If marketers didn’t have enough to worry about as they start to position movies against sequels in the “Star Wars,” “The Avengers” and “Jurassic Park” franchises, the videogame industry has some serious competition of its own coming out in 2015.
The next installments of the “Call of Duty,” “Halo,” “Uncharted,” “Assassin’s Creed,” “Tomb Raider” and “Arkham” franchises, as well as newcomers like “The Order: 1886” and “The Division,” will all compete for the attention — and wallets — of younger males, the same audience studios are courting to fill megaplexes.
Campaigns for many of the games kicked off at last week’s E3, the industry’s annual trade show in Los Angeles, where publishers pushed games in a way reminiscent of movie promotions. Cinematic game trailers featured nearly photo-realistic digital characters in detailed settings and anxiety-inducing action sequences.
What games now look like, and who’s playing, should worry Hollywood and exhibitors, with their core demo increasingly distracted by other screens.
“The studios should at minimum be aware of big game launches,” says Michael Pachter, managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities. “The biggest games all come out between September and November, and there are typically a dozen big ones, so fall movie releases have trouble avoiding some overlap. A medium-budget action film can get bowled over by a big release.”
Games like “Destiny” (out this September), “Far Cry” (in October) and “Halo” (next year) definitely could have an impact, Pachter adds. “Studios will probably benefit from steering away from their launch dates,” he notes.
In 2013, frequent ticket buying at cinemas among 18- to 24-year-olds fell 17%, according to the Motion Picture Assn. of America, while the 12-17 demo declined nearly 15%.
Young audiences may still turn out for the biggest blockbusters, but they are increasingly distracted by smaller screen fare including gaming, social media and streaming video.
At last year’s Visual Effects Society Summit, Illumination Entertainment CEO Chris Meledandri said that the feature film business is losing — or has already lost — the next generation of potential moviegoers. “The thing I worry about the most is the competition for young eyeballs,” he said. “We’ve got so many other competing forms of media and entertainment and content.”
Last year’s “Grand Theft Auto V” — which sold 33 million copies and generated nearly $2 billion for Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive — as well as
hits like Activision’s “Call of Duty: Ghosts” were among the big titles diverting next-gen attention.
Activision hopes that “Destiny,” with a budget of $500 million, can become its next multibillion-dollar franchise. Its Sept. 9 delivery date would potentially impact Universal’s Jake Gyllenhaal starrer “Everest,” which is scheduled to hit theaters Sept. 18.
Sony, meanwhile, is high on PlayStation 4 exclusive “The Order: 1886,” which sets King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table in a monster-ridden neo-Victorian London. The game’s February launch could hurt Legendary’s “Seventh Son” (Feb. 6) and MGM’s “Poltergeist” (Feb. 13), and provide guys with counterprogramming to Universal’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” (Feb. 13).
There’s no dumping ground for games expected to underachieve. Consumers usually look for something to play in the early months of the year after completing titles that hit the market in November or December, the peak release period for the biz.
“When you come out of the holidays, people want to jump into something else,” says John Koller, VP of platforms marketing at Sony PlayStation.
An April release date worked this year for Ubisoft’s “Watch Dogs,” which sold 4 million units in its first week, the industry’s biggest launch for an original property. Fewer games have bowed during the summer, but that’s changing, with titles like EA’s “Star Wars: Battlefront” due to bow during that season next year. Games like “Call of Duty” and “Destiny” are designed to never end — with downloadable levels released throughout the year, and multiplayer modes gathering groups around titles for hours.
But it’s still not clear just how much cannibalization goes on between movies in theaters and videogames.
Koller admits PlayStation doesn’t always check what the theatrical sched-ule is before dating games. “We’re trying to bring the right content to the gamer at the right time, and make sure they’re served. Now that’s definitely a 12-month thing.”