MI6 reports on the success and failures of the James Bond videogames, as digital adventures have out stripped movie releases in recent years...

The Business of Bond Games

17th August 2010

Despite the lack of a new James Bond movie this year, fans can still look forward to some fresh 007 adventures in the shape of two new videogames from Activision: "Blood Stone" - an original story in the movie mould, and a re-imagined version of "GoldenEye 007". Both games will star Daniel Craig.

With videogames sales often surpassing the movie box-office revenues on an average week in the USA, how do the Bond games stack up against their cinematic counterparts?

As videogame production budgets are significantly lower and consumer purchase price considerable higher than movies, it looks like an attractive alternative, especially when licensed games generate about 23% more revenue than original content. But for years, with only one major exception, the Bond franchise has failed to land a blockbuster in the digital realm. 007 languishes at #26 in the league table of best-selling videogame franchises with 30 million units sold. Even Lara Croft has him licked. Mario reigns supreme with over 200 million units sold.

Unexpected Alchemy
Thanks to countless unimaginative and derivative 'movie spin-off' videogames flooding the market in the 1980s and 1990s, it was a surprise to everyone when Rare produced a top quality game for the Bond franchise in the shape of "GoldenEye 007" on the Nintendo 64 - two years after the movie had already hit screens.

 

Rare would not only reset expectations for tie-in games, they would also set the benchmark for first-person shooters forever. Developed on a shoe-string budget and selling over 8 million units, and helping Nintendo sell countless golden controllers and N64 console bundles, "GoldenEye 007" is by far the most profitable 007 videogame of all time.

As the movie series has repeatedly tried to recreate the alchemy of "Goldfinger" ("A View To A Kill" is the closest to a 'remake'), so too videogame publishers have tried to re-bottle the lightning of "GoldenEye 007"s popularity and financial success. EA were first to try in November 2004 with "GoldenEye: Rogue Agent" - an ill-conceived attempt to create a sequel with almost zero conceptual integrity to its successor. Panned by critics and largely ignored by the fan base, EA proved the "GoldenEye" moniker could not shift games alone: the game also had to be good. A straight remake was next attempted by Microsoft, revamping the graphics for a high-definition release on Xbox Live Arcade. But they lacked the licence and Nintendo didn't take kindly to the title moving away from their platform. Aside from a few screenshots, the completed game never saw the light of day.

After a year of rumours and leaks, Activision announced their 're-imaging' of "GoldenEye 007" at E3 this year. Bringing the story and cast up to date, the style and feel of the game is promised to stay true to the original, even keeping it exclusive to Nintendo's platform du jour. Perhaps it will be third time lucky.

Units Sold (Millions)

Agent Under Fire (2001)
3.97 m
NightFire (2002)
3.77 m
Everything or Nothing (2004)
2.44 m
GoldenEye: Rogue Agent (2004)
1.12 m
From Russia With Love (2005) *
0.8 m

Quantum of Solace (2008)

1.96 m

Above: Total units sold at full-price for Playstation 2 and Xbox in the USA and EMEA (for comparison, "GoldenEye 007" sold 8.0 million worldwide on Nintendo 64 alone). "Quantum of Solace" sales figures are for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. These figures are indicative only. They do not constitute total units sold per title as they do not include other release platforms, releases in Japan, and re-releases under platinum or budget labels. *XBox sales data unavailable - grand total has been estimated based on actual PS2 units and typical Xbox sales ratios.

Original Adventures
After Rare had set the bar so high, Electronic Arts took over the 007 licence in 1999 and quickly farmed out development work for two movie-ties ins. "Tomorrow Never Dies" (1999) and "The World Is Not Enough" (2000) sold well on PlayStation and Nintendo 64 respectively, but did not live up to the originality or creativity of Rare's solo effort.

After catching up on the recent movie releases, and a complete misfire with the terrible "007 Racing" (2000), EA created two solid first-person shooters for multiple platforms: "Agent Under Fire" (2001) and "NightFire" (2002). Both were original stories (the latter featured the likeness of then-007 actor Pierce Brosnan) and were well received by gaming critics and Bond fans alike. After one year on sale, "NightFire" shifted 5 million units cross-platform and was one of EA's top games of 2003. Both titles would sell millions more through platinum and budget re-releases.

The step up to movie production values in the videogame industry had started in the early 2000's as sixth-generation console hardware was capable of producing graphics of suitable quality to carry real-world likeness of actors and locations.

 


Above: Promotional render of Bond and his female-foils in "Agent Under Fire".

Frustrated by the lack of access, and with no movie immediately in production after "Die Another Day" had opened in late 2002, EA went to work on creating their own blockbuster. An unprecedented production budget estimated at $3m, and an even bigger advertising campaign (£2.5m was spent in the UK alone), "Everything or Nothing" took Bond games to a new level. Although delay in development shifted its release away from the lucrative winter Holiday season and in to February 2004, the lack of competition after New Year helped focus attention on 007. Half a million units shipped in its first two weeks on sale, it scored the lucrative #1 chart position of cross-platform sales, and hung around the top 20 for longer than any other recent Bond game.


Above: Chart position of Bond games in the UK since original week of release based on all-platform sales. "From Russia With Love" is the only title to slip out of the top 40 and re-enter, thanks to an uptick in Game Cube sales around Christmas 2005. "Everything or Nothing" is the only game shown here that was not released during the Holiday season, a typically strong time for game sales. It did not seem to hurt as it is the only 007 title to chart at #1 in the UK.


Out With A Whimper
It was all downhill for EA. After the critical mauling of "GoldenEye: Rogue Agent", and the canceling of an original Pierce Brosnan themed game, the then-biggest games publisher in the world went after the most-loved James Bond actor. But it didn't work.

Despite Sean Connery returning to Bond to provide voice-over work, and tweaking the plot to bring in more action, "From Russia With Love" (2005) was a flop.

In May 2006, Activision shocked the game industry by announcing that it had struck a deal with MGM and EON to publish James Bond games through 2014. EA immediately cancelled their "Casino Royale" videogame development. 007 was in digital limbo until Activision's rights became exclusive, which meant Daniel Craig fans would have to wait until "Quantum of Solace" in 2008 to see him in action on gaming consoles and PC.

The first game on seventh-generation hardware, "Quantum" was met with mediocre reviews and released alongside huge titles - both factors which hindered sales.

 


Selling just shy of 2m units in the US and EMEA at full price on Xbox 260 and PS3, the figures were considerably higher than EA's later attempts, but still dwarfed by earlier original games. The Nintendo DS handheld version holds the unenviable record of lowest sales of a recent 007 game on a specific platform, shifting just 100,000 units Stateside.

UK Sales Performance

Title Highest Chart Weeks In Top 20 Top Platform
Everything or Nothing (2004) 1 15 PS2
GoldenEye: Rogue Agent (2004) 7 8 Xbox
From Russia With Love (2005) 16 4 Game Cube

Quantum of Solace (2008)

7 9 PS2

The Future
Never before have fans seen the simultaneous release of two major 007 videogames, so November 2010 will at least be in the Bond history books for one reason. Will "Blood Stone" see similar success of its spiritual predecessor "Everything or Nothing"? Can "GoldenEye 007" live up to the (perhaps unfair) expectations of gamers who recall the 1997 original through rose-tinted glasses? Will having two Bond games out side-by-side stifle individual sales, or raise general awareness? Whatever happens, Activision should be commended for setting their targets high by aiming at two of the best-selling and best-loved 007 games.

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