Monday, April 07, 2008

Video (games) Haven't Killed the Mo-oo-vie Star...or the TV Star, or Table Top Gaming, or...

Today's Gamasutra has an excellent interview with game developer Peter Molyneux which accurately describes the impact the gaming industry has had on other media, particularly film The verdict? You have to read between the lines, because Molyneux is talking more about gaming's success than its effects on other media directly, is that gaming is a large marketplace, but hasn't taken the place of other media when it comes to entertainment.

I'm as fond of anyone when it comes to telling screenwriters and other entertainment creators that gaming has effected the box office and tv ratings, though likely less than internet piracy in my opinion. In fact, I have a "conversation tape" I like to repeat mantra-esque to demonstrate how big gaming has become. "Do you ever wonder why NBC Universal feels like they are in such a position of power when they negotiate? It's because they have the equivalent of a $140 million blockbuster every month with World of Warcraft." Gaming matters, but those who see "doom and gloom" on the horizon for other media are also missing the point. Have a look at some of Peter's comments:

PM: I would say, to a great extent, we in the development community have really let this industry down. Because I wouldn't say there were exponentially more people playing computer games today than there were when Game Developers Conference first started. Fifteen years ago? Twenty years ago? It's been quite a while.

When it seems to me that the number of people that use computer games as entertainment isn't getting exponentially bigger. Although the market is getting bigger, and we're selling eight million units.

But I've been really thinking about, I remember back in the early eighties... when Clive Sinclair in England released the Sinclair Spectrum. And he famously said, "Every home in Britain will have one of these, and people won't watch television anymore, they will play computer games." That was a dream that was put forth in the seventies, when this thing had 1K of RAM -- and for a little while, we all believed that.

Now, there seems to be this big barrier that exists. And I was actually just in the shops, down here -- I'd forgotten to bring a shirt -- and I was talking to the bloke who's selling me a shirt, and he said: "Aw, I don't play computer games. Because I'm not good enough. I can't get my head round this thing. [Molyneux holds up an Xbox 360 controller.] Every time I do it, I hit my head against a wall." Now that's a huge failure. That's our failure. For not being really, truly as big as movies. Because we're not. Because we only sell -- what do we sell? Eight million?

What is amazing about Molyneux's comments isn't that he's correct that gaming is "not really, truly as big as movies." It's that he's wrong. Look at the figure he uses regarding the number of units sold, eight million. Let that number sink in for a minute. He plans on selling eight million copies of FABLE 2, and he doesn't see himself as big as the film industry. Apparently, he doesn't realize that a movie with eight million viewers has approximately an $80 million box office (likely more since I don't really know where I can see a movie for only $10.00). When you add that video games cost four times as much as films, and the fact that most gamers are likely also movie goers, it would be fair to assume that gaming has already had its impact on film going. And what is that result? According to Variety, "All in all, the 2007 box office was up 5% over 2006, while admissions were up 1%. So far this year, the B.O. is running 9% ahead of the same frame in 2007, fueled by the continued success of "Legend" and "Alvin" along with a solid crop of 2008 films, including "Juno," the highest-performing specialty pic in six years."

That's right "admissions were up 1%." Never forget that all the doom and gloom regarding theater attendance during the past few years has been in comparison to a year that had a record high box office.

So with video games having already become as successful as films, eight million units is like $80 million B.O. (except that it's actually $320 million in sales, $160 for the game maker), the number of people watching films in theaters has increased. The same can be seen in the board game industry as well. While individual sales of some board games have decreased, we are in a boom of available games. The largest problem with the board game market is how fragmented it's become, there are too many publishers publishing too many titles. Take a visit to Board Game Geek and look only at the games released in 2007, compare those to 1997. The same even applies to role playing games.

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