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Opinion: The Video Game-Home Video Disconnect

Gamasutra editor-at-large Chris Morris looks at the odd disconnect between video games and the film industry, discussing the ins-and-outs of "transmedia", and how publishers could potentially take advantage of the system.
[Gamasutra editor-at-large Chris Morris looks at the odd disconnect between video games and the film industry, discussing the ins-and-outs of "transmedia", and how publishers could potentially take advantage of the system.] Video games and Hollywood have always been the Woody Allen and Soon-Yi of the entertainment world. They’re together forever, but the fit has always been an odd one -- and a little creepy at times. Yet, for all the talk of film and video game synergy, you don't see a lot of real world applications. Typically, the drill goes something like this: Studio wants to extend the reach of its upcoming nerd-friendly film; reaches agreement with game publisher; crappy game ensues (usually due to severely restricted development windows). Even when the games are good, their sales window closes about the same time as the film's theatrical run comes to an end. The films, though, get a second chance at life -- often a more lucrative one -- when they release on home video. Earlier this year, though, Sony actually tried something different -- promoting the upcoming Resistance 3 in Battle: Los Angeles via a background billboard in the disaster flick. And it's continuing that cross-pollination by including a demo for the game into the film's upcoming Blu-ray release. It's not the first time something like this has happened -- Sony tried it two years ago, pairing a demo for God of War III on the home release of District 9 -- but it's still a rare occurrence. Disney, meanwhile, took a slightly different route last year, bundling the original Toy Story film with the collector's edition -- sorry, the "Hybrid Premium Edition" -- of the Toy Story 3 video game. While "transmedia" is the new buzzword in the corporate suites of many publishers these days, those companies are missing the elephant in the room. Home video might not be anywhere close to the juggernaut it once was, thanks to video on demand and other over-the-top options, but it's still big. Consumers spent $18.8 billion on home video last year. And Blu-ray sales are up 53 percent since 2009. Sony is smartly using home video releases of films that cater to people in the gamer demographic sweet spot to promote upcoming titles. But by doing that so rarely, Sony is shooting itself in the foot. As publishers strike future deals to make game tie-ins, there are a myriad of ways they could take advantage of this distribution system. Demos are fine, but why not convince their Hollywood partners to include the complete game alongside the Blu-ray release? Let's face it: Movie-based games don’t have long tails. They get an initial sales pop when interest is high in the movie. Then, after a few months of horrid sales, they might -- might -- see a slight bump when the DVD comes out, but it’s nothing like the first. By working with studios to combine the game with the film, the studios get to charge a premium, publishers see a real surge in game sales (yes at a lower price, but I’m willing to bet the overall revenue and profits would still be higher) and consumers get another added bonus. For companies like Disney, Sony and Warner Bros., which have a distinct advantage here since, well, they happen to own film studios, this sort of marketing doesn't even have to be limited to upcoming blockbusters or film tie-in titles. It's just in the last few years that publishers have figured out the value that can be mined in their back catalog. While sales via Steam, Xbox Live Arcade, Good Old Games and even GameTap haven't been a real needle mover, including older, critically acclaimed titles as a bonus on Blu-Ray could not only boost home video sales, but build a market for sequels that had to be shelved initially. Sony, of course, has its financial fingers deep in both Resistance 3 and Battle: Los Angeles. And Disney made Toy Story 3 -- the film and the game. So those integration were easy ones. Think any publisher is willing to endure the headaches of dealing with a studio to follow their lead?

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