[In an article originally published in Game Developer magazine, editor in chief Brandon Sheffield recalls a conversation with Jerry Bruckheimer on why film games fail -- and discusses how companies can better treat and nurture their licensed games.]
Some time ago I had the opportunity to interview famed movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer
(Beverly Hills Cop, Pirates of the Caribbean, CSI) regarding the production of the Prince of Persia movie.
The film was put together in typical Bruckheimer style, with the aim more toward blockbuster spectacle and anonymous style than showing an auteur's touch in the direction or editing.
He mentioned that he goes through several writers to get every aspect of the screenplay correct, and has each task on the production clearly delineated. It seems as though nothing is simply controlled by one person.
The way Bruckheimer organizes his film productions is similar to what most game studios do nowadays, with each area of production receiving a lot of iteration, input, and polish. You could hardly point to the art style of a given triple-A title and say “Oh, that’s a Steve Theodore game.”
Auteurism is left to the more independent ventures - you can certainly identify a Dan Paladin game, for instance (Castle Crashers, Alien Hominid
). Bruckheimer has also put together a game studio, with the help of some game execs, so you can expect that production style to be reinforced.
The thing that struck me about the interview was that someone of his level had the understanding that when you adapt a film to a game, you need to give it the time required to make it good.
“Here’s the problem,” Bruckheimer began. “To really make a good game, it really takes a long time. By the time you greenlight a movie, it’s a year to a year-and-a-half until it’s out. That’s too short a period for a video game to be made. It’s a three-year process to get a really good game made, and that’s where they fail.”
"What the studios do is have this business model where they know they’ll sell X amount of games on that opening couple of weeks, and a lot of them do that, rather than take their time and create a wonderful game.”
Then there are the constraints imposed by the film itself—does it follow the same narrative? What assets can you use? How much access do you have? I know one writer who worked on an adaptation of a film story into games who was only allowed one look at the script—he could read it through in a room, one time, but couldn’t have a copy, or even take notes or pictures.
To me all of this calls for games that are released based on the theme of the property, rather than some attempt to replicate an experience from another media. Batman: Arkham Asylum
does this. People love Batman, and they don’t care if it’s based on a movie. Ditto Ghostbusters
. Likewise the Prince of Persia
The story from that universe is based on the ancient One Thousand and One Nights text. It’s not a literal adaptation, but takes a compelling concept and makes it work in a game world. In the case of The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena
, I don’t think audiences even care that much about the license—but the world is compelling, and the game plays well, so people buy it.
The relatively flop-oriented Wanted
game could be a counterpoint to this argument, but I think that game's failings have more to do with its development than its depending on a license.
Gimme The Cash
Certainly studios will continue to capitalize on the release of their films—but perhaps Facebook, the iPhone, or the downloadable console space are better suited to that. Triple-A titles should be given space to breathe and become their own entities.
If you want to make an Iron Man
game, base it on the comics, and release it at some point between two movies when people are hungry for content. Crossovers like the newly announced Marvel vs. Capcom 3
offer opportunities to do interesting things with licenses without catering to a certain timeframe.
Perhaps the takeaway is obvious: games need more development time to be good experiences. My hope is that hearing someone like Bruckheimer say it will convince some executives of its truth.
Unfortunately, as long as the newest grindhouse-style game production of a popular cartoon continues to sell, people won’t stop. But even Pixar is taking greater control of games based on its properties now, and companies like THQ are looking to get out of the direct film license business.
Licenses are compelling to a lot of people, but you have to treat them right and do them justice. That means giving them time, and I would submit not necessarily tying them to a specific release in another media.