The Profitable Explosion Principle

Video games! We all love them and we all want to see them continue to enrich our lives in interesting and innovative ways. I think most of us already know that a lot of the common tropes associated with games and gaming culture are outright fallacious but let’s look at it in a little more detail.

In 2012, the Entertainment Software Association published this report with many statistics concerning the gaming industry. Some findings are surprising, some aren’t. However it certainly does go a long way towards disproving the myth of the “average gamer”, this notion that we’re all fat, pimpled American teens, swearing down our headsets and shoveling pizzas and doritos down our faces while playing BulletFuck V: Redemption. One of the more interesting finds is that 47% of gamers are female. (I wonder what qualifies as a “game” in these studies, I imagine games on mobile devices and social networks go a long way towards equalizing the percentages. The reemergence of heavily gameplay centred gaming, particularly on mobiles, is fascinating and I wonder if there should be more of an effort to class these as a distinctly different art form. But hey, “defining games” is a really interesting topic and deserves it’s own full article!)

“But Josh!” I hear you shout defiantly through the monitor (is that healthy?), “if 47% of gamers are female, then why are all the mainstream games so clearly marketed towards men? Personally, I find it hard to believe that all of these game developers are so blatantly misreading the market data.” Hmm. An excellent point. Let’s take a look.

This is a list of the best selling games of 2012.

  • 1. Call Of Duty: Black Ops II
  • 2. FIFA 13
  • 3. Assassin’s Creed III
  • 4. Halo 4
  • 5. Hitman Absolution
  • 6. Just Dance 4
  • 7. Far Cry 3
  • 8. FIFA 12
  • 9. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • 10. Borderlands 2
  • 11. Mass Effect 3
  • 12. Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes
  • 13. Need For Speed: Most Wanted
  • 14. FIFA Street
  • 15. Mario & Sonic At The London 2012 Olympic Games
  • 16. Skylanders Giants
  • 17. Battlefield 3
  • 18. Call Of Duty: Modern Warefare 3
  • 19. Max Payne 3
  • 20. Sleeping Dogs

Notice a trend?

I’m not overcompensating, I just love war!

All right. How do we get to the bottom of this? Why is it that the most saleable games appear to involve copious amounts of violence and teabagging? Well to help us out, let’s look at gaming’s nearest cousin: film.

This is a list of the best selling films of 2012.

  • 1. Marvel’s The Avengers
  • 2. The Dark Knight Rises
  • 3. The Hunger Games
  • 4. Skyfall
  • 5. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  • 6. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2
  • 7. The Amazing Spider-Man
  • 8. Brave
  • 9. Ted
  • 10. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
  • 11. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax
  • 12. Wreck-It Ralph
  • 13. Lincoln
  • 14. MIB
  • 15. Django Unchained
  • 16. Ice Age: Continental Drift
  • 17. Snow White and the Huntsman
  • 18. Les Miserables
  • 19. Hotel Transylvania
  • 20. Taken 2

Notice a trend?

What he said.
What he said.

Okay so there’s a couple more kid’s movies than there are high grossing kid-games but let’s not forget that children have rubbish coordination and can’t be expected to pay large sums of money for entertainment they’re not able to operate effectively. Why? Because kid’s are lazy. Back in my day I spent hundreds of hours parked in front of a television playing video games. Kids these days. What happened to the world?

This still doesn’t explain why more games aren’t geared towards women, but it does explain what kinds of things people seem to be willing to pay for. I think the biggest factor is to do with development. To make a film all you need is a camera and some can-do attitude. To make a game you need a hefty amount of IT experience. It means that there’s big pressure on games to deliver and if something is selling, they’re going to exploit that. A film studio can justify more risky endeavours, and I think we can all think of a few low-budget gems. Depending on what type of game you want to make, you may need several developers all working on different areas which makes it difficult to get a unified goal. Plus the cost of making a top-selling game is astronomical and getting more expensive, not to mention the shear length of time it takes to develop a modern video game. We can grow disillusioned with the repetitive formula in the Hollywood bigs but in gaming it’s a nightmare. There’s no room for risk when your dealing with cash and time investments on that scale. The growing prevalence of indie games is certainly a redeeming factor though, and honestly it really deserves a full article to itself too!

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. Let’s analyse the data. What comparisons can we draw between blockbuster games and blockbuster films? Three simple words. Ex PLO! sions.

There's literally an explosion on the cover, like it's a member of the freakin' team.
There’s literally an explosion on the cover.

I watched the trailers for the top five highest grossing films of 2012 and counted the number of explosions in them. My findings were explosive.

The Avengers: 19 explosions

Dark Knight Rises: 12 explosions

Hunger Games: 1 explosion… Sort of. The logo bursts into flames. This proves nothing.

Skyfall: 6 explosions

The Hobbit: 1 explosion, BUT! they had plenty of ancient equivalents to explosions, like rocks crumbling and hitting other rocks, and fire. Lots of fire.

So it’s clear. Men are willing to pay top dollar to see stuff explode. Some directors even make a living out of exploiting this fact.

Case and point. Transformers: Dark of the Moon, had 283 explosions! This video on youtube has almost 12 million views.

I call this the Profitable Explosion Principle.

Reddit user MikeDane drew up this graph on imgur. Using advanced mathematics, it proves conclusively my theory correlating profitability to explosions (also that M. Night Shyamalan is terrible and after what he did to The Last Airbender he should never be allowed near any filming equipment ever again).

Utterly disgreased!
Utterly disgreased!

To me, the answer is simple. We all want better video games. We want games that are deep and meaningful and enrich our lives. For too long have these types of games been considered “risky” or “not profitable”. All we need to do to make these artistic games saleable is to periodically make something in the game explode. So simple. It was staring us in the face this whole time.