Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Missed Opportunity

The Toronto Star has an article today about the Purchase brothers, who hope to break into the live action film business and who are working on their reel. One of the pieces they've created is based on the video game Half-Life 2 and the piece has been watched more than 2 million times on YouTube.

While I don't play video games and don't seek out films like the Purchase brothers are making, I do have to admire their skills, their dedication and their ability to entertain an audience. Most of all, I admire their resourcefulness. Their film was made for relatively little cash, though many hours were invested in it.

Valve, the company that makes Half-Life 2, is aware of the film and likes it, but they have no interest in a Half-Life movie as they've been disappointed in movies that have been made based on videogames thus far. While I have no interest in insulting people, I need to say that the Valve people are IDIOTS. They're stuck thinking about $60 million budgets, big name stars and 2000 theater opening weekends. It doesn't have to be that way.

I don't doubt that the brothers could complete their film for less than half a million dollars. A budget that low presents many options. The entire film could be given away for free online as an ad for the game. Material could be made available free online as a teaser for a paid download or DVD purchase. A limited theatrical release or a cable TV sale would both be possible. Any of the above would advertise the original game and expand its fan base. Already 2 million people have viewed what exists. The snowball has started rolling down the hill and Valve is too stupid to give it a push when they would be the main beneficiary. Instead, they've set up a road block.

In his book What Would Google Do? Jeff Jarvis says that he thinks the current business model for advertising is doomed. The satisfied consumer is the new advertisement. This means that if a friend tells you about something (and these days you might hear it in person, by twitter, by email, on a blog, or on Facebook), you're far more likely to try it than if you've seen a traditional kind of advertisement. Two million people have decided, without seeing an ad, to check out this film. Why wouldn't the makers of Half-Life 2 want to cash in on this?

Besides being a missed opportunity for Valve, it's also a shame for the Purchase brothers. They've already received calls from Hollywood because Hollywood is smart enough to realize that anybody that can attract an audience is worth investing in. But while the brothers may get an opportunity, they'll be pulled into a business model that's eroding. A Hollywood budget will provide them with resources they don't currently have, but it will also shackle them with a bureaucracy and an overhead they've proven they don't need. If Valve was a smarter company, they'd cash in on the brothers while allowing the brothers to make the film without Hollywood interference. Everybody, except Hollywood, wins and what's wrong with that?


Rick Blankenship said...

I watched this short a couple weeks ago and thought it was brilliant. You make some great points, I totally agree.
A film wouldn't have to be a theatrical release at all. Straight to DVD or a download through Valve's own digital distribution system, Steam, would destroy. Especially if the film is as well done as the short was.

Dawnson said...

Interesting thoughts Mark but I'm going to disagree. First off, Valve is far from idiotic. It'll be hard to find a gamer that would disagree that Valve is at the very top of the gaming industry. I believe it is the quality of their games that make them top sellers. When I play a Valve game I expect that level of quality and have not been let down so far. If a Half-Life movie can not reach the level of quality that the games have, it should not be made.

Here's an excerpt of an interview with Valve co-founder:

One more point, when I watched the Purchase Brothers video I noticed it was sub-title Part One, so when it finished I naturally clicked on part two. I was surprise too find that I have been Rickroll'd, this second video was a fake! the publisher of the fake went so far as to name themselves "PurchoseBrothers". After enjoying a laughing at the prank that was at my own expense I noticed the number of hits for this fake. It was 60,000. If the viewers enjoyed the free video I would imagine that they would like more. Even if part two was not authentic, only 5% of viewers of the original cared to see how it continued. The amount of hits only shows the demand for this movie and not it's quality. If Valve fails at an attempt of a movie it's audience, the gamer/internet crowd (the cruelest people in the world), will hold no insults back and it will be the first blemish on this gem of a company.

All this being said, there is no doubt in my mind this movie will be made somewhere down the line *sigh*. I can only pray that it's going to be watchable.

Pete Emslie said...

From the Star article: "Lauded by viewers worldwide for its engaging story, special effects and accurate depiction of the tense first-person-shooter's universe, the video has many fans and online commenters clamouring for more, and people in the film industry hoping and believing that this is possibly just the start for the suddenly up-and-coming siblings."

"Engaging story"?!!

I'll grant you that the technical achievements on such a modest budget may well be impressive, but there is nothing in this film clip that resembles an "engaging story" to me. I'm not as objective as you are, Mark, and I fully admit that my own personal bias is showing, but I really resent stuff like this being noticed by Hollywood types looking to wine and dine and make deals. For every inane, special FX ridden film that Hollywood makes, I have to believe that the more discerning moviegoers like myself are being denied more genuinely entertaining films. It's mindless dreck like this that keeps me away from the movieplexes every summer and at home on my couch watching TCM instead. Please excuse my rant, but I'm feeling particularly curmudgeonly today...

Друг said...

I find it interesting you bring up that sort of marketing scheme, because that's exactly what Valve does right now. Valve has been very experimental for a long time, and has recently developed a very clever way of gaining customers. With its latest game, Left 4 Dead, Valve has introduced unlockable "guest passes", codes which you can give to a friend to allow them a 48 hour trial version of the game. Game trials have been around since the 90s but have usually been free for anyone by online download or from an ordinary CD at any electronics store. With guest passes, however, Valve generates a sense of prestige, and by only allowing enthusiastic players to choose who gets trial passes, they can be certain they are only distributed to almost-certain buyers, thereby saving distribution costs. Players play more to earn guest passes.

Furthermore, and this is where that video you showed comes into play more, Valve has benefitted largely from a community of players dedicated to creating their own content, such as new levels or weapons. Ths user-generated content adds significantly to the retail value of Valve games without costing hardly any money. Videos like this generate almost as much interest in the game as a much more expensive production for absolutely no cost on Valve's part.

Wonkey the Monkey said...

When you describe Valve as being "stuck thinking about $60 million budgets, big name stars and 2000 theater opening weekends," I think you do them a disservice. While a number of expensive game-inspired movies have tried (and usually failed) to win audiences, there are also a fair number of low-budget video game movies that have done their part to destroy the reputation of the genre. The most notorious offender is director Uwe Boll (House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, Postal and others), who (in)famously issued a blanket challenge to take on his loudest critics in the boxing ring. One critic took him up on his challenge, and Boll wiped the floor with him. The man makes terrible, terrible movies, but he keeps getting contracts because they bring in more money than they cost to make.

So I understand why Valve is reluctant to enter this market. Budget doesn't enter into it, but reputation does. Until someone produces numbers showing that a movie adaptation of a video game improved the reputation of the game studio and introduced a sustained increase in sales for their games, there is little reason to believe that it is wise for Valve to get into movies.

Mitch K said...

The entire Half-Life franchise is one of the most widely played game series in the entire world. They already built recognition for themselves with their first game many years ago. They themselves have expanded upon that with their second game, and it's modded spin-offs. The games have made more money than a film would ever make, and the games are already widely known -- they don't need the additional advertisement or hype.

Any movie, despite by whom it is made, will only cheapen the franchise. The games are already superior to all movies of that genre. The kind of stories that are told in games cannot always be translated to film, because film completely lacks that interactive and engaging first-person-experience element.

The games themselves are played online with other players, so it is as if they(the games) are living and spreading on their own. When something is so viral, you don't really need Hollywood gimmicks to promote the product.

It's already successful. It's one of the biggest game franchises of all time. It just plain doesn't need anything else.

Steve Schnier said...

I always question the wisdom of producting "tribute" films, fan/alternate versions of Star Trek, Star Wars, Half Life, etc.

Copyright issues aside, for the amount of time, effort, money and creativity the filmmakers put into these productions, they could have done something original.

There's nothing to be gained by having the most authentic "Spock Ears" on the block. But I wish the Purchase Brothers well.

Rick Roberts said...

"The kind of stories that are told in games cannot always be translated to film, because film completely lacks that interactive and engaging first-person-experience element."

I think it's getting a bit easier these days. Twenty years ago games just had enough stories to set an atmosphere and that's about it. Now they have enough at least a good comic book serial. Still, the movie industry has been slow in progressing. They have gotten better since Super Mario Brothers but it's far behind what they should be doing now.