As Call of Duty flew of shelves, Viacom waved the white flag on games, announcing plans to sell off prize studio Harmonix – just a matter of days after the team’s praised Rock Band 3 and Dance Central games arrived.
“The console game business requires an expertise we do not have,” the company plainly said – a stark explanation which seems to put paid to its game plan. While it installed an expert international MTV Games team based in London just a matter of months ago, things aren’t looking great for whatever such divisions had planned next.
Only Warner and Disney have managed to build credible teams and properties in this space without having a wobble – and even Disney last week also said it too was adjusting the plan to include Facebook and iPhone games alongside console titles.
MCV has regularly written about the designs all the above plus organisations like NewsCorp and Fox, Paramount (also owned by Viacom) and Marvel have had on games – but with a majority of them we are yet to see a decent result.
Even the online efforts of those last few (NewsCorp’s regular flap over casual games, Paramount’s iPhone titles, Marvel’s PSN games) have been paltry efforts in the grand scheme of things.
So why has Big Media struggled to get a grip on games?
It can’t be issues with scale, money or resource – Hollywood’s entertainment giants have that in spades.
I’d say there is a philosophical, deep-rooted reason why these companies rarely succeed in making games.
In Hollywood, the studio system supports a clutch of big, big companies that own the entire market. Interactive entertainment, although dominated by its own big names, is scrappier, younger – it allows surprise hits to bubble up quickly and scale even faster. However those rogue attitudes don’t really fit with Big Media’s prescribed, controlled, predictable methods. The few successes Big Media has had in games – namely Warner and Disney – come from embracing experts from games to do the heavy lifting.
All of which means there never was any real threat of these firms sneaking up to steal a slice of the trade’s hard work. And that bodes well for the industry’s overall health, even if we are staring down the barrel of an eventual drop off in the packaged goods market.