Yesterday, Activision confirmed their new IP Destiny’s development and marketing budget was to be $500 million.
That’s half a billion dollars to create and market a single game.
For a while now, video games have been rising in mainstream cultural relevance. Equal, if not more so, than that of the big screen. With games now reaching production and marketing costs rivalling that of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters, can we now start comparing the two even more so than ever?
There are definite comparisons within the industries: movies have their theatre filling blockbusters, games have their AAA mega hits; both also have their small independent masterpieces that receive critical acclaim and boost the careers of all involved. But development, marketing and consumption of the two mediums are still very different.
For starters, films can often credit over 2000 people involved in its production. Hits such as The Avengers, Man of Steel and Avatar all have a credit list that’s just under 3000 people. Last year, Iron Man 3 was the first film to list over 3000 people, with 3, 310 credited crew.
For many of these, especially in today’s eye exploding films, the main bulk of crew come from the visual effects department. Either eternal or farmed out to other companies, visual effects employ vastly more than any other area of a films production, often making up more than half the entire crew.
House Party Protocol: It took over 3,000 people to make Iron Man 3
Game production teams (and companies) are generally a lot smaller. Many titles, including triple As, only need several hundred to complete development. Before they created Destiny, Bungie only had 150 staff working on Halo: Reach, and have only increased to 500 for Destiny’s development.
Valve’s Frank Lombardi reported that Left 4 Dead 2 only needed 60 people to make it, and we’ve not even started talking about the fertile grounds of the indie scene, where teams of only a handful of developers (or sometimes only one individual) can make a game and achieve mainstream success fair in excess of even the most critically acclaimed small, independent film. It’s not uncommon for these smaller films to reach cult status, before any real success is bestowed upon those involved – and usually only in later work.
GTA V’s development team is an exception to the rule, with one of a few games to have over a thousand people actively working on its production.
Marketing budgets are often vastly different between the two industries as well. A general rule of thumb for games is that their marketing budget will be around 2-3 times larger than their development. For films, the opposite is true, with it usually being around half a films production cost. For example: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 cost $50 million to make, but $150 million to promote; whereas 2012’s mega blockbuster The Avengers cost $220 million to make, but only $100 million to market. Why?
For a start, heavyweight actors like Downey Jr aren’t exactly ten-a-penny – costing a bit more than the average group of coders and artists in a static office. Big name actors won’t get out of bed for anything less than a few million. Developers rarely see the big bucks until after the game’s release, and only if it’s hit targets set by their publishers. Until then, the publishers provide the lifeblood for a game’s development, and no one wants to bleed more than they have too.
Because of this, game production is often much less expensive than film. Publishers often employ a carrot and stick method of payment, whereas Hollywood is more willing to throw in the cash for production if it means getting Downey’s sweet, sweet face on the silver screen.
Game development usually involves an office and a few talented people… and sometimes a mini moto
The difference in marketing is due to how the two industries promote their wares. The juiciest bits of a film are often spliced together for action packed trailers, billboards tower the populus and actors plug the movie in interviews and chat shows. However, promoting a game is a completely different affair. Publishers spend millions on huge booths at gaming conventions around the entire globe, outside companies are employed to create a completely independent trailer, either delicately produced with CGI that’s never seen in the final game like Dead Island, or hiring movie studios to create stunning live action a la Halo: Reach.
Games are also beating the movie industry in terms of revenue and total sales. The highest grossing movie of all time, Avatar, took 17 days to reach the 1 billion dollar mark in revenue, GTA V took a mere 3 days. No wonder publishers want to make sure everyone knows about their latest releases.
However, comparing isn’t as exact a science as we’d like to think. All in, GTA V cost $265 million to make (the second highest after Destiny). In film terms, that’s relatively small fry. At that price you’ll get yourself one Evan Almighty, good film, but only the 42nd most expensive to make – Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End holds that honour at about $450 million for both production and marketing.
Revenue generation isn’t a great barometer either, most revenue numbers for films are from their performance at theatres, and rarely include money made by merchandising and licensing.
Merchandising! A huge bulk of film revenue continues to generate long after the credits roll
Yet Activision’s eye watering half a billion all-in now makes it the most expensive product of the two industries. The publisher has made it clear that this is a long term investment, Destiny has a ten year plan ahead of itself with presumed updates and content.
So whilst comparing the two industries can be fun and culturally relevant, the nuts and bolts of both is a lot less clear cut than imagined. One thing’s for sure though, they won’t be getting cheaper any time soon.