Games Vs. Movies: Wrath Of The Sequels
If there’s one thing about Hollywood you can always count on, it’s that a movie that racks in $100 million dollars that’s not based on a historical event or a novel, will always spawn a sequel. In the world of gaming, it works pretty much the same way. The only difference is that $100 million dollar movies are often original and push for something exciting in a genre that has yet to be done, or is highly anticipated (i.e., superhero films, remakes or graphic novels.) $100 million dollar games happen to inflect a specific trend for a very specific demography, sometimes bypassing some things such as storylines or character depth. So why is it that games can be more successful when it comes to a sequel, than a movie?
Well, first and foremost, games are a little less risk-taking when it comes to a big budget project aimed at a big payoff. The reason for this is that [games] cost a lot to make and require a very specific demographic audience to invest in the product. Added to this, newer games usually start at $50 on up (i.e., anything below $35 is ranked as bargain-priced.,) so it’s not like the average kid (or family) is going to bother buying a new game, full price, every week. But it’s pretty much guaranteed that the same audience that just pushed the motion picture of Iron Man over the $100 million mark, is the same audience who will push Speed Racer over the $100 million mark, not but a week later.
It’s this simple: movies are more convenient for making money. Despite having a much higher budget, most studios rely on mass marketing to promote movies enough so that multiple demographics will be attracted to the movie. But considering that most non-budget priced games solely rely on males between the ages of 14 through 34 years, it really does require a certain kind of game to hit Hollywood-equivalent sales figures. But unlike the blockbuster-budget movie or its sequel that comes out of a big production studio, video game developers actually have it off easier when it comes to a sequel.
If Paramount Studios want to follow-up their recent Iron Man success with a sequel in the coming years, then they’re going to have their work cut out for them. They’ll need a script that’s just as good (if not better) than the original, they’ll need more and better special effects and even more breathtaking action sequences. Otherwise, rumors of a sub-par film (on any level) could ruin the sequel before it even gets off the ground. This is and is not the case with a video game sequel. Unlike the movie industry – where re-invention and consistency plays a big part in making a successful sequel – game developers simply have to add more to the next game than what was in the previous one.
With the exception of feature-overhauled sequels such as Grand Theft Auto IV or Metal Gear Solid 4, usually the changes for most sequels aren’t quite as grandiose. Often times developers will include one really good innovative feature; a couple of gameplay enhancements, improved visuals and a noteworthy storyline. Believe it or not, those (seemingly) simple additions can boost a sequel up to platinum status...if the original game hadn’t been there already.
If a development studio even manages to sell 500,000 copies of a game, they’re more likely to sell 1 million with a sequel. The reason for this is that if they had the money to produce a game that sells half-a-million copies, then the next time around the company will usually have enough to sell twice, if not three times as much (i.e., Halo.) Furthermore, take Activision’s Guitar Hero franchise for example, which just keeps getting bigger and is now a multi-platinum selling series. The sequels consist of a couple of minor changes amid one fairly decent feature, but gamers just keep eating it up. There’s also Halo, which started off rather slowly when it debuted as a launch title for the original Xbox, but is now a franchise that hit the multi-platinum benchmark in record time. Other franchises that started off with moderate success but went on to achieve monumental sales figures include: Resident Evil, Devil May Cry, Tekken, Dead or Alive, Smackdown vs. Raw, Splinter Cell and Grand Theft Auto, to name a few.
However, many of the fore-mentioned titles didn’t start off as games that would even be considered as a multi-platinum franchise. For example, the first two Spider-Man movies are still considered highly entertaining, and will continue to garner sales on the home-media front. But the first two Grand Theft Auto games are actually up for grabs...for free. Yep, there’s no point in even finding enjoyment in any GTA game made before Grand Theft Auto III. The same goes for franchises that started on the PSOne, such as Tomb Raider or the highly celebrated racer, Gran Turismo; they’re no longer fun because they’re nearly unplayable among today’s generation of the same games. In the world of gaming, if it’s not current it’s usually no longer playable. Try going back and playing Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure on the SNES after having played Uncharted: Drakes Fortune on the PS3. You can’t. From less responsive controls to outdated graphics, older games lose their value over time. This is all thanks to the evolutionary progress of game engines, which give developers long lasting resources to help evolve sequels, despite making previous iterations of a franchise destined to be obsolete.
And unlike big-budget CG-based films where the crew has to recreate a lot of the resources for a sequel that may are may not do as well as the first film, game developers can simply re-utilize everything they used from the first game. Designers can sometimes retouch the old graphics without needing to re-do all the animations for every avatar...or implement new modes while keeping the core gameplay intact. Game engines are the perfect platform for getting a game done and then allowing for an even more vast experience for the sequel. As much as this falls into the category of “re-hashed resources”, often times it works wonders for getting SKUs off store shelves. Just look at EA’s Madden or FIFA series...the amount of units sold for both franchises speak volumes (viz., although the quality for both games may say something entirely different.)
All in all, though, the gaming industry has a huge one-up on the movie industry when it comes to sequels, because of their versatility on the developmental front. And while Hollywood may have some big sequels planned for this summer (i.e., Indiana Jones, The Dark Knight, etc.,) the gaming industry will be rolling out some pretty big sequels later this year as well (i.e., Gears of War 2, Resistance: Fall of Man 2, etc.) And even if some of the games happen to cost less to develop than some of the Hollywood heavyweights, there’s no doubt that they’ll make just as much of an impact when it comes to sales. GTA IV is proof of that.
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