21 February 2005

Gaming the System

Yet more unintentional proof that the accounting in the entertainment industry leaves a lot to be desired—in both transparency and accuracy: An item in today's NYT discusses the recent "problems" of film-tie-in video games with language like

The exact terms of deals between studios and game publishers are rarely released. But rights to major movies can cost publishers an advance against future royalties of up to 15 percent of sales to retailers. Since major games typically cost around $10 million to develop, they generally have to sell more than half a million copies to be profitable. Add marketing costs and advances of up to $10 million, and it becomes even harder for game makers to see a return on their investments.

Snort. Let's see where the numbers take us, ok?

500,000 * (avg retail {$49.95} – 40% wholesale discount) = $14.985M

– 15% advance = $ 2.248M

– "development" = $10.000M

preproduction revenue = $ 2.737M

which is spread out over production costs, fulfillment costs, and marketing, right? That's almost $5.50 per copy sold; and assumes that every copy is sold at a long wholesale discount. Given that actual manufacturing and fulfillment costs should be under $1.65 per copy… well, you figure out the rest. And assume that none of the $10 million in development costs can be recouped by any means other than selling that particular game. And further assume no synergistic sales effects. And assumes that there is no preexisting financial arrangement between the gaming company and the Hollywood franchisor. Yeah, right.

Then, on the other hand, there's the question of follow-on sales. In the US, this sort of thing couldn't happen without elimination of our first-sale doctrine, which is enshrined in the Copyright Act. Nonetheless, it's an interesting question… especially given our overreaching WFH doctrine.