GTA IV spawns more hype over games vs. movies

by Paul William Tenny

GTA IVWith the launch of the one millionth sequel in the Grand Theft Auto series fast approaching, you might as well get used to hearing the faux comparisons between electronic games (PC and console) and feature films. There was a lot of fuss and not a lot of numbers when Halo 3 was decimating records in the gaming field, but we're still a long way off before that industry can become competitive with film -- if that ever happens at all. I wrote about back in September, and again in October here and here.

Ironically, I was accused of comparing apples and oranges by commentors who apparently didn't actually read my posts since I stated quite clearly my belief that comparing game releases and films were inappropriate for a number of reasons, and then went on to list each and every one I could think of.
I'll summarize those points here so you don't have to go back and read those posts if you're feeling as lazy as I am today.

It's a big word that in this context means that video games are launched all across the globe on the same day, while films often have a significant delay between the domestic debut, and foreign openings, that can be as long as a couple of weeks. Though you can do some projections, it's not really fair to compare a film's first week doing business when you're really only counting ticket sales in the United States.

Vertical sales
Unlike games, films don't make every dime they ever will just from theatrical release. Movies do that first, then make international sales, then are released on DVD, made available via pay-per-view, broadcast nationally via network television, and eventually broadcast nationally via cable. The studio makes coin at every single stop and all that money should be counted as the natural financial lifespan of a feature film.

Unit cost
Obviously games cost more per unit than movie tickets do. A $39.99 game (which is probably under selling the games actual cost these days) that does $300 million worth of business as Halo 3 supposedly did, sold just about 7.5 million units. A feature film that does $100 million worth of first-week sales will do closer to 11 million units in comparison, so if the unit sales numbers ever got close to each other, games would be absolutely crushed.

The gaming industry does most of its sales in the first week, and falls of rapidly thereafter. Films start off slower but can sustain sales for over a month or longer, especially for popular family films. If a smash-hit game release is stretched out from first-week to first-month, the gross doesn't look quite as impressive.

Industry as a whole
It's impressive for a game to generate that kind of revenue, but we're not seeing more than one or two per year reaching these heights. There are regularly four-to-six or more very high grossing films during the summer months -- especially last year -- making an industry comparison pointless. This may be due to the unlikely success of one or two large gaming companies that are just now testing the limits of a popular series, whereas the film studios have been mastering the art of squeezing money out of the dead for decades. The size of the players on both sides and the money at their disposal alone makes it unfair for gamers.

Top end earners
Since games send to burn out fairly quickly, making most of their money in the first two weeks, they still have a very long way to go to reach all-time sales records. If Halo 3 is the current champion somewhere in the $300-400 million range, that wouldn't have even placed it in the top 10 for films just last year alone. The all-time list begins with Jurassic Park at #10 with $914 million world-wide, over triple what Halo 3 has grossed. If $400 million is accurate, that game would just barely make the top 100 at 95th.

All of this just doesn't matter to people who enjoy writing sensationalist but unrealistic stories that challenge the status quo. Per Engadget: "With the ability to break Halo 3's record of $300 million in sales its first week, Grand Theft Auto IV could set a record for the biggest debut ever for an entertainment product when it launches April 29, according to Variety." They don't seem to know or care that the "biggest entertainment debut" record didn't exist until game companies wanted to convince the media they were taking on the throne.

That isn't to say that what these companies are doing isn't impressive, quite the contrary they should be recognized as a real player in the big media markets and for pushing video games from quaint pieces of living room entertainment into the real world. But one thing they are not doing is challenging the movie industry anytime soon.

UPDATE -- Serial lawsuit troll Jack Thompson is once again trying to get Take-Two's games taken off the shelves. "Thompson sent a copy of the letter to Ars Technica, and his demands are far-reaching. "Indictments should be returned against Take Two corporately and its Chairman, Strauss Zelnick, along with other Take Two officers. Indictment should also be against Sony and Microsoft which are making this pornographic game available to minors, and openly so, on their PS3 and Xbox systems," Thompson wrote. "Further, indictments should be handed down against Wal-Mart, Best Buy, GameStop, and all other retailers distributing this game to minors at their retail stores, openly, to kids who are only seventeen."" GTA IV is rated 'M' for mature so stores can't and won't sell it to actual kids, and somebody ought to tell Thompson that 17-year-olds are not kids. Hell, these days even 15-year-olds aren't kids anymore.
in Games


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1 Comment

i like the GTa very much.....

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