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Here's the game, without the gameplay...

Activision are mooting the idea of selling game cut-scenes separately from the games. Is this in any way practical?

Jamie Mann, Blogger

September 17, 2010

3 Min Read

A recent interview with Activision's Bobby Kotick suggests that the company is still looking for more ways to monetise their IP: having brought forth a flood of sequels to all their major properties and experimented with DLC exclusive to early-purchasers, the next proposal is more than a little radical.  Activision wants to split out and sell the cutscenes from their games, for as much as $30, or half the cost of the average game.

However, aside from the ludicrous value being placed on these movies, the extremely high expectations being set ("a StarCraft movie ... would crush any opening weekend box office record ever set") and an intriguing assumption about the customer ("if... we were to go to our audiences, who we have their credit card information [and] a direct relationship"), there's a couple of fundamental questions which I'd like to pose.

The first question is: how many games have cut-scenes which make sense outside the context of the game?  Generally, a significant amount of plot progression takes place while the player has control: if this is missing, then how well will the cut-scenes fit together?

Equally, if the cut-scenes do make a coherent story without any player-interaction (and/or additional cut-scene footage is put together to fill in the gaps), then what's the point in playing?  Reaching the end of the story is generally a major factor in the desire to complete a game: with the knowledge that the story can be acquired for zero gaming effort (albeit at a financial cost), how many will still want to play the game?

Then there's the second, and potentially problematic question: how many games have had a good plot suitable for passive viewing[*]?  In the first instance, the script for a game is generally on a par with a straight-to-video action movie, with an emphasis on heavily stereotyped characters, unoriginal plot twists, plot-holes you could steer a deathstar through and minimal character progression. And in the second instance, the majority of games tend to interact directly with the player in a first-person mode: in movie-land, they call this "breaking the fourth wall": it interferes with the watcher's immersion in the movie and is therefore generally only used for comedy value.

And in the meantime, here's some numbers that Activision may like to consider.  Iron Man sold 7.7 million discs (Blu-ray and DVD) in it's first week.  The Dark Knight shifted 13 million discs in it's first week.  Twilight: New Moon managed to sell 4 million discs in two days.  Avatar shifted 6.7 million discs in four days - and is estimated to have sold 75 million cinema tickets.  Meanwhile, Starcraft 2 managed to push out 3 million copies after a month - something which isn't to be sniffed at - especially at $60 a pop - but it's not in the same league as the movie big-hitters.  Also, there are very few other games with the same level of sales potential - and when you consider that only a subset of those 3 million would be interested in the Starcraft "movie", well...

All told, whatever does come out of this little suggestion, I can't help but suspect that Bobby's dream of crushing existing box-office records is going to stay firmly in the realms of fantasy.

[*] Honestly, the only game I can think of is Conker's Bad Fur Day.  The Final Fantasy games are too overblown, the GTA series is too mission-orientated (and decidedly first-person), Dante's Inferno was a joke, the Metal Gear Solid games are too long-winded, Ico/SOTC are too abstract: can anyone think of a game which has a well-written, coherent plot which could be translated straight into a movie?  Answers on a postcard to the usual address, please!

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