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Believe it or not: Hollywood is under attack from video games

BIG budget games, such as Cyberpunk 2077, have budgets that come close to those of big Hollywood movies, says the author. Picture: Bloomberg.

BIG budget games, such as Cyberpunk 2077, have budgets that come close to those of big Hollywood movies, says the author. Picture: Bloomberg.

Published May 17, 2022

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BELIEVE it or not, but Hollywood is under attack. And I am not talking about Will Smith’s sensational slapping of Chris Rock at the recent Oscar ceremony. Hollywood is under attack from video games.

It seems that while movies dominated the 20th century, games are seemingly pushing them aside as the preferred medium for people to spend their time and money on. Although the Oscars are still special to many people, even the Oscars have been struggling to maintain the high viewership it once enjoyed.

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Similarly Netflix, the streaming service, lost about 200 000 subscribers in the first quarter of 2022. What is worse is that they estimated that a further 2 million subscribers may be lost by the second quarter of 2022, which will have a significant impact on revenue.

Although it can be attributed in part to the prevailing economic situation, the movie industry is struggling to produce the wide range of films it once did. Too often it seems that currently only cheap Netflix horror movies or mega comic-book movies are making money. Until now Hollywood and all its stars enjoyed tremendous fame, esteem and fortune, but this may change with the changes in technology.

The worth of the game industry in 2022 is estimated at R3.281 trillion billion globally, while the movie industry is estimated at R294bn and the music industry at R1.326trl. Since a few years ago the revenue from the game industry has overtaken the revenue from the movie and music industries combined.

This is quite understandable since there are about 3 billion people worldwide that play digital games via computers, consoles, smartphones and tablets. It is estimated that at least 20 percent of this number are hard-core gamers that support industries such as e-sports.

E-sports, or competitive video games at incredibly high skill levels, has become a multimillion-rand business. In the very popular DOTA 2 international video game tournament the prize money was R647 million in 2021. Ninety players from around the world competed in teams of five men each in front of an audience of 2.7 million online viewers.

The massive game industry earned more money than films, filled stadiums with fans, and sold millions of products in merchandise, but it remains relatively ignored by politicians, cultural activists, and mainstream media. People from the film industry often see this new development incorrectly as an obscure subculture with a lack of cultural prestige due to a shortage of care and artistry in the creation, writing, and music of video games.

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According to them the experiences are shallow when compared to that of film. Indeed the number of really outstanding video games are much less than that of film, but video game development is only 50 years old as opposed to the 120 years of film.

Big budget games, such as Cyberpunk 2077, have budgets that come close to those of big Hollywood movies. The manufacturing cost of Cyberpunk was about R2.8bn and the marketing R2.3bn. On visual, soundtrack composition, and storytelling level newly released high-quality games easily compare with the best Hollywood products. The game market is filled with many blockbuster games with legendary movie composers.

To remain relevant, Hollywood is currently not only turning comics into movies, but also games, such as Uncharted.

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However, according to critics this big-budget film clearly illustrates that movies are no longer the best way of delivering action. Video games have superseded films due to creative writing, well-developed characters, personal storytelling and spectacular action beyond movie quality. Games have become fully immersive and cinematic as graphics improved, often bending the rules of reality and physics to create inventive sequences on an enormous scale.

Professor Louis Fourie

But the real edge is not only the visual capabilities of video games, but its interactivity. Many people experience being an action hero is much more fun than watching a hero having fun. The player in fact steps into the shoes of the hero. Video games offer a layer of immersion that is not present in movies yet. Despite Hollywood’s attempt to use 3D to enable audiences to feel part of the creative space, it is not the same as a 3D game.

Heather McDonald, in her Master’s thesis at Concordia University, pointed out that cinema interiority is a multidimensional concept and consists of three aspects: 1) interiority as a psychological state; 2) spatial relationships and 3) temporal processes including space, time, order and logic.

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As gaming technology evolved, audience’s expectations and processing of interiority have adapted with them. Linda Hutcheon in her book, A Theory of Adaptation, showed that technology has driven informed processes of adaptation in all three forms of narrative engagement, namely showing, telling, and interacting with stories.

Technological advances and fast-moving special effects require much more creative and imaginative visualisations from film directors. Present-day audiences who have grown up with gaming prefer films with faster action sequences and more game-like on-screen sequences.

In May 1993 the Super Mario Bros. movie was released to a very confused gamer audience. Since then, Hollywood and video games experienced a turbulent relationship and blurry borders. This does not mean that Hollywood has not embraced video game brands as powerful narrative vehicles with films like Sonic the Hedgehog (2020), Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (2019), Rampage (2018), Warcraft (2016), and The Angry Birds Movie (2016) – all breaking box office records.

After 50 years of neglect and reputation-tanking treatment by Hollywood, game adaptations are currently exploding due to the economic benefit and vast numbers of games waiting to be adapted. Game adaptations in films have suddenly become Hollywood’s hottest property.

But despite the size and revenue of the industry, The Game Awards do not command the same prestige, fanfare, or media coverage like the Oscars in the film industry, while the advertising rarely goes beyond soft drinks and snack foods. But with the increasing quality of game adaptations, the day is drawing closer that actors and actresses will win Emmys, Oscars and BAFTAs on intellectual property coming from video games.

There is little doubt that the film industry is experiencing dark times, while video games are experiencing a golden age. The media and marketers will have to open their minds and embrace the potential of the massive game industry. Publications offering film reviews should also start to offer video game reviews. Each of these two industries addresses a niche market with different needs.

Generation Xbox started the definitive history of the epic power struggle that reshaped the entertainment landscape where real characters in real situations with real problems are no longer required (once the very quintessence of film storytelling and cinematic art).

Perhaps the future will entail inter-sectional entertainment where the movie, streaming show and video game are integrated and share the narrative. As technology advances, the space between films, television and games could even give birth to a new immersive medium. Are you ready to play?

Professor Louis C H Fourie is an Extraordinary Professor University of the Western Cape.

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