What do films and video games have in common? Nobody really knows what they're doing.
A long lecture by film director Steven Soderberg has been making the rounds over the past 24 hours. It's an interesting read with some good thoughts on the film studio system, the idea of "cinema," and the role of independent film. It should also sound really familiar if you follow the video game industry.
See, while reading Soderbergh's thoughts on Deadline today, I couldn't help but notice some blatant parallels between film and gaming. For example:
Speaking of meetings, the meetings have gotten pretty weird. There are fewer and fewer executives who are in the business because they love movies. There are fewer and fewer executives that know movies. So it can become a very strange situation. I mean, I know how to drive a car, but I wouldn’t presume to sit in a meeting with an engineer and tell him how to build one, and that’s kind of what you feel like when you’re in these meetings. You’ve got people who don’t know movies and don’t watch movies for pleasure deciding what movie you’re going to be allowed to make. That’s one reason studio movies aren’t better than they are, and that’s one reason that cinema, as I’m defining it, is shrinking.
Sounds like the world of big video game publishers, don't you think? We hear so often—and this is generalizing, of course—about executives at big game companies who just don't play games. Replace the word "movies" with "video games" in that paragraph and it sounds almost word-for-word what some game publisher meetings are like.
Also, as Soderbergh writes, nobody in the film world really knows whether something will be a hit or a flop:
So the obstacle here isn’t just that special subject matter, but that nobody has figured out how to reduce the cost of putting a movie out. There have been some attempts to analyze it, but one of the mysteries is that this analysis doesn’t really reveal any kind of linear predictive behavior, it’s still mysterious the process whereby people decide if they’re either going to go to a movie or not go to a movie. Sometimes you don’t even know how you reach them. Like on Magic Mike for instance, the movie opened to $38 million, and the tracking said we were going to open to 19. So the tracking was 100% wrong. It’s really nice when the surprise goes in that direction, but it’s hard not to sit there and go how did we miss that? If this is our tracking, how do you miss by that much?
This might sound familiar to Square Enix, perhaps the most recent victim of tracking gone wrong. The Japanese publisher expected to sell 5-6 million copies of Tomb Raider; instead they sold 3.4 million. Their predictions were totally wrong (and rather unreasonable).
Go read all of Soderbergh's lecture: it's fascinating, and the parallels really are uncanny.