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I worked a couple of days in Santa Monica, California, this week to get a fresh perspective on games. It was my third visit to Los Angeles in recent weeks and a fruitful one, as Southern California has become a vibrant hub for the gaming business in the Golden State.
It’s vibrant because we’ve seen gaming and Hollywood get married again, thanks to the huge success of The Last of Us television show on HBO, which continues to see millions of people watching every week and boosting sales of the game series.
Jon Goldman, partner at Skybound and head of his Tower 26 venture capital fund for virtual and mixed reality projects, told me that what’s different this time compared to years past is that games and video entertainment have now become one ecosystem. This is a theme we will explore at our GamesBeat Summit 2023 event on May 22-23 in Marina del Rey.
Movies are using the same tools as games, with game engines such as Unity and Unreal becoming part of the workflow for TV shows and movies. And in the past, film directors didn’t know anything about games. They saw games as an excuse to make a movie, just as comics were strip-mined for films.
But now many film directors and producers are just as savvy about games as they are about other kinds of entertainment. They’re part of the gaming generation. JJ Abrams started Bad Robot Games as a division within his Bad Robot entertainment company and he hired gaming veteran Anna Sweet to run it.
(By the way, I’m going to moderate a town hall session at the Dice Summit on Wednesday February 22 in Las Vegas, and Sweet will be on the panel; I will also moderate a panel at the Mobile Growth Summit in Las Vegas on February 24, and host an online Metaverse Forum talk on March 1).
Dmitri Johnson (Sonic the Hedgehog film co-creator), Derek Kolstad (writer on John Wick), and agent Mike Goldberg teamed up in a new firm called Story Kitchen to “triple down” on adapting games into films.
Sharon Tal Yguado (The Walking Dead, The Boys and The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power) left Amazon Studios to start a new game company, Astrid Entertainment. The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman is straddling games, films, comics and more. And of course, Neil Druckmann of Naughty Dog, the creator of The Last of Us game series, was the co-creator of the hit HBO show.
“It is the same ecosystem,” Goldman said.
I heard more of the same from Peter Levin, cofounder of Griffin Gaming Partners, at his headquarters in Santa Monica where there are arcade machines, statues of game characters, and gaming swag all over the place. He is hopeful that we’re just at the beginning and that we’ll see more awesome stuff like Amazon Studios’ upcoming Fallout television show.
In such an environment, films and TV shows are respectful of games and gamers. The quality of gaming narratives matches what Hollywood wants, and TV and streaming series are long enough to do justice to those gaming narratives. We are seeing is gaming break out of its roots and grow into mainstream culture in a way that we didn’t anticipate just a short time ago, said entrepreneur Mike Prasad.
It was telling that Ilkka Paananen, CEO of Supercell, wrote this week that his company’s mission was to create games that could become cultural phenomena and be remembered forever. For too long, it seems, companies in games have not been ambitious enough. They shot too low. They looked for games that could make tens of millions of dollars, rather than games that could make billions of dollars. Paananen’s company has killed off 30 games over its history in order to create five hits that are generating billions of dollars. No other company has such a record in games, except perhaps Blizzard Entertainment.
The success of The Last of Us shows us what happens when your ambitions know no bounds. I think that games and Hollywood are going to show us just how big entertainment empires will become, and they will show us the way to the metaverse. I hope you’ll come to our event in May to discuss this more. And this merging of industries extends to other industries that are embracing digital, as I will write about in a future story about my visit to BMW’s DesignWorks studio in Santa Monica.
UGC and generative AI = copyright lawsuits?
While hanging out at the Lightspeed Venture Partners gaming party at the Aviator Nation Dreamland in Malibu, I had some interesting conversations about the topic I wrote about last week: the trendy combination of user-generated content and generative AI.
I talked to multiple entrepreneurs like Promethean AI CEO Andrew Maximov who have been working on AI technology for games for several years, before the latest craze inspired by ChatGPT in the last couple of months. They are as excited as anyone about the opportunity for AI to change the way that games are made and how ordinary users will be able to use the AI tools to create games from their own imaginations and simple text prompts.
But they note we should approach this hot trend with caution, just as many have done so when considering blockchain games. What happens, they asked, if you feed copyrighted images or those created by artists and intellectual property owners into the neural networks for generative AI? If those networks eventually spit out images or creations that infringe on someone else’s imagery, it will be easy to spot. And we’ll likely see lawsuits against the companies involved. That could stall the adoption of generative AI at bigger companies and create a lot of angst and discussion. Like with any new technology, caveat emptor.
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