April 16, 2010
The Now and Future of Games in Hollywood

Today, I'm sitting at Microsoft NERD attending the MIT Business in Games conference. This morning, I attended a presentation called Hollywood, Music, & Games (which skewed toward just "Hollywood & Games"). The panel included:

Chris Weaver (MIT & Consulting Researcher for C3)

Mike Dornbrook (Harmonix)
Paul Neurath (Floodgate Entertainment)
Mark Blecher (Hasbro Digital Media & Gaming)
Ian Davis (Rockstar Games)

The panel talked about cross-platform narratives, how franchises span games and movies, and the problems that game creators have faced dealing with Hollywood executives and movie producers (as well as the implications that these problems have had on "good games").

My notes follow after the jump!

Weaver: cautionary tale: Brash Entertainment
those who claim to be game changers: usually aren't

what's Hollywood's connections to the games industry?

Davis: less contact between gaming industry & Hollywood the better
less in common between making games/movies, less in common w/ experience game/movie (latter: more like reading book; former: more like sports)

Neurath: films as media: fundamentally different from games; interactivity; film: has stories, passive;
what makes good film doesn't make good game

Blecher: experiences are different; creative talent: different; also: reason for creation: games: want to make good game; Hollywood: licensing business: just to make extra cash
Hollywood: doesn't care about good gameplay
difference between movie games & branded games
best: Batman, Arkham Asylum: wasn't approved by movie's directors, but creators could make good game based on Batman

Davis: games that follow the movie exactly = no fun
movies: contingent on extremely detailed story plots; when player needs to make decision, you're fracturing the storytelling experience
then again: doesn't mean it's not going to be fun
can't: tie game experience to linear storytelling experience

Weaver: film people by their nature: very serial by the story they want to tell
but: story director wants to tell: director cuts; versus story studio puts out
movie v. games: movie has benefit: know where you're going next; games: interactive: depends on multitude of factorial decisions
if you're going to have a successful Hollywood game: just keep the movie out of it

Blecher: license deals w/ Activision & Electronic arts
console companies: less and less interested in making tie-in games
assets aren't available, directors = too hard to work with

w/ cross-media platforms: willingness to participate or not? in games part of the equation

Davis: made games for StarTrek license
had mediator between himself & StarTrek people: would protect from Hollywood side
other experience: worst experience in gaming career: writer from Star Trek series necessary
just a ship fighting game: but w/ voiceovers, had to use ships to talk back and forth: would have been 30 min. of 40 min. mission
there's a grammar of camera control that games have to port from films

Q: franchises: how to cater to different generations of fans by dividing worlds?

Blecher: how to leverage brand into different mediums for different people?
many versions of the Star Wars story for families, fanboys, etc., and in different mediums
key: not take story of one medium and copy it into another medium
Transformers Cybertron game: uses franchise but not same story

Neurath: Hollywood licenses: if willing to let their properties morph to work more effectively as games: will bring more success

Weaver: is Hollywood ready for social games?
not really graphic limitations or hardware
but: a lot more people making the games
how do lawyers react to fandom aspects, ability to control what happens socially, etc.?

Neurath: social network games: creating content
if you're worried about IP: could be real issue; other hand: MMOs that have been based on large brands

Weaver: pains to work on games for major franchises (Pirates of Caribbean, etc.)

Blecher: is the brand relevant? is the IP going to be interpreted properly?
social network games: 3 of top 10 iPhone games: Hasbro brands
brands will win in the casual space
if brand hits Farmville level, it will over take FV

Neurath: when it's about making games: Hollywood studios: not game companies

Blecher: 1 important A: need to let IP go, or lock it up and nobody gets excited about it
eg., Nerf
Scrabulous: needed to take action: but shutting it down would have alienated users: made alternative (though some fanboys tried to crash server)


What happens when Hollywood takes over game brand?

Davis: some game companies don't want this; gamers would forget about it; movie goers would do what they do
ZERO movies made out of games that are good

Blecher: Wing Commander series: WC film = bad: skills don't necessarily translate
Tomb Raider: not great film, but commercially did well

Blecher: game property films: don't translate well

Weaver: skill sets: pretty different
can't necessarily train yourself to the TOOLS to exploit it

transmedia: we don't see creatives that can use skills to create these franchises, like Wachowskis, who grew up with the tools/skills

Creating brands = ?

Blecher: Littlest Pet Shop --> online world that must have right look, interacting with pets; pet-driven, no people; etc.; THEN: idea for games comes out of essence for brand

Q: will transmedia franchises that use games to tell story alienate audiences?

Weaver: people are growing up with this stuff; 5 years out: everyone will have been immersed in video

Blecher: don't go to movie to interact with it; go to sit back and be entertained

Neurath: value of brand: whether it's social network game or console game: brand entices you to try it out
also depends on game styles: casual v. hardcore
from commercial standpoint: brand creates awareness to try game

Weaver: 2.7 seconds for people to make decision online interacting with one element
but with all the noise: how does someone pay attention, or even filter everything to even see it in the first place

From the panel, seems like there's no partnerships; people want different experiences with characters, etc.; Why so proprietary, and not talking with Hollywood about better narratives + games?

Davis: have tried it before; didn't really work
people are interested in different experiences
game: NEEDS to be appropriate to the medium
however: the partnerships have NOT resulted in the appropriateness of applying brands to games well

Neurath: films start from books: good translation; some games: depends
games/interactive media: trying to look at building property that could live simultaneously across multiple media: not many people who can do it