Blockbusters: Big games, big hype, big sales

November 8, 2009

Usually when anyone uses the term “blockbuster” they refer to a movie that has made a lot of money at the box office; basically, a movie that people line up around the block to see. But can the same be said of video games?

Game sales are often calculated and compared to the sales of CDs and movie tickets, but is that really a fair comparison? There have been quite a few games that managed to break a few records, especially more recent releases. But are they “blockbusters”?

The two games that come to mind right away are Halo 3 and Grand Theft Auto IV, two of the biggest video game releases of all time. They both had incredibly successful launches, and continued to sell well after their initial release months. So to define a blockbuster in this sense: it needs to have a huge launch, and it needs to continue to be successful after the first month. 

Let’s continue with the best selling game of all time: Wii Sports. Is that a gaming blockbuster? Most people consider it a simple pack-in mini-game collection that came with the Wii, not a title that is the equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster. But if it’s all about the game sales, then by all means, Wii Sports is definitely the best example of a gaming blockbuster around. 

This year, we are seeing two even bigger releases, ones that can be considered blockbusters before they are even released. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is the first, just released and considered a huge success from many game critics. It received the best review scores of any game since Grand Theft Auto IV, and it looks like it might become a huge hit this holiday among gamers. But I think this game is called a blockbuster for a very different reason: the gameplay.

Many people compare it to the film Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first in the very successful Indiana Jones series, and one that is still considered by many as one of the best action/adventure movies of all time. Uncharted 2 is similar in its plot, main character, and in the fact that it is a fast-paced action game that plays out just like a big budget film. Whether or not the game sells as well as Halo 3 or GTA, it may be considered by many as a “blockbuster” due to how the game plays and how it compares to the movies we consider blockbusters. 

So does the opinion of game critics matter when it comes to a game becoming a blockbuster? Both Halo 3 and GTA IV received a ton of praise from most, if not all, game critics. But if GTA was considered a mediocre or terrible game by the majority of the game media, and it still sold well, would it be remembered by the gaming press or even gamers? And, in that case, would it still be considered under the gaming definition of blockbuster?

The second example of an upcoming release that is bound to be a huge hit is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. The game is bound to be one of the best-selling games of 2009. How will it fare with the critics? Considering the incredible reception of the first game and of developer Infinity Ward, there is no doubt it will score high. It may be safe to say this will be a gaming blockbuster, but despite the positive reviews for Uncharted 2, will it leave that PS3 exclusive in the dust?

So, is the term blockbuster defined simply by how well the game sells? Or by how it compares to Hollywood’s most successful films? Or even by how good game critics consider it? We may never know, but we will continue to see what the industry is able to turn out, and how gamers will continue to respond to these games and the trends they follow or create.