Movies and games, everyone has an entertainment budget and both industries want the most of it. Decades ago there was no doubt who the king of the entertainment dollar. Movies set all major records for revenue and sales. Today, the battle-lines are blurred. Game companies rushed to recreate popular movies into games for sustained appeal when film was king. In 1983 the wireframe arcade version of Star Wars enjoy widespread appeal and success. Atari 2600, NES, Sega, and PC, all major platforms have seen success with movie ported properties.
Regardless of game critic opinions, for the better part of three decades game companies were poised with a licensed video game version of the next mass appeal movie hitting theaters. Trailers for a new movie would be accompanied by trailers for its game shortly thereafter. Yet the movie-to-game well has dried up. This year has seen Jurassic World, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Avengers Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, and The Hunger Games all passed by without a direct video game tie in. What changed?
Money changes everything. When the video game industry was a multi-million (with an M) dollar business, quick game cash-ins were necessary. Top games ten years ago hauled in hundreds of millions worldwide. Those were few, and in 1995 games with movie licenses accounted for a significant percentage (6 of the top 25 most popular games) of those paltry millions.
Now the tables have turned. Box office revenues are hitting 36.4 billion with roughly 4% growth each year, according to Statista.com a varied industry statistics website. With global film industry revenues across all markets reaching 88 billion USD, these once titanic figures have been eclipsed by video game industry numbers. According to the same site, the video game market in 2015 (across all platforms) is reaching 115.06 billion. These statistics are probably not a complete and accurate picture of PC gaming revenue hauls. Valve’s STEAM distribution platform quietly rakes in huge chunks of revenue while disclosing little information on sales. These revenue estimates therefore are on the modest side. Yet demonstrate that the game market has evolved into an entertainment juggernaut.
Money changes landscapes quicker than 16 gardeners with weed-whackers. Over the last decade celebrity voices have been featured in games for quite some time. There have been directors that have tried to cross over from movies into their own games. We are now seeing top Hollywood actors and super models advertising mobile games on TV. Fallout 4 and Call of Duty commercials airing in the middle of prime time NFL football games. Movies based on games maybe on the rise again with Hitman: Agent 47 already released, and Warcraft on the way, with trailers airing during other major Hollywood releases. The amount of movie licensed games in the top 25 are cutdown by half, and of those three none are direct movie tie-ins. Why bother, when original video game IPs are outpacing Hollywood entries with ease?
Gamers were not the ones being shackled to the film industry, rather developers were or felt they were in order to be commercially successful. Production companies have been seeing for quite some time that original, deeper, and socially integrated gaming yields higher revenues. Should it spell the end of movie tie-in games forever? Well, yes and no. As we have seen the rushed or extremely accessible properties go no where fast. However titles built in movie, comic, and novel universes with more intricate gaming concepts in mind would still have significant appeal. It’s hard to dismiss great games like Dark Forces II, Batman Arkham City, and Goldeneye. Afterall, what would the gaming landscape have become without some of those wonderful games leading the way? While this weekend’s Force Awakens breaks box office records with no game tie in, we have to wonder if the era of great games based on movies is now officially over as well? Will there be a new surge of well known film stars intertwining themselves with video games (as they have been doing with television programming) at new unprecedented heights? But perhaps the most burgeoning question becomes, will there be a rise of really good games that are based on familiar universes once again, or have games become a universe all to themselves?