Movie and Game Collaborations

Originally posted,

Interaction between the movie and game industry comes in three ways: movie companies that try and establish gaming studios, movie auteurs who become involved in game projects and then game companies who try to establish effect / movie related studios. The first has been met with arguable successes a few times but also with definitive failures. Lucas Arts is an obvious example of the arguable success. The games they have made in their early history were significant and made large contributions to the growing gaming industry. (My favorites are Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle.) However, past those golden years (after they restructured and let go most of there old 2D / adventure staff) things have been increasingly volatile at the company. They go through regular waves of growth and shrinkage - the most recent during this month. The games are still well received but at the same time the company has become a point of concern for people working in the industry due to the cyclical pattern of their studio employment. While Lucas Arts has been a commercial success, I would argue that due to their method of employment, we would have to temper that success with concern about it as a place of stable employment. I have heard of other attempts but since I have not heard of shipping titles, I am assuming that things did not go well for the most part. Digital Domain started a gaming studio and I have not heard of anything from them in some time. To my knowledge, Dreamworks has been involved in some projects but only as related to their own IP. Disney at least is a player at the financial level (investing in various larger groups) but directly as a corporation has not made much traction outside of their own IP (and arguable other people have done much better with the IP than Disney themselves). Overall I think the problem is that the expectations are mismanaged and there is a belief by this movie studios that there should be a significant amount of skill cross over. However, both in terms of the creative and in the technical development, there is little cross over in skill set. The result is tumultuous and generally leads to projects being terminated. I think there is potential there to be tapped but care has to be made to mange the expectations, understand the limited skill set cross over, and determine if there really is sufficient business reasons for such a lateral (and significant) shift in growth direction.

Most of the time when movie personas are involved in gaming project it is primarily for marketing reasons. When it becomes more involved than that the skill set cross over and expectations generally lead to problems. I am not surprised that EA had to cancel the Spielburg game recently. I have great respect for his movies but without firm experience in the gaming industry it is hard to set expectations and manage those expectations for what can be done in this medium. I have had friends work with known authors for game scripts, and other than providing a back history they usually do not have the background for generating the massive quantity of text required for interactive fiction. Specifically, novelist are much more used to controlling the level of detail, pacing and world description that is hard to do when the player is such an integral part of controlling the experience. There is definitely a different skill set required for creating game content. On the other side I have worked on teams that worked out very well with outside talent. On one of my projects we received a lot of very useful art direction feedback and information through out the development of the project which allowed us to make a high quality game. I guess my feeling on the subject is that there is a lot of possibility for such collaboration but they need to remain collaborations. People coming in from outside of the industry should be looking to work with and through people with that experience rather than directly on the project itself.

The third way that the two industries collide is when game studios start working as effect houses. This is a more recent development, pursued most actively by Ubisoft. They were very vocal about their contributions to the Avatar movie and have established a plan to have their new Toronto studio does cross-blended development. I think this will prove to be interesting, but I have no real feedback on this right now.

Take Away: There is strong potential for collaboration between movie and game industries. These relationships need to be managed well, with focus on controlling expectations. The current track record for these relationships has been fairly negative but should be improving. We are starting to see game studios starting to work in the movie industry, as opposed to the previous more common practice of the movie industry working in the game industry.