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xxxxxx Fans. Obsessive geeks, pawns manipulated by the media industries, or powerful players? Barney Oram explores the relationship between audiences and institutions with a case study of the interaction between games and Hollywood films. Who gains what – and what’s in it for the fans themselves?

Who would be a fan? It can be a thankless task; you risk exposing yourself to ridicule from your peers, you potentially alienate yourself from the opposite sex, you indulge in conversations about ‘thrust capacitors’, the West Side, and lyrics from the latest Bruce Springsteen album. What really upsets you is that there’s a good chance that the people responsible for creating the original idea just don’t care as much about it as you do. You could also argue that the power of the fan has never been greater. The internet now offers people the chance to easily find and contact like-minded people; fan sites are common across a wide and diverse range of areas from videogames to football teams. Individuals who were once a lone voice can band together to force Hollywood studios to alter film endings, change marketing strategies or even find themselves part of the industry. Examples of this can be seen in Star Wars Episode II where,

after a mauling by the ‘fans’ in which Jar-Jar Binks found his role somewhat reduced, George Lucas realised that his franchise depended as much on the older fans as it did on attracting a new generation. Harry Knowles of www.aintitcool. com is not your archetypal Hollywood player; but the internet has allowed him to make or break a movie and become part of the industry – so much so that there is a character that bears a striking resemblance to him in HBO’s Entourage. The relationship between institutions and audiences is a complex one and this can be seen in the interaction between videogames and films. Hollywood’s relationship with the videogames industry has developed over the past ten years from simple spin-offs of a film as a videogame to cash in on the film’s popularity, to one where videogames now provide the source material for an increasing number of films. If we are to examine this relationship we need to

english and media centre | September 2008 | MediaMagazine

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Entourage (left and above) The Hitman, courtesy of image.net (right and above right)

consider three questions. • Firstly, why is Hollywood interested in making films of videogames? • Secondly, who benefits from this relationship? • Finally, what role do fans have in this?

Who gains what?
As well as revenue, videogames offer Hollywood a set of texts to adapt. The adaptation of texts by film producers and directors is nothing new; books, television programmes and even theme-park rides have all proved profitable sources for Hollywood. What makes the production of videogames as films interesting is that a huge number of videogames already borrow from films and other media texts. An example of this is Max Payne, a videogame inspired by John Woo films and other action films; this is about to go into production as a film starring Mark Wahlberg. The plot of the videogame focuses on a man whose wife and daughter are murdered by junkies; it is based in New York and Max decides to seek revenge on the people who killed his family. Though derivative of a number of films, it is likely that, if pitched correctly, the film may appeal to a broader audience than just fans of the game. Max Payne is not the only videogame currently to be in production; there are numerous others in development. Coincidentally John Woo is currently slated to direct Ninja Gold, which will tie in with the game of the same name. Jerry Bruckheimer is aiming to produce the popular PS2 and Xbox game Prince of Persia. Both of
english and media centre | September 2008 | MediaMagazine

What’s in it for Hollywood?
To answer the first question it will be useful to examine some statistics. In 2007 the global revenue for the film industry was $25bn whilst the videogame industry revenue was $18bn – up 43% from 2006. These numbers give an indication as to why Hollywood is interested in tapping into the videogames market. They also equate to 160 million people who play videogames in the United States. No doubt there is already a huge amount of crossover in terms of audience but if you can successfully transfer a videogame to the screen you can tap into a huge audience. This can be seen in the worldwide gross takings of successful videogame to film translations such as: – Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – $274.7m – Pokemon: The First Movie – $163.6m – Hitman – $96.5m which was made in Europe with a budget of under $30m, and thus a highly profitable investment for Fox.

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The Hitman (top) and Silent Hill courtesy of image.net (right and above right)

these offer the promise of moving beyond the normal audience of hardcore gamer to have crossover appeal, in part due to the reputations of the individuals involved. However, both Woo and Bruckheimer need to try to reverse the trend of turning good videogames into bad films and receiving a critical mauling. Such translations have been hampered by a number of factors including low budgets, lack of A-list stars and the difficulty of transferring to the screen such vast virtual and interactive worlds. Despite this problem it is clear that both industries have much to gain from this relationship. Studios gain access to already popular source material; games companies can increase revenues by selling off rights; and multinational media organisations can utilise 14 MediaMagazine | September 2008 | english and media centre

synergy to produce, distribute and market both a videogame and film. Sony has produced films for Silent Hill and the Resident Evil series for which it has received $477.1m in worldwide grosses for these films – and this is on top of revenue that will have been generated through the sale of those games and consoles. This relationship is only going to continue as even straight-to-DVD films can find a fan base, this was the case with Bloodrayne II which has generated enough money for a sequel to be in production.

realise the differences between the mediums, and begin to make more suitable adaptations. What is also evident is that videogame companies are more controlling over their property and that film companies are also becoming more careful with the videogames they are transferring to the big screen. This was evident in the failure of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Halo to make it to the big screen, where Microsoft wanted more control and the studios refused to be dictated to. Most fans of games will go and see the film in spite of themselves – and they will also be the target of the studio’s marketing campaign, given that a larger number of game players fit into the 16-24 male demographic targeted by Hollywood for action films. It may also be that in the future the relationship between films and videogames becomes more complex as CGI and motion capture technology develops. What is certain is that the younger generation of cinema-goers is increasingly game literate, and that Hollywood and the games industry have yet fully to tap into the potential of videogames’ fan base. Barney Oram teachers A Level Film and Media Studies at Long Road Sixth Form Centre, Cambridge. He is an A Level examiner, and co-author of Teaching Videogames at A Level (BFI) Source for figures: Screen International, February 15th 2008 Wider reading: ‘Reel Gaming’, Edge 186 March 2008

Let’s hear it for the fans
What does this do for videogame fans? Are they left disappointed as another one of their favourite games gets a lacklustre big screen translation? The disappointment is likely to lessen as producers of both videogames and films

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