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Are Video Games Upstaging Movies?
So far, this year has been an odd period of time for the gaming industry. In February, we heard that Activision had dropped the Guitar Hero franchise due to how poorly the later iterations of the game had done in the market; it simply couldn’t compete with the next round of strategic first person shooters. Then we heard that Nintendo’s Wii had surprisingly overtaken Microsoft’s xBox 360 in global sales. And finally there was the alarming news from Sony that its PlayStation Network had been hacked, possibly compromising millions of users’ private data.
It seemed as though the gaming industry was going to be turned on its head in the year 2011!
But, now it seems that all is normal. Gamespot reported that Take-Two, the company that owns Rockstar Games, has posted record profits for this year, on account of the success of Grand Theft Auto IV: Complete and Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare. There’s no word from the company as to the success of its latest title, L.A. Noire, though you can bet this has significantly helps its profit margin.
In the end of May, Take-Two reported that the company’s net revenue totaled $1.14 billion, nearly 50% higher than the $763 million it earned over the same period last year. This is a huge burst of sales on the part of the company, and it represents an enormous increase over the past year, which is good news for Take-Two, its investors, and gamers across the world, as it suggests that more and more main streamers have bought into the entertainment value of games. We’ve seen this before, when Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops became the highest grossing video game ever! In other words, the Black Ops effect, which we saw over last winter, is not an isolated event!
Charlie Brooker at the Guardian offers an interesting essay that explains why the mainstream has suddenly shown such a booming interest in gaming. Essentially, his argument comes down to this: contemporary movies are rubbish, and games offer us a more vivid experience, exactly what movies used to do fifty years ago. He focuses especially on how there are two kinds of games out there that draw us away from the passive entertainment of movies: the first is an intense puzzler game, like Portal, that makes us use our brains to solve complicated tasks and the second is a movie that we get to act in, like L.A. Noire. He emphasized how movie-like the game really was, with actors who are actually recognizable in the game due to advanced facial-movement technology.
Essentially, Brooker makes the argument that the video game industry is on the rise because its leaders are willing to press the envelope in order to create an amazing entertainment experience, while the movie industry is stagnant because it has become severely hampered by industry leaders’ reliance on formulas in order to create movies cheaply. He seems to think that soon video games will overtake movies in popularity.
Given the recent financial numbers that companies like Activision and Take-Two have posted, I’m inclined to agree with him.