Movies may be booming, but video games based on them are not
A big year at the box office isn't doing much for video games based on them.
As movie studios and media conglomerates get increasingly involved in the video games based on their film and TV properties, some to the point of investing hundreds of millions of their own dollars, April U.S. sales data from the NPD Group provides some sobering news. All five of the most recent video games based on movies have sold poorly or moderately:
"Wanted: Weapons of Fate" is the first video game for high end consoles such as the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 financed by Universal (in a slightly ironic twist, it was distributed by Warner Bros.). From its March 24 debut to the end of April, "Wanted" sold only 100,000 units, generating less than $6 million in gross sales. While its performance was hurt by production delays that pushed the game nearly four months beyond "Wanted's" DVD launch in December (it never had a chance of coming out with the film's theatrical debut last June), Universal still undoubtedly had higher hopes given that top-tier titles for the 360 and PS3 typically cost more than $20 million to produce before any marketing.
"Hannah Montana: the Movie," which was published by Disney Interactive Studios, a sibling unit to the film studio within the Walt Disney Co., certainly cost less to make. But 65,000 games sold in the first three-plus weeks is a bad sales figure for any budget and evidence that inexpensive video games aimed at girls, traditionally the foundation of Disney Interactive's strategy, aren't consistently hits.
Electronic Arts' first video game based on "The Godfather," released in 2006, sold a solid 4 million units worldwide. But gamers have proved willing to refuse "The Godfather II" (pictured above). It sold a modest but not disastrous 241,000 units out of the gate, giving it gross sales of under $15 million, and received so-so reviews (in part because of how significantly it deviates from the movie's plot). That means Electronic Arts likely won't pour resources into a third "Godfather" game, a decision that would cause the rights to revert back to Paramount.
"The Chronicles of Riddick" is a dead franchise on the big screen. But the game based on Universal's 2004 film is revered by many fans and critics as the best interactive adaptation of a movie. So Atari, which bought the video game sequel after former publisher Vivendi Games merged with Activision, had every reason to be excited about "The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena," which featured the digital likeness and voice of Vin Diesel in the lead role. Since its March 17 debut, however, gamers have bought only 100,000 copies.
Games based on hit kids' movies are usually as safe a bet as they come. But Activision's adaptation of DreamWorks Animations' "Monsters vs. Aliens" has sold just 161,000 units since it came out on March 27.
(Sales figures don't include the PC versions, though that rarely makes a significant difference.)
Of course, overall video game sales dropped 23% in April, as the Times recently reported, so it's not like these titles are bucking a trend. But it does seem clear that while movie theater attendance is proving anti-cyclical during a recession, movie-based video game sales are not.
-- Ben Fritz
Photo: "The Godfather II." Credit: Electronic Arts