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@ GDC: Why Most Game-Based Movies Don't Live Up To The Hype

This story was written by Tameka Kee.
Hollywood has been enticed with making video game-based films for almost 20 years, from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie back in 1990, to last year's Max Payne. And in theory, it should be a win for both gaming companies and the studios: gamers tend to be rabid, loyal fans, and some of the best games have plots packed full of action, suspense and some sort of battle between good and evil.

Unfortunately, many game-based movies bomb at the box officelike 2005's Alone in the Dark, which didn't even break the $3 million mark in its opening weekor they alienate gamers, who argue that "mainstream" films stray too far from the original games' storylines. Meanwhile, gaming companies give up control of their content for too little reward, and bad movies can damage a franchise's future popularity.

But judging from the room full of attendees at the "How to Sell Your IP to Hollywood (Without Selling Your Soul)" panel at GDC, game developers and studio types want to keep tryingso I asked the panel's leader, Tim Langdell, why everyone keeps investing in game-based movies, especially when they keep coming out so badly. Langdell has experience with blurring the lines between video games and all types of content: as CEO of EDGE Games, he's overseen the development of more than 200 games, founded gaming publication Edge Magazine, and even worked on the 1997 movie The Edge, with Fox.

How can so many movies be based on great games, and still turn out so awful? There's this misconception that because a game is popular, the movie will be, but not every great game has a storyline that's linear enough to turn into a movie. These movies also fail because the game studio doesn't come to the negotiating table with a well thought-out strategyand it's forced to give up too much creative control. If the team can't tell the film studio who the star should be, who's going to write the script or what it should look like, the studio ends up with all the control, because they had to invest so much more time and money into the production.

More after the jump.

So how can a game studio be better prepared to make a deal? Part of it is the foresight to know that they're making a game or franchise that might eventually function as a movie. That means having Hollywood experts involved at the start of the development processwith a screenwriter, at the very least, that can be thinking about the game in a linear fashion. There needs to be someone, or a group of people, that understand both industries, because they're fundamentally different financially.

What are some of the deal-breaking differences? With movies, there's all this back-end revenue, like residual payments; an indie prodcution company can shoot a low-budget film in less than six months, shop it around, get paid by the studio for the direct sale, and then continue to collect from DVD rentals, TV licensing and now, online delivery. It doesn't work like that in games, because most publishers need to take the money first. Even a simple game can take two years to develop, and if the company invested its own money, and a publisher doesn't pick it up, there's no viable alternative to recoup all that revenue. At least not yet. But as we're moving more toward the Hollywood-style production of games, with things like episodic content, then the financing terms start to align.


By Tameka Kee