Blizzard Entertainment's games are renowned for their strikingly cinematic cutscenes. It's a reputation that parent company Activision is looking to capitalize on, as evidenced by comments CEO Bobby Kotick made in a presentation today at Bank of America Merrill Lynch's Media, Communications, and Entertainment Conference.
In talking about Blizzard's latest hit, the 3 million-selling Starcraft II, Kotick noted that there was more than an hour of prerendered and in-game cutscenes in the real-time strategy title.
"If we were to go to our audience and say we have this great hour-and-a-half of linear video that we would like to make available to you at a $30 price point or $20 price point, you'd have the biggest opening weekend of any film ever," Kotick said. "Within the next five years, you are likely to see us do that. Now that may be in partnership with somebody; it may be alone. But there will be a time when we capitalize on the relationship that we have with our audience."
Kotick said that Activision could do better than a traditional video company with such a product because "we have their credit card information and we have a direct relationship" with them, meaning the company could bypass the expenses of standard distribution methods. What's more, given the loyalty of the company's enthusiast consumer base, he believes "an extremely high percentage" would be willing to then go to a theater and see the same film.
This isn't the first time a publisher has embraced that idea. In 2001, Sega launched a limited Japanese theatrical run of Shenmue cut together from various parts of the Dreamcast original. The movie was later included with the Xbox version of Shenmue II. The following year, Blizzard itself released a three-DVD set featuring the cinematics from Starcraft, Starcraft: Brood War, Diablo II, and Warcraft III, as well as director's commentary and cinematics. The company continues to offer similar DVDs for Starcraft and World of Warcraft at a $10 price point, although many users have stitched together their own movies from the games' cutscenes on YouTube.
That wasn't the only part of Kotick's presentation that had touches of Hollywood. He talked about a vision he had held for years that is coming true, namely that the audience for games would broaden such that it more closely resembled the audiences for television and films. (Activision is likely to see significant overlap on that front sometime in the next few years, as director Sam Raimi and Warner Bros. are currently working on a Warcraft-inspired feature film.)
Kotick also touted the facial animation and lip-synching technology in the upcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops as a breakthrough for the gaming industry. He said it is the first game where the company has advanced the animation technology far enough "that the lines being delivered are believable." He also said the ability to have characters with whom players could form an emotional connection--the same way they do with characters in movies--was a "Holy Grail" in the industry.