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Hollywood is in crisis... and it thinks video games are the answer

Opinion: Movie studios are desperate for gaming's cash, reveals film journalist Jamie Russell...

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He wasn't joking. Worse still, Hollywood talent just couldn't understand that they weren't the main draw in this new medium - put Brad Pitt in the voice cast of the next GTA and see if it sells more copies. It won't. Games are an attack on the very value equation (celebrity = profits) that Hollywood is based on. No wonder the movie studios don't get games.

It's not all the movie studios' fault, though. Game companies have been easily seduced by Hollywood. When Sega sold the movie rights to House of the Dead, former Sega of America president Peter Moore made a marathon overnight trip from his office in San Francisco to Vancouver to take a zombie cameo in the film. He spent all night in a rainy forest shooting his scenes, then flew back to work the next morning still pulling makeup off his face. All for a turkey in the bottom 100 of IMDb's ratings. "Back in the '90s, videogame companies still had an inferiority complex," is his excuse.

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Since then, game companies have moved into comics, novels and even toy ranges. But that inferiority complex has prevented it from cracking Hollywood. Traditionally, games publishers have either sold the rights to their IP to movie producers for peanuts in the hope of getting some free publicity, or have simply refused to be courted.

Spielberg and DreamWorks tried to romance Valve in hope of getting a Half-Life movie made. But the company didn't get the progress to production agreement or the deal on the sequel they wanted and it floundered. Even with Spielberg in the room, Valve stubbornly stayed in the driving seat.

Likewise, Rockstar turned down offers for a GTA game. "Everybody in Hollywood wanted Grand Theft Auto," remembers former Creative Artists Agency agent Larry Shapiro. When he tried to get Sam Houser to agree, though, the response was clear: "There's no way I'm doing it." Houser was convinced that a movie would only tarnish Rockstar's $1 billion IP.

GAMING GROWS UP
Marvel comic book fans know what happens when a great publisher gives movie studios free reign. They had to sit through dross like the 1990 Captain America movie with their head in their hands. Today, though, comic book movies are the brightest lights in the blockbuster firmament. Why? Because Marvel took control of its own IP in the late '90s. Suddenly the quality spiked and we got superhero movies like Blade, X-Men, Iron Man, and soon, The Avengers.

Videogame companies need to learn the Marvel lesson. The old model of licensing games for movies for a quick buck is dead: nobody wants any more Uwe Boll movies or another Van Damme Street Fighter flick. What if, instead, a games company became an equal partner in the moviemaking process? That's what Ubisoft are trying to do with the Assassin's Creed movie that's in development under an unprecedented contract with Sony Pictures.

Ubisoft have already proven themselves adept at transmedia by taking Ezio into comics, novels and short films. A movie is the next obvious step, not just from a creative point of view but also in terms of helping Ubisoft's balance sheet grow. Ubisoft Motion Pictures - the division set up to shepherd its IP through the Hollywood development process - may yet prove to be the videogame equivalent of Marvel Studios. Even if a creative partnership doesn't work, what's to stop Ubisoft or Microsoft or EA or Valve using their clout to bankroll and produce their own movies based on their own IP?

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At the same time, Hollywood studios need movies based on videogames. How else can they appeal to the core 13-30 year-old demographic - now totally dominated by gamers - that will give them billion dollar hits? The superhero boom is peaking and when the inevitable bust comes, it will be videogame movies that fill the gap. After all, there are only so many caped crusaders to bring to the screen and, as superhero mania starts to scrape the bottom of the comic book barrel you've got to ask yourself: would you rather see a Mass Effect movie or a third-tier superhero outing like Aquaman?

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