Is Hollywood threatened by video games?

The world of video games can best be described as somewhat manic depressive. One day it’s going like gangbusters, and the next it’s fallen off a jagged precipice into a downward spiral. 

For example, even in the midst of the one of the worst economic periods in US history, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 had a monster week, making $775 million in five days.

Perhaps inevitably, the success of Call of Duty has also raised questions about games competing with movies, and what effect the industry has on America’s box office.

Think about it: there was a point when games were making more money than movies, and even with the economy in the toilet, this may still be true. 

In fact, there was a report in the L.A. Times that The Immortals was nervous about opening against Call of Duty, almost as if the game was a rival blockbuster.

As Ben Fritz wrote, “many in Hollywood are concerned that video games and other forms of digital entertainment are keeping young consumers glued to their screens in the home rather than venturing to theaters.”

Of course, it may not have mattered in the long run, because the box office was in a slump for several months before Twilight scored big, but Entertainment Weekly also stirred a debate many hoped would never be brought up: “Video games vs. Movies: Which medium is greater?”

Video game supporter Adam B. Vary told EW that “The time of feature film dominance is dimming, and the days when video games reign supreme is dawning. I’m not talking about gross revenue here – video games have long since dwarfed movies on that score… [However], taken in total, the big movies of the last few years have rarely been as interesting – as able to seize your imagination, envelope you into their worlds and  haunt your thinking for weeks on end – as the big video games of the last few years.”

While movies these days leave a lot to be desired, again, the gaming market is so mercurial. Reading one of my all time favorite books, Hit Men, which is the All the President’s Men of the music business, I was reminded that some blamed video games for the record business being in a slump in 1981. 

As Fredric Dannen wrote, “It was popular to blame the video game craze for the record industry’s woes. Every quarter dropped in the slot was one less that might have been spent on music. In 1980 the Atari unit grossed $513 million, almost twice as much as the year before, while sales for the records group increased only 11 percent to $806 million.

“Overnight success breeds shortsightedness, and Warner Communications began to believe that video games were a better business than records. Warner would learn otherwise in 1983, when the bottom fell out of Atari, never to recover fully, and the company watched its stock price plummet 33 percent in one day.”