Will Video Games Destroy Cinema?

With the rise of blockbuster video games that are often like being in a movie, is there any point in the film industry anymore?

Last week, £300m worth of discs of the online shoot ‘em up ‘Destiny’ shipped to retailers in its first few days on sale, offering a new hint that games could soon outperform the billions earned by films such as ‘Frozen’.

Today, hit movies earn more than games, when box office take and sales on Blu-Ray and DVD are taken into account together: but recent console hits have narrowed the gap.

Destiny: Sci-fi Game sells $500 Million in the First Day
Destiny: Sci-fi Game sells $500 Million in the First Day

Last year, the biggest-selling entertainment product in Britain was the game ‘Grand Theft Auto V’, which beat the home-grown film ‘Skyfall’ into second place on Blu-Ray and DVD.

Against box-office films, it performed even better. ‘GTA V’ earned £137.8m in the UK in 2013 according to GfK Chart-Track. This was around £9m higher than the £129.9m box-office takings of the three top cinema films (‘Despicable Me 2’, ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ and ‘Les Misérables’) put together.

Accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers have predicted that the earnings of games will grow faster than any other form of media. Cinema audiences are also falling fast, according to another PwC report.

Could we see a day when games will out-earn even the biggest Hollywood hits?

Hollywood is moonlighting in games already

Many of Hollywood’s top directors and writers already “moonlight” in the games industry, with some already being passionate advocates of the new form.

Steven Spielberg has been making games for decades, for example. He helped shape the modern gaming landscape with his contributions to the World War II-themed ‘Medal of Honor’ games, which in turn inspired the gritty realism of the ‘Call of Duty’ series.

This year, he is working on a live-action TV series which will accompany the launch of the science fiction shooter ‘Halo 5’ on Microsoft’s Xbox One.

Big game titles such as ‘Call of Duty’ routinely call on heavyweight Hollywood scriptwriters such as Stephen Gaghan, the Oscar-winning writer of ‘Traffic’, who worked on ‘Call of Duty: Ghosts’.

Peter Jackson is another vocal advocate of gaming, and is heavily involved in the game versions of his film series such as ‘The Hobbit’ and the ongoing games inspired by his ‘The Lord of the Rings’ films.

George Lucas launched a gaming division of Lucasfilm in 1982, which has been behind dozens of major hits. The director has also been influential in bringing the two industries closer.

Hit such as 2000’s‘Star Wars: Episode I Racer’, which used the same voice cast as the film ‘Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace’, helped shape the relationship between games and cinema. It remains the highest-selling sci-fi racing game of all time.

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Games use the same technology

Films such as Peter Jackson’s ‘King Kong’ pioneered the use of game-style graphics to ‘pre-visualise’ scenes to help voice actors work within them.

Today, when actors in Lucasfilm productions play computer-generated characters, they can watch themselves on screen as they act, courtesy of convincing-looking 3D technologies borrowed from the games industry, without the wait for human artists and animators to do their work.

Visual effects artists routinely work across both cinema and games, and technologies migrate between the two. The 3D animation software ‘Maya’ is an industry standard Hollywood tool, used to create the effects in ‘Avatar’ and ‘Frozen’, but it was also used in games such as ‘Halo 4’.

Powerful new consoles such as PlayStation 4 have narrowed the gap between Hollywood effects and games still further.

Games are more immersive

For many Hollywood veterans, games are unknown territory, with powerful cinematic potential.

For writers in particular, a medium where the “viewer” chooses the ending is very different to cinema, where the only “interactivity” comes in the form of DVDs and Blu-Rays with a choice of endings.

Call Of Duty: Ghosts (Copyright: Activision)
Call Of Duty: Ghosts (Copyright: Activision)

The ‘Call of Duty’ series broke new ground by hiring David S Goyer, a Hollywood veteran who scripted the recent trilogy of ‘Batman’ films.

Goyer said that the process of writing for games is far more complex than writing for film, "We had different endings, branching storylines. We had to come up with an elaborate flowchart to keep track of all the branching narratives. I actually lost track of how many possible endings there are.”

"I would definitely do more games, and I hope to. I know that more and more scriptwriters are beginning to migrate to games. It makes sense. As the technology bar rises, the tech usually leads. Once the technology reaches a new level of perceived reality, the immersive world demands a more sophisticated story.”

Games are more cinematic now

Jackson has said he enjoyed recent games such as instalments of ‘Call of Duty’ more than current films, due to their directors “getting the hang” of directing film-like cut-scenes.

"I'm enjoying these games more than I am enjoying films at the moment," Jackson said.

“They are using a lot of the film techniques now, especially the cinematic areas or those little movie things. They are starting to really blend them in. They are dynamic and done well."

Other directors are looking beyond gaming and cinema to a future where the borders between the two are blurred.

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Will games be bigger than movies?

In an interview last year, Lucas predicted that gaming would have its ‘Titanic’ moment.

“The big game of the next five years will be a game where you empathize very strongly with the characters and it’s aimed at women and girls. They like empathetic games,” he said.

“That will be a huge hit and will be the ‘Titanic’ of the game industry. Suddenly you’ve done an actual love story or something and everybody will say, ‘Where did that come from?’ You’ve got actual relationships instead of shooting people.’”

He is not the only director who is excited by the potential of “crossover” hits.

‘Spy Kids’ director Robert Rodriguez has said he hopes to create something in the territory between gaming and cinema, saying, “It's really an amazing thing what games are doing. The thing I'm trying to figure out is, ‘How can I make my movie more interactive?’ I'd like to make a game that's more like a movie, and bridge that gap between those two entertainment forms.”

A recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts that both box-office ticket sales and sales of DVD and Blu-Ray will fall, and as previously mentioned, games are on the rise so a crossover would not be a surprise.