10 September 2010

Video Games Outselling Movies on Current Wars

The NY Times details the difference in the commercial fortunes of movies and video games about the current/ongoing wars.

Unless you regard something like “Iron Man” as a film about Afghanistan, the movies inspired by America’s contemporary wars have consistently been box-office flops. Even “The Hurt Locker” grossed only $16 million in theaters. Video games that evoke our current conflicts, on the other hand, are blockbusters — during the past three years, they have become the most popular fictional depictions of America’s current wars. Last year’s best-selling game was Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which opens in Afghanistan; it was a sequel to a multimillion-selling 2007 game that features an American invasion of a nameless Middle Eastern country. Modern Warfare 2 has made “Avatar”-like profits for its studio, Activision. On the day the game was published in November, it sold nearly five million copies in North America and Britain, racking up $310 million in sales in 24 hours. By January of this year, the game’s worldwide sales added up to $1 billion.

For years, earlier installments of the Call of Duty franchise and other military shooters — the video-game industry’s term for these games about warfare — were, like cable-TV miniseries produced by Tom Hanks, always about World War II. But the Modern Warfare series has demonstrated that players have an appetite for games that purport to connect them to the wars their college roommates, or their sons, might be fighting in. Both Modern Warfare games are set in a mythical near-future, but the weapons — Predator drones, AC-130 gunships, nukes — clearly conjure Afghanistan and Iraq, as do the games’ good guys (Americans, British) and bad guys (terrorists). The appeal of this quasi-fictional setting is one reason that Modern Warfare 2 now sits alongside titles from more-famous franchises like Grand Theft Auto and Super Mario on the lists of the top-selling video games ever made.

Is it because the video game player can control his own narrative, rather than being beaten over the head with the film-maker's agenda? Or is audience participation a key issue here? Is it the difference in the ages of the audiences? Or were they just bad movies? There's certainly more worth studying here.

By: Brant

1 comment:

Boris said...

This is nothing to do with setting, it's down to brand strength and targeted mass appeal.
CoD is not a true "wargame", it's an exercise in giving the mass consumer what they want, christ the whole game could have you cleaning toilets back at base and it would still sell just because of the name.
CoD should not be compared to war-films, it should be compared to its equivalents in the film industry, big dumb hollywood action films are probably the closest bet (the Expendables comes to mind at the moment).
Check the sales figures for the ARMA games, probably the best current example of a true first-person wargame, I'm sure they'll tell a different story.