyalty is tied to actors/actresses and directors at least as much if not more than stories."
Considering most sequels involve the same actors (I'd be stunned if you could name ten movie sequels that did not involve the principle actors from the preceeding movie), this is a non-issue.

"(b) AAA-level games generally take at minimum two years to go from game design to gold master while movies take generally a year at most to go from script to being in the can...thus a game percentage-wise ties up more resources and thus is a much bigger risk."
What??? You might want to check your work timeframes for movies again. Exceedingly few movies take "a year at most to go from script to being in the can." It takes significantly longer than that for most mainstream movie releases. Maybe made-for-TV movies can be churned out in that sort of timeframe but I don't think that's what people are talking about when they mention movies...

"(c) While the movie industry, like the games industry, frequently spends too much on its high profile products for them to be profitable, there is a lot more competition at the low end. Low budget movies are big hits ten times as often, at least, as low budget games."
Can you site a source for that claim? I find it highly dubious but, if there is a source that can back it, I can certainly be convinced that I'm wrong.


The press is just as desperate to cover something new as gamers are to play original games, and it falls back on sequels for the same reasons publishers do, safe return on investment. If you have GREAT NEW GAME on your cover and your competitor has GREAT GAME II on theirs, they win. People want to read about the next Grand Theft Auto more than the "next big thing" they've never heard of. Unless they can be convinced that this "next big thing" really is the "next big thing."

It's not hard to build up hype, to manage the release of information to build things up to the point that people are dying for more information. The key is managing information, and most companies do an awful, awful job at this. They release too much information too soon.

Sometimes it's what you don't say that gets people excited. Not that 3D Realms would know anything about this...

Brian S.

I will post a more comprehensive view on the whole sequels/license v. originality later (see Spector/Costikyan et al), but there are two significant aspects that differentiates Hollywood from the video game industry in regards to perceived originality. Whereas, Hollywood movies benefit greatly from the concepts and practices of actor cross-fertilization and buddy-teaming, video games by and large do not and cannot. These two factors are crucial in why Hollywood supports and underwrites new, edgy and low-budget projects that otherwise do not conform to typical blockbuster fare.

Actor cross-fertilization means that actors and actresses have the power and capability to buttress novel and risky projects by the mere fact that their participation lends credibility and support to the film. Once an actor gains clout either through critical or box-office acclaim, his stardom travels with him, lending credence to whatever project he next supports. The greater the celebrity a film snags, the grander the spotlight it enjoys. This is because we follow the individual actor; not the movie or role per se he has played previously. A movie like “The Last Samurai” probably would not have earned a twentieth it has made to date ($108+ million domestically) or even been greenlighted if Tom Cruise (“Top Gun” et al) had not been involved.

The impact of actor cross-fertilization in the low-budget (aka "independent") and atypical productions is even more greatly magnified. Because actors in these projects usually reduce their up-front fees in exchange for a higher backend gross participation, it allows these films to be made within budget while not compromising their creativity or edginess. Actors get a chance to step out from their blockbuster typecast and become critically recognized while delivering to their studios a bankable brand. A movie like “Lost in Translation” would probably not have gotten the recognition (an Academy Award nomination) or the box-office revenue ($42+ million domestically) if it had not been for the participation of Bill Murray (also nominated for Best Actor).

There is no parallel actor cross-fertilization concept in video games. While it is true that recognized game developers like Chris Roberts or Will Wright gain a following, it is often not transferable to other projects where they do not have expertise in the genre. Richard Garriott, “aka Lord British,” would have little credibility if he decided to work on a sports simulation game for his next project. Most game players hardly recognize who developed which game under which publisher, with the exception of brands like Disney and LucasArts, which came before video gaming. With the state of the industry as it is, most gamers do not care anyway which developer rises or falls tomorrow.

For gaming characters that are established like Mario, Sonic, and Lara Croft, because they are tied to existing companies, it is doubtful they would be cross-licensed to support a competitor. Although voice-over talent is interchangeable it is not the greenlight consideration. Even real actors do not help anymore, with the flame-out of FMV games like the Wing Commander series (circa early-to-mid-1990s).

Buddy-teaming is the practice of pairing a relatively new, preferably young, actor with an established, bankable actor in the hopes of having some of the celebrity’s stardom rub off onto the new guy. Once the new guy has a few film credits under his belt, then he can headline a picture without support. If the buddy-team picture is a success and the audience takes a liking to him, this process can be expedited. The process is ideal in the way it encourages studios and directors to recruit new talent and develop future stars. The movie “Wall Street,” which starred Michael Douglas gave the young Charlie Sheen his coming out party as an actor, with an assist from his father, Martin Sheen, with American audiences. It vaulted him to the top of the acting world by the mid-1990s with movies such as “Major League,” “Men at Work,” ”Hot Shots,” and “Mission to Mars.” Today he is as well known as any celebrity.

It is hard to conceive of how buddy-teaming can work in most video games if you exclude games where character specifics are immaterial, like strategy and simulation games, and licensed properties with known characters like Star Wars. Here I am focusing on game-developed characters. Because the gaming experience is singular and personal, it is hard to envision a scenario where character buddy-teaming works well. Most game players want to be the hero and not the sidekick character. And most games are constructed with this in mind. We want to be Mario, not Luigi. Batman, not Robin. And when games do not conform and insist we play the lesser character, we revolt as evidenced in the outcry over being hoodwinked into playing Raiden instead of Solid Snake in MSG2. There seems to be no satisfactory way to introduce a new character when it paired up with a superior, known character because they are often not translatable across games. And that prevents new characters from coming into their own and expanding the playable universe. I am not saying it never works because the main characters in Final Fantasy X-2 successfully transitioned from being secondary characters in Final Fantasy X. However, SquareEnix has a deep reservoir of fan allegiance on its side to work with.

Most independent and low-budget game developers are doubly bound by the two factors I outlined above. Not only are they constrained by limited resources and tools, but they cannot even sniff at either recruiting top developers or get access to known game character properties, unless they give up project control. Moreover, most workers will not and cannot afford to discount their salary in exchange for back-end participation (like that is ever going to happen). Therefore, it is almost impossible for indies to create AAA quality titles in the same fashion that independent movie producers regularly do. There are few incentives to take outsized risks in creative design, gameplay, or storytelling. That is why the video game industry is still the ugly stepsister of media with sales dominated by sequels and licenses and originality being few are far between.

Scott Miller

Brian, would you believe that there is no relationship between a star's celebrity status and a movie's success?

If you look at the credits of most stars, they have as many hits as flops. Look at Gigli, for example, a movie starring one of our current hottest actors, Ben, along with another hot actress, who's also one of the music industry's biggest star, Jen. Here we have two of the biggest stars going, paired together, yet the movie absolutely flopped.

I've actually researched the correlation between stars and their movies' success, and there simply exists none. I've also talked to this to people in Hollywood, and many agree -- the ones whom have also researched this fact.

However, even though stars are a non-factor to a movie's success, Hollywood has self-created a star system in which stars have tons of power, including the power to green-light pet projects. Producers know that by having a star attached to a project, that the project will then attract a good director, as well as studio financing.

So, it's true that stars are important to Hollywood under the present system. But it's not true that stars matter to a movie's success. Where their bank-able stars in Star Wars, or E.T.? Would Titanic have done much worse without the star power of Leonardo DiCaprio? Who was the big star of Jurassic Park? Or Lord of the Rings? Or Independence Day? I'm naming several of the all-time top box office movies, and there's not a star in sight that mattered to the success of these movies.

Here's a fact that is very, very, very difficult for many people to understand, but research backs it up without question: Stars do not make movies. Movies make stars.

Note: In some cases, stars do matter, like with Woody Allen movies in which Woody has a loyal following, but really it's not for Woody, but his brand of movie. Also, a handful of truly great actors can make a difference at the box-office, like Jack Nicholson, because people love to see them do their craft at such a high level.

Also, people may point at people like Adam Sandler as proof tha tstars matter, with his string of successes, but I say it's only because he's smartly picked good movies to be in. Jim Carry is an even greatly comedian, but even he can't rescue a bad movie, like The Majestic.


Nice observations, Brian S. I think the only things I could add to this are along the lines of what Nathan said: movie sequels and game sequels are an apples to kumquats comparison. There has never been, to my knowledge, a movie sequel that tells the exact same story as its prequel - or a story so similar as to be a "re-imagining", like what id is supposedly doing with Doom 3 - yet this is a common practice in games. This seems to suggest that story is not what people are paying for when they pick up a sequel game... they want improvements in graphics and possibly gameplay. I'm sure this figures into Scott & Co's thinking in selling "character-driven" games, and indeed you could look at the character as being the enabler of a certain type of gameplay - I play Mario when I want to crush mushrooms with my ass, because only he can do it and not Lara Croft or Pac-Man. There might be a sort of perceptual chicken-egg conundrum there, though, depending largely on whether the developer approaches marketing / franchise-able character creation first (Max Payne, whatever) or the core gameplay first (Metroid? Mario, Zelda, etc... those more traditional designs are defined by what you *do*).

The success of this evolutionary model might stem from the idea that people basically want to play an old favorite game over again, only reincarnated in some newer and fancier form. Problems with older games in the series must be fixed, the graphics and overall presentation should be more impressive, and if new complexities are introduced in gameplay they must build upon previous efforts or rework them minimally. I say that not to disparage the process, because like Nathan I'm finding a lot of my favorite games are sequels and a lot of times this evolution yields something that is truly a better product in every way - it's hard to go back to Doom when you've got Doom 2, etc (though I'm sure it's highly debatable per-case). A sequel is sometimes really just Original Game v1.5... a chance for the developers to fix and embellish. The only bad thing about this is if player really did end up paying for a sub-par first game that is made obsolete by its successor... they should have been allowed to finish the first game as I have a hunch the economics of doing so make more sense.

Creatively, I think sequels and the evolutionary, incremental advancement model they epitomize are just fine, and a sign of a healthy medium that is building upon its successes. However, it's equally necessary to be out there searching for a new crazy thing that nobody understands yet. 99 of those will be financial misses but the 100th will be your next big franchise (or just a successful one-off). The same conservative thinking that brings us quality sequels also makes us reticent to create new franchises, and I'd love to see that change.

Doug P.

I think it's difficult to make a 1:1 comparison of movies to games to see which industry is demonstrating a greater willingness to be creative and original by looking over the "top 10" lists. Take a look at the IMDB archive of the Top 10 box office movies and look through the titles - http://www.imdb.com/Charts/usboxarchive.

While there are certainly a lot less sequels in movies than there are games, I think something about the movie industry is being overlooked. As I scanned the movie titles, I notice that a lot of them are "based on a true story", are remakes of classics, or are based on a book, comic, or TV series. The game industry doesn't draw as much material from these same sources. On the contrary, it seems games create content for other mediums more often than not. Many worlds created in games are now being expanded upon through books, comics, and movies (although this is more of a two-way street than the other two).

So, I don't think it's necessarily true that the movie industry is being more creative or more original than games at all.

Greg Findlay

I'd tend to disagree with you Brian. A good example of both cross fertilization and buddy-teaming is Blizzard. Blizzard has made successful games in several genres, sometimes using the same game world. World of WarCraft is a perfect example of cross fertilization. It takes a known game world by a well known company and brings it too a new genre.

And Pokemon is another good example.

For buddy teaming, take the StarCraft series. Blizzard is lending it's IP, and clout to Nihilistic while they create StarCraft Ghost.

There are multiple other examples of these things happening.

Also, I'm not sure why your trying to use game characters as an example for buddy teaming. Actors can switch to a different role in a different movie but the characters they play need to stay in that world or it won't make sense. Same with game characters.

Nathan McKenzie

Mario Kart is probably my favorite racing game of all time. When I first saw a picture of it in a game magazine at the time, I thought Nintendo was absolutely shameless. What does Mario have to do with racing, thought I? And then they more or less invented the cartoony kart racing genre. And then it went on to be Nintendo's best selling SNES game in Japan of all time (according to magic box, anyway - 3.82 million copies).

Mario RPG->Paper Mario->Mario+Luigi Super Star Saga are also a non-too-shabby pedigree.

And even the Mario Party series is pretty noteworthy - I don't remember ever seeing the "party game" genre prior to it, although I might be wrong.

Hell, even WarioWare, which I think is the most innovative, original game I've seen in several years, is a tendril of the Mario franchise.

Is this cross-pollination in the sense we're talking about here?


You know, now that I'm looking at it, the Mario world or franchise has been attached to a surpriring number of genre creations.

All of this does lend very strong credence to Scott's approach of focusing on strong characters, really. By making the Mario stuff so identifiable, Nintendo is ironically much _freer_ to innovate, because they have an appealing (well, to some), trusted world that they can set any given activity in. Not to say that Nintendo is faultless, of course, or to suggest that this strategy is still working now that development is taking wildly longer and everything is costing so much more and so on and so forth. And I think the idea only works so long as your new experiments are consistently as high quality as the original properties (but that applies to sequels generally anyway).


Scott Miller

-- "focusing on strong characters"

Nathan, I've been saying for years that properties that are based on characters are generally more flexible than those based on events (WW2) or situations (hells breaks thru a portal).

We first learned this by studying comic books in the early 90's. By focusing on the key character, like Batman or Spider-Man, you can put that character in endless situations and events -- in endless stories.

I've always said that naming Lara Croft's game "Tomb Raider" was a tactical branding blunder. This title only makes sense when there's tomb raiding involved. So, it forces each "Tomb Raider" game to take place in a tomb, whether it fits the story's needs or is forced. I would have instead come up with a better character name (Lara Croft is very weak), and named the game after the character, Duke Nukem-style, or Max Payne-style. That way this character could appear in any number of story types, without as much limitation.

So far, I'm glad that most devs and pubs haven't caught onto this, because it starts to look silly when too many games are named after their starring characters -- so it's better than most of the market does it the way they've been doing it: Beyond Good and Evil -- now that's what I love to see from the competition!


"And I think the idea only works so long as your new experiments are consistently as high quality as the original properties"

This is key. Nintendo has the Mario IP to put on a box and get people paying attention, but they have to follow that up with a quality game (doubly hard when they attempt to extend the Mario brand into a new genre, as they so often have) otherwise it's a double loss... if the game sucks it not only sells poorly but people lose respect for the Mario brand as a whole. True story: I was in an EB yesterday, and overheard two kids talking while browsing through the bargain bin (PSX and Dreamcast games mostly). One of them said "Oh, Duke Nukem that's a good game". The other kid proceeded to explain that the Playstation spin-off Duke game he was looking at wasn't as good, it wasn't the older PC game. It surprised the hell out of me because the kids looked young enough that they couldn't have been but 4 or 5 years old when Duke 3D came out... I guess they'd played it in more recent years. Anyway, anecdotal evidence that a consumer was actively turned off a game by recognizing that not all entries in a franchise are of quality. Good indication that if you want to build a franchise you should put all of your resources behind it so quality doesn't suffer in the spin-off / differently genre'd titles. This is something Nintendo has a pretty darn good record with.


And yeah, it is comforting when a strong franchise acts as a sort of "safety net" that allows you to try new things rather than just making you more and more afraid to do so. That was one of the points Warren Spector made in his GDC address last year, the one that sparked the public exchange between him and Greg Costikyan about licensed games / sequels VS original games. It's definitely a complex issue with pros and cons on either side. Sometimes you get a Paper Mario out of it, sometimes you get an obvious milk-job like Tomb Raider 3.

Brian S.

Scott, I am not saying nor am I implying that a movie's sole success or failure can be attributed to the acting stars it gets. However, it can be said without such stars as in my examples I listed among others the movies would not have sniffed the American consciousness. In certain genres like sci-fi and fantasy, the name actors matter less, while in others like comedies and dramas, they matter more. I do not dispute that actors can be in bad projects, but I am also sure that said actors can also rescue bad scripts to a decent box office. Most of the movies you listed drew audiences because of their special effects because it is hard to see that there was a "great" story underlying them.

Maybe in the old days stars power was less of a factor, but when movies are predicated on a big opening weekend for much of their box office revenue, then the need for top actors are that much greater. Also you mentioned Gigli. Although Ben Affleck and J. Lo are celebrities, they did not have the track record as star actors.

Moreover, I am specifically talking about how Hollywood stretches creative boundaries because of star power outside of the blockbuster genre movie, through independents and atypical projects.

Brian S.

Greg F., when I mean cross fertilization, I am primarily referring to inter-company, not intra-company. Of course, a game developer can lend his IP to whatever project he has next, but a competitor can't get access to that company's success. In movies, if Adam Sandler makes a hit comedy for Sony, he can also make a comedy for MGM in the hopes of a hit in the same vein. Actors have free agency in Hollywood, IP does not in games, or v. rarely.

By buddy-teaming, I mean explicit character identification to help a new character. Similarly, I am asking is it possible or even doable, for an identifiable character like a Lara Croft or Max Payne, to assist in bring a new character to fruition (and possible his own title), when most people want to play the known character, not his sidekick.


What Scott says about stars not making movies is true in so far as there are no guarantees that a star's presence translates into dollars. The same is exactly true of licenses not guaranteeing profit for a game.

Stars and licenses are brands, and in both cases, the reason that they receive such prominence is because of the pre-eminent brand-driven mechanism of marketing. Branding essentially dictates that by finding the name of something that the public deems to have value, and then transfering that name to other products, the public's loyalty may follow. MAY follow. There are a million and one factors associated with the possibility of success, but the essential mechanism at work here is that the money people are hedging their bets.

If you took ten 5 million dollar films with actors that no one ever heard of and pitched them against each other on equal footing, there is no saying that 1, 2 or 10 of them would turn profit. Which one would you greenlight? Maybe none of them would make money. This is because any collaborative creative project, especially one involving a large number of people, essentially looks like shit until very late in the day.

So if you, as an executive, have NO hope of figuring out which of your projects will bear fruit, the best thing that you can try and do is hedge your bets as much as possible. So you get a star in. Or you tie your game to a license. Or you make something a sequel or a tie-in. You still don't know if it will be a success, but you do definably increase your exposure, which increases the chance that you will make some money back.

It takes real guts on the part of a money man to trust a film or game crew to produce a blinding product. Guts are something that are always in short supply, although every maverick successful producer probably did this at one point or another. This is why exectuives from normal product-driven industries are absolutely the worst people to hire to manage studios.

Entertainment industries are the riskiest industry in the world.

Brian S.

Tadhg, I think you are missing my point. Although the entertainment business is indeed volatile, that does not mean it is without factors of success. Brands aren't created just because of marketing hype, but because people form strong allegiances to a particular quality or aspect of actors' performances or personas. And therefore they have value. What Hollywood has been able to do that the video game industry cannot readily replicate so far is in transfering a celebrity brand to support risky projects (originality) and develop new actors. Gaming developers, in contrast, must often start anew and take outsized risks if they want to push the envelope or introduce new characters to their IP portfolio. This is why I am saying that video games too often rely on sequels and non-native-to-gaming licenses in order to sell the product.

Brian S.

To summarize my thoughts and clarify my points:

It is that Hollywood has been able to create and foster a system under which the untested (projects and actors alike) can be tested by partnering with a known quantity: the star actor (even if it is not perfect). Moreover, these efforts can be often done at a low cost using new techniques (see the camera work in "Traffic").

Video game developers and their publishers do not have this advantage. They often cannot test new concepts and introduce new characters by leeching off of successful brands from others. There is little transferability. Instead they must often take the risk of creating completely new designs and characters if they want to try new things out.


Brian S - "There is no parallel actor cross-fertilization concept in video games"

This isn't true, and there's certainly no reason why it shouldn't be done more often. The game characters are effectively the actors, rather than the game designers (who are more equivalent to directors, script writers, cinematographers etc). And game characters often cross over between games - think of all the Mario and Donkey Kong spin-offs, Super Smash Bros Melee, the console Duke Nukem games and side-scrolling Manhattan Project, the bonus characters from other games in Soul Calibur II, all the Capcom vs SNK vs Marvel type beat 'em ups, Starcraft Ghost, the abortive Warcraft Adventures, Kingdom Hearts...

You can also use brands in a similar way - take Warcraft / World of Warcraft, the Final Fantasy series, the Tom Clancy franchise, the Everquest RTS, Might & Magic and its many spin-offs, etc etc etc.

Brian S.

Gestalt, what I mean is not intra-company IP transfers (aka sequels/spinoffs) but inter-company transfers. While it is true that under certain circumstances game company's cross license each others' characters for a new title (as in Kingdom Hearts or Capcom v. SNK), it is not regularly done. Moreover, the top brands can often impose controls on what the characters do and with whom they interact with which often re-enforces their typecasting (and risk minimization). In Hollywood, an actress like Charlize Theron can go a beau dame in "The Legend of Bagger Vance" to a pyscho killer in "Monster."


The movie industry analogy yields some useful insights but sometimes it is more trouble than it's worth.

Scott Miller

Brian, I stand by my point that star actors offer no measure of guarantee that their movies will be successful. People simply do not go to movies to see stars, they go to see good movies. Popular stars cannot improve the box office on bad or average movies to any noticeable degree (or even good movies). I've studied the record of over 50 top stars, and they can have two super successes in a row followed by a total flop, followed by a success, and then three flops. Harrison Ford is a prime example.

If I ran a Hollywood studio, I would never pay big bucks for a top actor. I'd hire people with good acting talent, but not big name stars. My movies would cost far less by doing this, and have a much better chance of making money. Star power is a myth, when it comes to drawing people to theater seats. People go to theaters to see good movies, not stars.

There are people in Hollywood who understand this completely, but they say that a star's attatchment to a project is the most important factor in getting a movie green-lighted, and so that's their ultimate value, and why the Hollywood star system will persist.

Greg Findlay

I don't think the game industry has an equivalent to an actor. A character in a game is like a character in a movie. The parallel ends there. When an actor acts in a different movie, they are playing a different character (unless it's a prequel or sequel). Also, the movie industry hordes its IP at least as much as the games industry. If MGM makes "As God as my witness" then Sony can't make "As God as my witness 2: Screw it all to Hell". If studios owned actors they would only act in that studio's movies and they would probably get type cast.

Also, game studios sell their IP to other studios all the time. Take the Unreal Engine. Or the Quake 3 engine. The majority of the games that use them will have, on the box, powered by the Unreal Engine.

I'm not trying to say that your wrong Brian. Learning how the movie industry thrives can really help the game industry. All I'm getting at is there are plenty of examples where game studios work together on projects to help each other out. Looking at ways other industries market their products is good, but finding ways to use those strategies in a practical way in the game industry is better.

Raph Koster

Scott, I'm surprised to hear you say that stars don't matter. Of course they matter. It's just that they matter in ways that don't necessarily translate into good lifetime take.

For example, you said, "they say that a star's attatchment to a project is the most important factor in getting a movie green-lighted." Don't denigrate that! Sexiness sells, and stars are sexy, and therefore the clout itself is a value-add for the film.

It also becomes a value-add for marketing, for first-day ticket sales, for buzz factor... stars draw attention. If the product then sucks, then the attention won't help, of course, but it helps get people in the door. Stars are similar to what you're always advocating regarding character names, game names, and so on. They're comparable to Dave Perry's list of key hype factors.

Lastly, some stars do provide a sort of branding, via their taste in scripts or their image management. This is only some stars of course, but the discerning movie-goer learns to follow the careers of certain actors because they reliably participate in projects that fit that viewer's tastes. There's a remarkable consistency to the choice of films of certain actors.

None of these things matter to the bottom line, except insofar as a film that lacks the stars but has all the ingredients of a hit is going to have a harder time of getting greenlit, getting publicity, getting word of mouth, opening strong, and therefore making money over the long haul. And we've all seen movies like that, ones we thought deserved to succeed but didn't.

Haven't you been saying that what Ico and Beyond Good and Evil really lacked is the equivalent of a star?

Scott Miller

Raph, I agree 100% that stars have an important role in the making and marketing of movies. But, you have to trust me on this, I've done substantial research and have found that when it comes to the box-office bottom-line, stars play a minimal role.

(I researched this as part of a much broader project, to determine which qualities are most vital to the success and universal appeal of stories, whether these stories are comic books, novels, movies or video games.)

Now then, there are exceptions that I tried to point out, like Woody Allen movies. Generally, the more typecast an actor, the more draw they have. Still, even a strongly stereotyped actor only has a small effect on the box-office -- mostly on the opening two days, and then other, far more overwhelming factors kick in. So, it comes down to whether an actor's presence can guarantee a blow-out weekend, and from what I've gathered, they cannot.

So, I have to stand by my research: stars play no significant part in determining the success of a movie.

With Ico and BG&E, those games lacked compelling names and compelling concepts. And though I do not remember the ads for Ico, the ads for BG&E were terribly ineffective, IMO. What was BG&E's easily conveyed hook? What made BG&E buzz-worthy? Nothing, that comes to my mind. For Ico, I think the horned kid character was a turn-off, and the game had other image problems. I'm not sure what you mean by the "lack of star" comment regarding these two games. There are hundreds of successful games that do not have a star, no? Who was the star of Call of Duty? Or GTA3?


Hehe poor Ico it can't seem to stay away from your scorn.

I tend to agree with Scott on the star thing (even before his research). How many of you go to see a movie because of a star.
I'm interested if you looked at initial box-office draws (say opening weekend). My guess would be that a high star powered movie would attract more people initially but maybe less later due to faster word of mouth.

Also I'm curious on how you feel about expansion packs.

Joe M

I think sequels aren't nearly the enemy of innovation that licensed games are. As Scott points out, many sequels are based on games that were innovative.

It seems to me, though, that the license owners (the people who own Bond, or Star Wars, or whatever) are generally averse to risk. They want to make money from their license, and they also want to protect it's integrity.

Inevitably every publisher talks the talk - says they want innovation - and then proceeeds to eliminate every risk-taking choice from the game design. Which by definition means to eliminate the innovation. If it's new there's often no way to proove it will work.

Raph Koster

I think we're in agreement, then, Scott, just talking at cross-purposes.

To clarify:

- I agree stars do not significantly impact bottom line take.

But I don't think stars are useless:
- I think stars increase the chance of getting greenlit, thereby enabling at any take at all
- I think stars provide buzz and marketing hooks
- I think stars provide some degree of branding
- I think stars provide opening day draw

Basically, though, it's a case of proving the negative. Lacking stars will hurt your film's chance of reaching its audience. Having them doesn't help grow box office, but it does increase the chance of its reaching its audience. Stars are by and large an enabler, not a selling point, with the possible exception of the quasi-branding cases.

And then, it's down to the product provided.

Now, to bring it back to games--what I am saying is that a star is like a bullet point on the box, like fancy graphics on the cover. A given bullet point or screenshot isn't going to make or break a title in the marketplace. Most people don't buy based on individual bullet points. But USP's (as represented by bullet points) can and do drive awareness, which can then lead into trials. I LOVED Ico, and yet its "star statement" is "game designers love Ico." Which isn't much of a selling point.

Brian S.

Scott you said: "If I ran a Hollywood studio, I would never pay big bucks for a top actor...Star power is a myth, when it comes to drawing people to theater seats." While I do not contest your research in its depth, my focus throughout was not primarily at actors in blockbuster-sized roles (Die Hard, Terminator, My Best Friend's Wedding et al). Instead it was how Hollywood uses those celebrity actors in roles for independent and low-budget films to push the boundaries of cinema. While not ever indy film starring a well known actor does well financially, many do to the extent that without their support they would not have been made or gotten the buzz in trade press media. A no-star surprise like the "Blair Witch Project" or "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is much more of a blue moon occurance than a similarly indy movie like "Chicago" or "Shakespeare in Love" which was supported by stars who made their acclaim elsewhere.

Brian S.

Greg you said: "I don't think the game industry has an equivalent to an actor. A character in a game is like a character in a movie." I think that is my point, when gamers play as Zelda or Solid Snake they are experiencing it as property of one company. However, in movies, for the most part, because people become attached to the star, not necessarily the character, an Adam Sandler can play a goofball in a Sony made movie and his fans will follow him in another goofball movie this time underwritten by Disney.

Also you mentioned that companies license IP engines all the time. While that is true, as you have noted, IMHO, this is more akin to transferring an environment/plot to another project (even if it is more pronounced because you have similar gameplay). It's like taking the basic script of a cop-buddy movie from one studio to another. However, a project headlined by Bruce Willis will be greenlighted more often than a project with some nobody actor who is trying to break in.

Look I am not saying there are not nuances and shades or grey in all endeavors, but it seems like from the first post by Scott in reference to the Hollywood Reporter article that the game industry has its reasons and associated problems by being so heavily dependent on licenses and sequels.

R. Hurter

I agree with points from both movie sides here. I primarily go to see the movie in question for it's own merits but in some cases when it gets barely beaten out of the running by what I perceive to be a slightly better movie, I could be persuaded by the actor/director's name to go and see the perceived slightly worse movie.

I also think linking of star power to a movie is a bit of a grey area. For example I could like both an actor and an actress but them playing together in a movie might make me think, 'mmmhhmm, I never pictured them together in a role like this, I'll wait untill I get to see them in such and such...'. In this case I associated both with specific movie value-adding roles, but I was unwilling to evaluate them in a new setting; thus the supposed blockbuster with both flopped.

Movie sequels can draw immediate crowd, but they can as easily flop. No one I spoke too thought nearly as highly of The Matrix 2-3 than they did of 1. A movie sequel in a sense can almost have no innovation over the previous, since what the people want in a sequel is 90% of the time more of the first. (Not to say that a movie can't innovate, but in general this is not the case)

Game sequels are far more open in innovation. People sort of understand that a game sequel could be quite different from the original, not just due to technological change. But again as JP pointed out, the franchise will lose face if the product is felt to be inferior. Blizzard again as example; after StarCraft the general feeling was that Blizzard could sell a gold-wrapped brick and would make a fortune. Indeed this is what they did with WarCraft3. They definitely still made their money, but in trade War3 did not stack up even remotely to StarCraft, and as a result Blizzard has lost enormous following. (Performing actions such as releasing SC:Ghost as a console title is simply a further perceived slap in the face of their supporters).

Rule 1: Hold on to your existing following
Rule 2: Expand your following

I disbelieve that rule 2 should ever come before rule 1.


Logo - "How many of you go to see a movie because of a star"

Me. All the time. Although (for Hollywood films, anyway) more often because of the director than the actors. If a new movie comes out from Tim Burton, Michael Mann, Ridley Scott or whoever, I'm much more likely to go and see it than a movie by someone I've never heard of before. But then I'm a hardcore film buff, so maybe I'm a bit odd in that regard. :)

This is even more true for foreign movies, where finding good reviews (in English) is harder, so the director and stars is often all you have to go on. As a result, a big chunk of my oriental DVD collection consists of movies made by Beat Takeshi, Akira Kurosawa, Hiyao Miyazaki, Johnnie To etc, and/or films starring Beat Takeshi, Lau Ching Wan, Andy Lau, Simon Yam, Jet Li, Jackie Chan etc.

If I find a movie I really like, I'm far more likely to buy more movies by the same writer / director / producer and movies starring the same actors. Especially as most Hong Kong movies only cost about $10 from China, so experimenting isn't too costly. Occasionally you'll come up with a dud (I once bought some Michelle Yeoh movies after seeing her in Tomorrow Never Dies - boy was that a mistake), but generally it works well, even when you pick something out of the blue. Take The Golden Girls, a romantic comedy set in the Hong Kong film industry which I bought purely on the basis of it starring Lau Ching Wan. Not usually my kind of thing, but it turned out to be absolutely marvellous.

Aside from that, personal recommendation is the other thing most likely to make me watch / buy a film. If someone whose opinion I trust says they enjoyed it, that's usually a good sign.


Brian S. - "This is why I am saying that video games too often rely on sequels and non-native-to-gaming licenses in order to sell the product."

Yes, we are vociferously agreeing with each other. What I was trying to highlight was that the star in movies serves the same function as the license in games, which is to attract pre-built loyalty.

Hollywood manages this with stars, the game industry manages it with licenses and franchise characters (much like the comics industry), but they're both doing the same thing and taking the same risks. With the same non-knowledge of whether one or the other will be a success.

Nintendo in particular is an example of a company that successfully transfers its "stars" all over the place, with Mario, Zelda and all the gang regularly appearing in games all over the place. Mario, though he does not exist in the real world, is Nintendo's star actor.

Mario, unlike Jack Nicholson, is not available to the independent scene, so independent effort struggles all the more (more like the comics sector).


Brian S: "than a similarly indy movie like "Chicago" or "Shakespeare in Love" which was supported by stars who made their acclaim elsewhere."

Unless my definition of "indie" has shifted, movies with $45 million and $25 million budgets respectively hardly qualify as "indies." They're mid-budget studio films. Chicago, in fact, was pretty risky.

As others have noted, the game industry has stars. A few licensed characters, sure, but the biz has things like certain developers, licensed engines, etc.

They're not sexy, but they accomplish the same thing. If you have an Unreal-engined game in the works, it's easier to get it greenlighted--and you get immediate buzz--than if you're doing your own technology.

Brian S.

Here is the difference, as I see it:

Ideal, but not unheard of in Hollywood:

I am a relatively new director with a few credits under my belt, but I am no star. I have a decent script from a veteran screenwriter, but the material is a bit edgy and somewhat controversial-definitely not a blockbuster-themed movie. Although I have contacts, most major studios pass on it, so I go the independent route. My one notable lure is that I know and have friends who know a known star (a Robin Williams-type named Allen Thomas) who is looking for his first critical score though he became a celebrity elsewhere from a generic blockbuster movie. I am sure Allen will take a look at the script. In fact he does and likes it, no loves it. Allen contacts his celebrity pals and asks if they would like to participate. A couple do.

With this in tow, I am able to secure financing for the movie from a reputable backer. The projected budget is about $10M. The star actors do not take their typical upfront fees ($10M+), but work for Guild minimum and a percentage of the backend gross.

The script calls for casting a young girl as the protagonist with Allen as her mentor and his celebrity pals as their anatagonists. I recruit a fresh-faced kid (Sarah McKintosh) who has little professional acting training, but who has appeal and is not camera shy. Sarah immediately wins over the other actors with her confidence and earnestness. The project goes forward and the process takes a little under a year to go from my first call to the can.

In the meantime, the celebrity gossip pages and tv shows are buzzing about the Allen and his pals venturing into this risky project. However, his publicist says that Allen, although he heard of the director, was won over by the power of the script. Moreover, once he got to know the director and Sarah he poured his heart into the project instead of sleepwalking through it as he did in his last movie, "The Big House II."

The buzz created by this project bought the attention of some respected movie critics. After previewing the movie at Sundance, a couple of them gave good reviews, noting the exceptional performance of Sarah's character and the surprising, contrarian performance of Allen's character. The movie opened to limited release in NY and LA. After it did great business it opened to wide megaplexes across the country.

The movie did modestly well, around $50M domestically, and it certainly earned backed its investment. Although Allen was nominated for best actor by the Golden Globes, he did not win, but he did win a best actor award from the prestigous NY Film Critics Circle. Sarah, now secured as the new kid on the block, is going mainstream in her next pic, "It Can't Be All About Love?" And what about me, the director? Well, I am going to direct it.

Thus the circle continues.

Although this scenario is not always representative, every year in Hollywood there are similar stories. There is no comparison in the video game industry.

Greg Findlay

If you're talking about getting the initial funding, in your example, the director is simply leveraging his assest to get funding. This happens all the time is any industry. Better actor, better leverage. Better engine, better leverage. Sometimes you don't have enough leverage to get funding, sometimes you do.

I think your point is this: The game industry does not have an asset that can use it's popularity to sell products and switch between brands between products, like an actor does for the movie industry.

Now, if you're a believer in Scott's research and think that an actors star power doesn't sell products, that basically disproves that whole theory. The more I think about this the more I agree with it.

Brian S.

Greg, I would only quibble with your pairing of actor contacts to a game engine build as comparable assets. In my scenario the director got his funding after a pitch to his contact, whose only investment was his time, which could probably be resolved within a week. Compiling a new game engine would require of the developer much time and money he may not have. A more parallel comparision would be a non-affiliated developer pitching his game design plans to a top game designer like a Will Wright. Even if Will Wright knew him well, I doubt if Will would drop what he was doing to join with a relatively new developer to implement his designs.

Scot Le May

Brian in the John Carmack predicted future this will be very well possible. If John is right of course. There will reach a point where engines will last quite a lot longer than they do now. And assets will also be the main concern. Where story and innovative gameplay situations can be thought out consistently in think tank like cabals.


In the end what seperates platinum from the rest is the situations and experiances you put your gamers in. The unique feeling of the enviornment. The memorability of your actors(models). The story, and the fundemental feeling of your game. Sure the cost factor is different. Yet, its difference stays in the time scale, not in the monetary side. Indeed time is money, yet if all time were spent on developing smash hits and those alone. Than all time would be money well spent.

There are developers who have figured out and understand what it takes to develop smash hits alone. Yes in fact they are the delay gods of the development world. Yet with each platinum title, and each delay. They come closer to understanding the focal points and keys to design that lead to this new, unique, different, innovative experiance that gamers can realize and enjoy, regardless of age or sex. Experiance is everything, in more ways than one. Fundementally, a hit factory is process and delivery. Since games are an experiance it also includes theory, for story and experiance. Process is the experiance of your designers, level and model. The skill of your storytellers, and concept men, whom create the atmosphere that your enviornment should revolve around. Devlivery is putting all these simultaneous pieces together to create a whole game. The whole experiance from start to finish, the awe of the beginning and rush to the end. By understanding the focal points to success the time consumed to develop will measureably decrease. Yet for the next 10 years or so in our present not John Carmacks future the time to design has and most likely will only increase.

Now as an artist/gamer whom had an experiance that led him to want to create enviornments. I must say everything I have ever created in the mold of somthing previous, I have hated. Whether it be style of level, or type of building. Feeling fresh and the feel of awe is everything. Wow factor is king. The focal points are his counsel. Concept/storytellers his prophets who forsee great things. Last the gamers are his tax payers, who must feel those great things when they better come, otherwise, the king doesnt pay his rent, and gets overthrown.

Always the Optimist

"It's also the approach we're taking with each new Duke Nukem game."

There are new Duke Nukem games in development?

Scott Miller

FYI, folks...

Was sick this weekend (when I usually write this thing), and big-time bogged down at work this week. Therefore, taking this week off on the blog, but I should have a nice long entry next Monday.


Scott, if it's true that the top ten list for games is full of sequels and licenses (I know you said you didn't study it, and I haven't either) then doesn't that prove Takahashi's point? I personally don't think there's a lack of non-sequel, non-license games out there; I see them in the stores all the time. I just don't think they tend to sell as well, which is exactly what Takahashi is saying.

It seems to me like you're looking at it from the side of the publishers/developers (they need to take more risks), and Takahashi is looking at it from the side of the customers (they're not willing to buy new, unproven titles). I think you're actually both right, and we need to look at both sides.

I don't think the movie industry is really being any more innovative than the game industry. Maybe the movie industry was in that state decades ago. Today, the movie industry is much more mature, and people in that industry have already taken many of the risks that shaped the industry. Nowadays, many movies that end up being successful--and aren't sequels--are based on a new story, but don't really display a new innovative method of storytelling. Sure, they're executed well, but they're not breaking new ground. They're using tried-and-true techniques to tell a new story. Most games at least reach this level of creativity, because most games tell a new story. (I don't think repeating the same story is as common as JP indicates; the biggest offender I can think of is the Legend of Zelda series. How many times can Link use the Triforce to save Zelda and Hyrule from Ganon?) Scott, you mentioned some games that pushed the envelope and succeeded. Unfortunately, this type of creativity is harder to come up with and execute successfully than it is to just create a new story. Sure, when an innovative game comes along, and it's actually fun, it'll sell. But that's going to be the exception.

I think the industry needs to be able to produce two types of games:

1) The innovative games that will shape the industry.

2) The "bread-and-butter" games that will sustain the industry.

The first type of game is necessary to expand existing genres and define new ones. As you've stated, the main problem in the industry here is that it requires some risk-taking by the party funding the project. The industry definitely needs more of that, because it's still young.

The second type of game, like the average movie, tells a new story in an existing genre, and is executed well enough to get people to buy. The main problem here is that the industry has to become better at convincing customers that these games are worth a try. Here's where you can really contrast to the movie industry. When you go to any big-budget movie, you can generally assume that it will be a quality production, even if you end up not liking the story. But in the game industry, customers have no guarantee of quality. Big-budget games can still crash, freeze up, or fail to install. If a movie had similar problems, customers would walk out and get their money back. We're asking the customer to make a big time/money investment, so why shouldn't they have some higher expectations of quality? I'm sure there are other points to consider, and I think a topic that you alluded to in the following paragraph would really address the problem:

"The real issue is that publishers, for the most part, do not know how to make successful new games with any degree of confidence. And so they over-rely on sequels and licenses. And as an industry we look more and more creatively bankrupt. But, let's not get side-tracked on another topic."

Anyway, even though I disagree about specific statements, it feels like I'm not really disagreeing with you overall. I'm just looking at the same ideas from a different point of view. I'd like to hear your thoughts, as you've definitely got more industry experience than I do. Keep up the great work!

Scott Miller


I really see no problem with sequels. That's not my beef with the industry, as long as the sequels try to push themselves with each new version, and/or deliver a new, compelling story (which is when I refer to a sequel as a new episode).

My real beef, and this will be a good blog topic one day, is that the majority of the industry's most successful brands originate within our industry, like The Sims, GTA, Halo, Half-Life, Final Fantasy, Diablo, Warcraft, Tomb Raider.

Knowing this, it seems like publishers should push harder to create new brands, rather than rely on external licenses as much as they now do.

Thinks about this: of ALL licenses available from books, movies, comics, TV, you-name-it -- literally 10's of 1000's -- only a dozen or so have ever been successful in the game industry. (I do not include sports or kiddie licenses, as they're a special topic on their own, but I won't get into explaining why just yet).

So, all I'm saying is that we need to work harder on inventing our own properties, because when it comes down to it, most external entertainment properties lack the gameplay hook to make them worthy of treatment in our industry.

Gary Hertel

"The main problem here is that the industry has to become better at convincing customers that these games are worth a try."

Good point there Mick. However, this brings up an issue that perhaps Scott might be able to go over at a later point. How do most customers choose which games to buy? How many games are sold because of reviews and word of mouth vs marketing, box packaging, hype/popularity, etc?

Really, the main issue of determining the future quality of games would seem to be whether the customer is buying a game because they've heard it's a good game. It doesn't matter whether they heard that from a friend, a review, or some other reference. If the majority of titles sell simply due to marketing and not the quality of the game then the future will likely have few good games. Sequels are somewhat of a gray area since quality sometimes follow sequels yet they also have the extra marketing influence from previous products.

As the mass market for games grows I would think that we would be moving more towards marketing than reviews/references. Unlike movies most casual gamers don't seem to talk to others (due to the stigma of games?) to get recommendations for good games.

Scott Miller

Gary, your question strikes at the heart of one of my favorite topics, positioning, which tackles the integration of design and marketing. The result, if done well, is a product people want to buy.

I've saved your entire note in a folder for full blog treatment.


Scott, I'm glad you clarified your point. Based on the responses you've gotten so far, it seems like most of us were thinking that your goal was to compare the movie and game industries. In fact, of the several points you made, the central point was that there's not enough creation of new IP/brands from within the game industry.

I still think there are plenty of new properties coming out; the problem is that there's too much crap on the shelves, and there's great difficulty--both real and perceived--in getting customers to differentiate your (hopefully) good game from the rest of the junk. More to your point, it sounds like there's also a perception in the industry that it's too difficult to make new games good enough to differentiate themselves, so why bother? And more to yours and Gary's point, why just allow games to have to differentiate themselves? There should be some way to position them/create buzz to help the customers take the plunge. I like where this is going now; I was getting tired of the movie talk.

I also think that we seriously need to take a look at the prices of games. We'll never hit the mass market everyone dreams about at a $50 price point. Sims comes close, but I'd argue that it still hasn't reached the full potential of the mass market. Tetris is the only retail game I can think of that a broad variety of non-gamers actually plays, and that's not really a $50 game.

Allow me to share a thought I had a few weeks ago, one that actually ties into the "episode" idea that Scott mentioned. (Sorry, this is becoming another very long post.) I guess it's a combination of the shareware model and the expansion pack model. What if you make a game that offers only about two hours of play time. You spend a good amount of time designing it, developing it, and testing the hell out of those two hours of gameplay. You want it to be as bug-free as possible, and fun, of course. You architect it in such a way where the engine is completely separate from the content.

Then you make another two-hour "episode", and you test the hell out of that one, too. Now you've proven that your engine will work well with other episodes you make. Then you give the engine away for free, maybe with the first episode, and then sell all the other episodes for $5. You spend the next year or two churning out episodes at $5 each. You're mostly talking level design, artwork, and playtesting at this point, not a full development team. These episodes are true episodes, like a TV show, where it doesn't matter in which order you watch them. You let people decide which episodes they want, and make it really easy for them to buy. Each episode is a new, complete story, with a conclusion--not "to be continued". Your stories develop the characters over multiple episodes, so as people play more, they get to know the characters.

If you've actually made a good game, the hardcore gamers will hopefully buy at least 10 episodes, about 20 hours of gameplay, and $50--just about a normal game today. If you do your job marketing, you'll get members of the mass market to at least try your game for free. Maybe if they like it a little, they'll buy 1 or 2 more episodes. That's $10 you wouldn't have had otherwise. If you've done a good job, you'll intrigue them with the characters, and they'll want to see even more. Maybe people will start to create a "buzz" for the next coming episode. Unlike most of the other software on their computer, it actually works the first time and doesn't discourage them with random crashes. Plus, you've allowed them to spend their time and money at a rate much closer to that of a movie, something they're used to.

Anyway, I'm not going to claim this is the idea of the future. It was really just a passing thought, and you'd really need to plan, research, and crunch the numbers to see if it could work. I'm sure the industry-experienced out here can point out massive flaws in my plan, but that's not really why I said it. My real point is that we need to look at new approaches to selling games--marketing, pricing, IP creation, whatever--because the industry is in a rut. If we stay under the assumption that the status quo is the best mode of operation, the industry will never grow. I think that's pretty much a central theme of your articles, isn't it Scott?

Brian S.

Scott, on your point from Gary's perspective is the issue of positioning. The reason why I think the video game industry is still immature is that it does not reach a broader audience. It is not that it is incapable of doing so, just that for those in a position to push new brands there is no incentive. Meaning, games do not get a lot of free media/publicity.

Sure there may be a column or two in the technology/entertainment section devoted to game reviews, but as compared with books, tv and film, games do not get similar treatment. If a consumer wanted more in-depth information they would have to buy a gaming magazine, go to a web site, or subscribe to G4. Only there are consumers able to more closely evaluate the product. The broader media does not devote time for this except on rare occasions, but they do so regularly with book review, film previews, and tv pilots. It would be as if the only way you go information about a new tv show or film was reading Variety, Hollywood Reporter, or Premiere magazine.

Why is this so? Probably, because after doing surveys, executives found that it does not justify wasting column inches or airtime when such a small subsection of the audience would care about video games that much. Therefore, it becomes a vicious cycle whereby games are hampered becuase they do not receive free media to push their new ideas/product. Instead they have to rely on specialized magazines and web sites to make their voice heard. But because of the nature of the industry, marketers have a limited window in which to capture consumer attention.


Mick - "I'm not going to claim this is the idea of the future"

What you've got there is episodic games. This idea has been around for years and it's always been touted as the wave of the future, but somehow it's never quite taken off.

There have been some (very) modest successes, but no big developers or publishers have really made a serious attempt at it outside of the MMRPG genre. Eidos were talking about episodic content for the Tomb Raider series at one point back before the release of Angel of Darkness, but AFAIK that plan went out the window. Ditto for Duke Nukem: The Manhattan Project - originally that was supposed to be an episodic release, but in the end it was just sold via retail as a single (mid-price) game.

I wrote an article about episodic gaming a couple of years back. Might be a bit out of date by now, but I don't think there's been any massive developments since then.


As an industry newcomer, I find it rather inspiring that I came up with an idea on my own that some industry veterans have seriously considered. Maybe I actually have a future here! I do think there's gotta be a way to make "episodic gaming" work, but we won't find it without determination. Well, I don't want to go too far off on a tangent, and if Scott wants to go in that direction, he can always start another topic.

Brian said: "The reason why I think the video game industry is still immature is that it does not reach a broader audience." I wonder if it's not the other way around, that it doesn't reach a broader audience because it's still immature. Here's another industry comparison: books. Before the printing press, books were hand-written, and commissioned by the elite. Only the elite knew how to read. After the printing press, books were easier to publish and get into the hands of the mass market, but it took a while for common people to become literate. We've already seen a similar thing with operating systems. Now that people are realizing that computers are easier to use, more people are using them.

If we come up with the video game equivalent of the printing press--a way to reach the mass market--eventually people will start learning about them and using them. Then they won't need to be targeted only at the l33t. ; )

Brian, I think your last paragraph captures the media problem. The mass media has to cater to the desires of the consumers. If consumers aren't looking for video game information, the mass media won't print it. So the fundamental problem with getting game news in the mass media is that you have to find a way to make the consumers crave news about games. But that's no easy task. The industry will find a way, eventually, but it needs to consider new ways of doing business.

Scott Miller

Quick comments:

o There are two uses of the word "episodes": The way I've been using it is in place of the word "sequel." This usage makes sense when games have starring characters that come back game after game in new stories, like Tomb Raider and Max Payne. The other usage refers to smaller, generally lower-priced games that might have more than one episodic release per year. In effect, all of the The Sims (awkward!) expansion packs are close to being episodic in nature. But, for the most part, I've not seen the episodic model have much success -- perhaps it's not been given a fair try, yet.

-- "More to your point, it sounds like there's also a perception in the industry that it's too difficult to make new games good enough to differentiate themselves, so why bother?"

Mick, I DO see this as the crux of the problem. Publishers believe making original IP is a risky, risky business, and so they take few stabs at it. But, the pay-off is SO huge, if you can do it, it's worth a handful tries per year at minimum. What publishers need to do is better figure out what exactly are the essential qualities that lead to success. These qualities DO exist. And with this knowledge in had, they'd be able to eliminate most of the games that simply have no chance, and greenlight more games that do.

-- "The broader media does not devote time for this except on rare occasions, but they do so regularly with book review, film previews, and tv pilots."

Brian, as more gamers become professionals and permeate other industries, such as journalism, this will only improve in our favor. But also, this goes back to the fact that our industry is lacking in celebrity appeal, and so we're likely going to remain the subject of technical articles, rather than the inherently more interesting, in terms of a broader audience, people articles. People love to read about people. In this area, we will never match the on-screen media where actors rule.

BTW, lot's of great comments all!

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