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Are Video Games ‘Cinema 2.0′?

While the future of film remains unclear in the face of the digital revolution, new technologies are boosting video game sales to record highs. As the gaming experience becomes ever more cinematic, we examine whether they are posing a genuine threat to the film industry.


2007 was a bad year for film. The final credits rolled on two old-school masters, Bergman and Antonioni, and the best Hollywood had to offer was a tired litany of disappointing threequels: Ocean’s Thirteen; Shrek the Third; Spiderman 3; Rush Hour 3; Pirates of the Caribbean 3. It was also the year that a video game, Halo III (Bungie/Microsoft), made over $170m on its launch day, setting a record for the highest gross of an entertainment product within the first 24 hours of release.

Needless to say, the days of spotty teenagers playing Jet Set Willy on the Spectrum 48K, or bearded misanthropes losing their lives to alternate fantasy realities, are over. Games are big business, a business which is balanced, just like the film industry, on that weird and unpredictable fusion of technology and creativity.

Here we consider some of the areas where these two industries rub shoulders and overlap, to cast an eye across the boundaries that, over the last decade or so, have become somewhat blurred, and see what bearing, if any, this might have for the future of the movie business. Should the moguls and moneymen be worried? Is it game over? The title of this article may seem an alarmist or unnecessarily controversial question but then again, nobody knows anything, right?

Someone who does know a thing or two about video games is award-winning games writer Andrew Walsh (Prince of Persia, Ubisoft), and he’s certain the two industries can exist in harmony. “It’s a changing market and people want different things from each medium,” he says. “So there will be points where there’s conflict and points where they support each other, but I don’t think games will kill film. Most gamers love films as well.”

Still, in the race to dominate consumers’ limited quota of free time, it seems inevitable that there will be winners and losers among the various pillars of entertainment vying for our attention. Certainly, in terms of the finances, the so called Triple A titles have been dominating the headlines of late, a sure indicator that the video games industry has its crosshairs fixed firmly on the finishing line.

One game in particular, the highly anticipated first-person shooter Call Of Duty: Black Ops (Treyarch/Activision), was labelled the biggest entertainment release of all time in 2010. It made more than $650m in the first five days of release, slamming records set by its predecessor, Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Infinity Ward/ Activision), which itself is now closing in on $2bn.

Robert Kotick, the CEO of Activision Blizzard, is clear as to where this points. “Call of Duty,” he says, “has become the first entertainment property in history to set five-day launch records for two consecutive years across all forms of entertainment. The title’s success illustrates the mass appeal of interactive entertainment, as millions of consumers are choosing to play the game at unprecedented levels rather than engage in other forms of media.”