Films and games have cohabited for decades, but how best to integrate games with television? In a Hollywood & Game panel, representatives from Foglight Entertainment, Electronic Arts, DirecTV and Xbox discussed the future of blending interactive and linear entertainment.
SpikeTV's Geoff Keighley moderated the panel of game and TV executives including Foglight Entertainment president Gregg Backer, DirecTV Championship Gaming Series CEO Andy Reif, Xbox digital entertainment and alternative marketing manager Russ Axelrod, and Brandon Barber, director of entertainment development at Electronic Arts.
To start the panel off, Keighley asked the panel for examples of successful moves from games to TV.
DirecTV's Backer responded: "I started noticing that games were 80 percent cinematics. I thought, hey, taking some of those cinematics into TV would be an interesting idea. Taking something like Brothers in Arms and making it into a historically accurate documentary, is awesome. We made two hour and a half shows in three and a half months, with gameplay and cinematics together. We took these games and made them into a property in line with the main message."
Keighley then asked the panel how important getting games onto mainstream TV was, when the majority of gamers themselves were online.
Said Barber, "I think it depends on your definition of mainstream, and what you're setting up to do. Obviously getting a highly rated series on major broadcast would be amazing for everyone, But for us, most of the stuff we do is distributed through cable, but increasingly we find online is as viable as television.
"If we can create a custom piece of content and put it on our Youtube channel, get 800,000 views, and it costs almost nothing, why would we spend so much money trying to get something on Spike or other channels?" he said.
Keighley said that traditionally, TV networks approached game companies with media buy-ins -- if game companies wanted their content on networks, they would have to pay -- and wondered if that was changing.
Axelrod explained that "with Halo, we know what we can drive," but added that "when we have a smaller title that we need help on, we look at [TV buy-ins]. We still try to deliver compelling content, regardless of whether it's marketing, but with the big games we just don't need to do it."
"It's an iterative process," explained Barber, "it's an evolution. We did a making of about Lord of the Rings on SpikeTV, and it was strictly a media buy. But since then we've built relationships, and we've put up ratings, and driven their core business, so if we can prove you can put up substantial ratings, we shouldn't be stuck with for additional incremental media buys."
"What we're doing," added Backer, "is creating either documentaries, or unique programming, so the networks are paying for that programming. For a network to be involved in a game that's popular, it increases their demographic. For the games companies, like with Brothers in Arms, it got a mark of approval from the History Channel on the box. But from my end it's purely a paid contract from the network."
Said Axelrod, "Oddly enough it's both ways for us. On Xbox, we sometimes do media buys where we'll pay to get a show on the network, but now the networks are also trying to get their content on Xbox Live, so then they have to pay us. It's hard to do deals because the networks are all compartmentalized in different departments, but with Xbox Live being its own media play, we're trying to inform the networks of that. Discovery did a big buy around Gears of War, with a weapons show they had, and it did really well for them. It's just a question of everyone within these networks understanding that now they have to buy from us too."
Finally, Keighley asked the panel what the future of TV and games might hold with game companies building shows and selling them to networks.
Said Barber, "It's a lot about the opportunities out there. A lot has changed in the last six months - people are coming to the table with money, and wanting to move. No longer cold calling and knocking on doors. I'm sure you'll see EA make moves in that direcdtion in the near future, as we move into that space."
"I think Ubisoft made some great strategic bets there and put a lot on the table," he concluded, "but you've got Spiderman the movie and Spiderman the game, and basically you go out and watch the movie, and now it's just 'play the gamne version of the movie.' You should go out from the onset and build something out that's not just the movie hooks. It seems to me that game publishers across the board are going to move into that area."