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?

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