Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 1 made $125.1 million in its opening weekend, according to Warner Bros. estimates, making it the most-successful Harry Potter opening in franchise history and the sixth-best opening weekend of all time. Over the course of its four-day opening weekend (including midnight Thursday showings), Deathly Hallows averaged $31.25 million per day, though its box-office take did drop 38 percent on Saturday (to $38.2 million) and 33 percent Sunday (to $25.8 million).
Those are fantastic opening-weekend results, and it’s a great way for the Harry Potter franchise to start the first of its two-part swan song. But behind those numbers lies an opportunity to evaluate the health of the videogame and movie industries, the former of which always likes to compare itself to its “big brothers” on the big screen. Such an evaluation is particularly timely in light of Activision’s announcement that its newest Call of Duty game, Black Ops, earned $650 million in its first five days.
Evaluating the meaning behind opening-weekend sales isn’t just a matter of comparing the numbers. After all, movie tickets cost less than a videogame. However, when you dig deeper to develop an apples-to-apples comparison, the resulting picture shows a videogame industry that still has a long way to go before it’s as popular as its movie kin. When the sixth-biggest movie outsells the top-selling game, one industry is definitely in the power position — no matter what the publishers would have you believe.
“But wait a minute,” you say. “Black Ops sold $650 million, and Harry Potter made $125 million. You’ve got your math backwards.” No, we don’t. And no, we’re not crazy. Follow the bread crumbs.
The average movie ticket price this year is $7.85, according to the latest data from the National Association of Theater Owners. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 1 made $125.1 million in its four days, or $31.25 million per day. Since COD: Black Ops’ sales were over five days, let’s add another $31.25 million to Potter’s total to give us an apples-to-apples five-day amount of $156.35 million. Divide that total by the $7.85 average ticket price, and you see that 19,917,197 people purchased a ticket to the latest Harry Potter flick.
Meanwhile, Call of Duty Black Ops sold for $59.99 per game — sometimes more, if the Prestige Edition was the SKU of the day. But for ease of calculation, let’s just stick with the $59.99 price point. Black Ops brought-in $650 million in five days, a game-industry record for a five-day launch. If we divide that amount by the average per-unit price of $59.99, we see that 10,835,139 people purchased the newest Call of Duty game during its first five days on market — just over half the number of people who purchased a ticket to a Harry Potter film that only nabbed the sixth-best opening weekend of all time.
I’m not trying to start any turf wars; I like games and movies alike. Heck, this site was founded almost nine years ago to cover games alone, and we only began covering movies upon the release of the PS3 and its Blu-ray drive. What I’m trying to point out is that for all the huffing and puffing the game industry does, it still doesn’t have the same mainstream acceptance and mindshare that movies enjoy. Couple that with a much higher barrier to entry ($60 SKUs), and it’s hard to see how the industry can ever hope to become more than “fringe” entertainment.
Is it fun fringe entertainment? You bet. Is it memorable fringe entertainment? Quite frequently. Is it emotional entertainment? At times. But is it a mode of entertainment that almost all consumers participate in and that carries few if any stigmas? Not hardly. Harry Potter inspired an entirely new (and huge) section at the Universal Studios Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando. Halo and Call of Duty inspired machinima and remote-controlled vehicles. That’s not demeaning, it’s the tru7h.
Gamers can choose to look at that reality in one of two ways. On the one hand, they can see this as a liberating statement, an opportunity to revel in their independence from being overly scrutinized by mainstream consumer media and a chance to enjoy the games “they” like rather than the games “everyone” must buy. On the other hand, gamers can get defensive and puff their chests, continuing to falsely claim that “their” industry is the biggest in the land and surely is the way to world domination. Somewhere, surely, lies a happy medium. Until we all find it, though, I prefer to go the former route and just enjoy my time regardless of sales data. These hobbies are supposed to be fun. Let’s focus on actually having fun, then, and leave the sales stress up to the studios and publishers. Give them the ulcers; let’s take the fun.
– Jonas Allen