Movie and Game Comparison

Originally posted,

The game industry is relatively new and is still trying to establish a professional working model that works for both employer and employee in the modern working environment. It uses a studio model, similar to the movie industry but has so far eschewed (for the most part) from the feast and famine approach of that industry. Game companies tend to hire people full time and not just on a contract or per project basis - with only limited hiring flux outside of QA teams during development. Thus, in many ways the comparison between the two is not very fruitful; given that they are both media (entertainment) industries that developed in the last entry, we do find some fruit on the tree to make comparing and contrasting them an interesting exercise.

Feast and famine is a term that I will use often when discussing the movie and game industries. Popularity of a game is a self-feeding growth mechanism. The more popular a game is and thus, the more people are playing it - the more likely they will get there friends to get the game to join them in playing it as well. This is specifically true for multi player games. The best example of this phenomenon are the music games. At their height they were a billion dollar industry (for about a year) and this year they will probably not even break four hundred million. It was able to reach such heights because of the codependency relationship in multiplayer games and the need for each player to have their own copy. There reaches a critical mass where the relationship becomes like a pyramid scheme, where more people are convinced to make the purchase because of the existing number of people who already have a copy of the game. We get large number of sales. However, if you do not reach critical mass then you will have orders of magnitude less in unit sales. In this case you will often struggle just to break even from the development, marketing and manufacturing costs. This is very similar in mechanism to the movie industry that sees only a few of there movies move on to be block blusters. There is a difference in scope, though the difference is decreasing with time. A block bluster movie can cost somewhere between $50-150 million. A corresponding game will be in the range of $15-25 million. Thus, there is a lot more money to loose if a movie flops at the theatre. However, they have multiple sources of revenue and even if a movie fails at the screen, there is a good chance it will break even from video, pay-per-view and direct-to-view income. For game companies, they really only get one try as there is no alternate revenue stream of game software that pays the publisher (there is of course the secondary game market but none of that money is seen by the publisher or developer of the game). The risk-reward comes out to be fairly close because of this difference and it is one way in which the two industries are the same.

Another interesting similarity between the two industries are their dependency of the creative capability of a few people within the project to create the framework for the entire product. A movie is largely propelled by the director. In the game industry that responsibility can be a little more diffuse but that dependency on those people is the same as that the movie industry has on the director to drive the project forward. The difference is that the movie industry has used this dependency as part of their marketing. The game industry has largely tried to hide the responsibility of individual people towards the project. The exception tends to be people who have either large shares in the company or have been the industry for so long its hard to hide their presence. Game journalism will talk about and interview the key people on a project but there is little public recognition of these people. The reasoning behind that is purely business as companies obviously want their name attached to an IP and not the name of a person who could leave the company and join the competition. There is sense to this but it is something that clearly marks a difference between the two industries. The movie industry practically celebrates the contributions of the individual publicly and use it as part of the public presence of the product, while the game industry does its best to hide individual contributions.

There are obviously many more differences but I thought this was a good couple of samples. Will probably talk about it some more in the future.