As games cross over into other entertainment spheres -- music, TV, mobile, "advertainment" and more -- the industry finds itself invested with a new power, and confronted with a new slate of considerations.
At the 2008 CES in Las Vegas, an array of entertainment and gaming veterans put heads together to consider the rise of film tie-ins, the evolution of game storytelling, the music game boom, and where this collision-course convergence might be headed next.
William Morris Agency head of video games Cody Alexander; Vivendi CMO and executive strategy officer Cindy Cook; Bill Nielsen, senior director of Xbox Live; Brash Entertainment president and COO Nicholas Longano; Foundation 9 Entertainment business development director Chris Charla and 38 Studios President and CEO Brett Close handled a variety of questions on these issues from moderator Matthew Ringel, president of Games Media Properties.
New Year's Resolutions
Began Nielsen, "Guitar Hero
and Rock Band
have brought more people to Xbox than anything I've seen in the last 7 years, including my wife and daughter. My resolution this year is to make it to Rock Star level. My son's there, and he's embarrassing me."
"2007 ended with a bang, with us," continued Cook, referring to
the Vivendi/Activision and Blizzard merger. "But we still have to make sure the properties are exciting, way beyond just licensing a movie and making the movie of the game," she cautioned.
Continued Cook, "One example is Scarface
, a 70's movie updated as a game. My resolution simply is to have 9 million more people enjoy WoW
this year, and have all the people who haven't had a chance to get Guitar Hero
now get it."
Said Longona, "Seven out of the 10 biggest movies this year were licensed properties, and we may well see that kind of growth in the gaming market as well. Our entire focus is making the best games out of the best IP. We'll look at a movie, read the script, talk to the filmmakers, and treat it as our own IP." Longona's resolution? "Take the sensibilities of great storytelling and bring that to great games for the marketplace," he stated.
Added Close, "The key mistake that anybody makes is not trying to make a crossover product, and enriching it to make it attractive to both audiences."
Noted Charla, "90 percent of what we do is licensed. The real trick is to make it an exciting world to play in. There are movies out there that are great stories -- but not great worlds. The best licensed games are ones that let you explore a larger world. Games aren't great at telling linear stories right now; they're good at giving you a great playground."
"That's critical," agreed Close. "Another consideration is the Hollywood studio itself. Is it really interested in being involved in the game before the shooting starts, or are they just interested in generating a license fee?"
Are Games Telling Stories Better?
When asked about the state of game storytelling, Nielsen said, "The thing that's really changed it for us is that the consoles have the power to do better AI. That's the greatest change for us. Besides having a great world, the other question is: How can we have more responses to the player?"
Said Cook, "We're bringing up the niche of the writers who can tell compelling stories, like Ghostbusters
, where we hired the original writers. There'll be fun gameplay, a great sandbox and the original writers and talent."
was about the story," added Nielsen. "GTA
separated the world in a whole different way. We have to create a bigger world as well. These showed us that what we have to do with the next gen games is to have a great story and
a great world."
"Shooters are all getting bigger, better stories," Close agreed. "Story is the next frontier for all game genres."
Said Longano, "We look to partner the creators of the original IP with experienced game writers who really understand the game genre. The same things goes with adapting games to film -- you can't just condense a game into a two-hour story. You need to do a true adaptation."
Agreed Charla, "To do a traditional licensing deal, where you have six months to make the game after the film has been shot, it's gonna be terrible no matter how good the team is. Time is the number one factor in quality."
"It's time," concurred Longano, adding, "but it's passion for the franchise as well, the desire to make a great and compelling game."
Music Game Fever
"The Warhol vision of '15 minutes of fame' has really come true for this generation," Nielsen said. "Whether its via YouTube, or being the best player in the school or at the party. Even the girls want to play. We have Rock Band
set up in one of our conference rooms, and there's not one woman in the building who doesn't want to play."
Cook agreed, "Even products that aren't as music-focused are interested in having music be part of the video game experience, having people interact with the soundtrack itself. The 50 Cent game [Bulletproof
] was an okay game, but a great music product, where people could get the whole 50 Cent experience. As the music industry's main markets are getting softer, they are becoming much more flexible and are eager to work with game industry projects."
Studio Relationships and Xbox Live
Enthused Nielsen, "Xbox Live is the leading platform for on-demand HD in the world. It's just been a phenomenal business for us. We had no idea. My kids download everything to their iPods -- oh, I should say their Zunes. But they are fully comfortable with downloading content.
We were fully aware of the coming conflict between HD-DVD and Blu-ray; we decided to put our efforts into downloadable video content. We've sold over 1 billion points for downloadable content for TV and movies, as well as game content. It' a very exciting thing for us, and we've just begun to do music videos. We're trying to push the producers to make more HD, because that's the resolution our consumers want."