Finding the Middle Ground in the Polarized World of Video Games
For a long while, at least up until the video game industry's revenue surpassed that of Hollywood in 2009, the business of film was seen as an aspirational model for the young gaming medium. While there were and are valuable lessons to be learned from a popular medium with a century's head start on games, in at least one regard the two industries have in recent years come to resemble one another to an unfortunate degree. In both the game and film worlds, the middle ground has dropped out.
It's increasingly the case that releases must either be high-profile, high-budget, AAA blockbusters — The Avengers, Call of Duty, Inception, Grand Theft Auto — or plucky "independent" releases — Braid, Juno, Limbo, Paranormal Activity — to make a significant cultural or commercial impact. In the no man's land between lie too many titles to mention, and the problem is arguably a more drastic one for the gaming industry, where ancillary revenue is harder to come by. A movie that underperforms in theaters, a John Carter, say, is initially viewed as a failure. Almost all, however, will eventually become profitable through Blu-ray, on demand, streaming services, et. al. It might take a while, but it will happen. Even Cleopatra, the most notorious flop in Hollywood history, ultimately turned a profit for 20th Century Fox.
Games don't have the luxury of these secondary distribution channels and tend to live and die by their initial release. The industry moves quickly, and the audience is always hungry for the next big thing. The inevitable result is that many deserving games fail to draw the audience they would in a just world and are left by the wayside.
It was with this in mind that I recently decided to catch up on a few games from last year, games that had piqued my interest at the time of their release but that had gone unsupported by my dollars (I know. I'm part of the problem.). The games in question? Bulletstorm and Shadows of the Damned. Interestingly, while the former was developed by Grasshopper Manufacture and the latter was a collaboration between People Can Fly and Epic Games, both were published by EA. EA have made progress in recent years rehabilitating their image as a soulless video game assembly line by taking chances on more eclectic fair like this, although they have been aided in this endeavor by Activision's headlong rush to fill their former role.
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