Game Producers Panel Report
Top game producers gathered in Hollywood recently to discuss their role in developing interactive entertainment. The producers, including David Perry of Shiny Entertainment (ENTER THE MATRIX) and Neil Young of Electronic Arts (LORD OF THE RINGS), focused on the benefits and pitfalls of developing games with Hollywood producers and artists. The Producers Guild of America sponsored the event.
The relationship between game developers and film producers has allowed for the creation of interactive CG films. The film producers of the Lord of the Rings trilogy granted Electronic Arts complete access to the movie-making process, resulting in a seamless blend between film and game. Enter the Matrix included cut scenes written and directed by the Wachowski Brothers, who directed the films.
As a result, many panelists lauded the effect the movie business has had on gaming product. At first wary of working with Hollywood-trained talent, game producers became impressed with the quality of animation coming out of Hollywood's effects houses and with how easily the artists picked up new technology. The strict bottom-line mentality of Hollywood also had an impact on budgeting, an important aspect of the game producer's job. In an earlier project, Perry issued a preliminary budget. He was told in no uncertain terms that his was not the way to do it. "They beat us into shape," laughed Perry. In an effort to capitalize on what amounts to cross-platform synergy, George Lucas recently combined all his effects and film companies into one.
This complicity is not always the case. Licensing deals between game producer and property holder currently favor seven different models. The cheapest version only requires the purchase of a property's name, such as TOP GUN. The game bears little resemblance to the movie of the same title. ENTER THE MATRIX exemplifies the latest and rarest mode of licensing, with the film creators also working on the game. In order to create a good working relationship, Perry recommended game producers insist that the film director hire an interactive producer who speaks the language of film but understands the world of games. Producers can then interact with someone in the director's office who will be able to quickly understand and push through any necessary changes.
Panelists also addressed the concern about the quality of games based on licensed properties versus original games. Time and technology seemed to be critical factors. Marketers eager to promote their new films consider games a "critical part of a marketing platform," according to Ed Zobrist, VP of Marketing for Vivendi Universal. While a film may take nine months to produce, a game of quality can take over two years. If a game is not ready by the time the film premieres, however, there is no better time to release it. "Nothing can match the heat of a studio opening," said Zobrist. Furthermore, unlike film producers, game designers must struggle with frequently changing delivery platforms and technology. On top of these obstacles, some game companies make matters worse. They spend their money on game licenses rather than pouring money into development. "We have a long way to go," admitted Young.
Dan Winters of Buena Vista Interactive believes that audience pressure will lead to better titles. The increasing prices and popularity of games has created an audience that expects entertainment as well as fantastic visuals. Ultimately, game companies will not be able simply to ride the property. "It keeps us honest," said Winters.
After much talk of movies made into games, the panel explored what are often poor-quality films based on games. The issue revolved around the differing needs of games and films. Keith Boesky, moderator and head of ICM's video game department, stated that many times he was pitched games with no story. On the other side, Steven Hoffman of Spiderdance felt that strict story-telling was the kiss of death in a game. The gamer wants to feel important. The focal point should be gameplay, with story on the side. Perry also pointed out that most video games feature cliche characters like large-breasted women or gruff men. Once games evolve to the point where players love the characters, then turning them into quality movies will become easier. He felt that rich dialog is the next holy grail of the gaming industry.