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Video game sales are to movie box office as house sales are to pet adoptions

November 18, 2009 | 10:13 am

MW2 In a culture that has become obsessed intrigued by movies' openings at the box office, it's no surprise that other products, particularly in the world of entertainment, want to compare their launches to those of the biggest films.

There's a danger, however, in comparing apples to kumquats.

Today Activision Blizzard Inc. revealed that its hugely anticipated video game, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, generated $550 million in worldwide sales during its first five days. As the publisher trumpeted in a press release, that's substantially higher than the biggest five-day worldwide box office launch, a record held by "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." That's correct.

But that doesn't mean Modern Warfare 2 has been enjoyed by as many people or that it will be as profitable. The video game costs $60 to buy, after all ($150 for the "prestige edition," which includes an art book and night vision goggles), whereas movie tickets cost less than $10 on average (shocking as that may be to Los Angeles residents). More important, movies make the majority of their revenue when they're done playing in theaters, from DVD, pay television and other markets. Video games make virtually all of their money from retail sales. With the exception of the relatively tiny market for add-on digital content, they're done once they leave stores.

We're not saying the launch of Modern Warfare 2 isn't impressive. As a story in today's Times explains, it's a new record, a much-needed shot in the arm for the industry, and a reflection of careful planning and a massive $200-million investment by Activision Blizzard.

Just don't believe the hype that video games are now bigger than movies. Hollywood can rest easy. For now, anyway.

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: A scene from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Credit: Activision Blizzard Inc.