We take a look at the ongoing quest for a good movie studio management video game – is there a Football Manager for the movie business?
Every year, come the start of the football season, the acclaimed strategy video game Football Manager rolls around – and every year, it gets more comprehensive, adding a bunch of new features. Still, the core of it remains the same: it’s a game that recreates in detail the job of managing a football team, for better or worse (usually worse, in my case). It’s also one of the most successful gaming series of its type.
Another annual cycle involves me being asked: is there anything like Football Manager, but for managing a film studio? A game where you can take control of a company, make a slate of movies, and hopefully generate a few hits, and a bunch of awards?
The answer to said question is… Sort of. In fact, as it turns out, there are a few more contenders on the way. Let’s take a look at what’s available…
The most mainstream attempt to bring movie management to gaming landed with a loud bang in 2005. It was brought to life by legendary game developer Peter Molyneux, and his argument was that lots of people had talked about doing such a title but nobody had really gone for it. He and his team – Lionhead Studios – duly did go for it. Oddly, it didn’t quite go to plan but, nearly two decades on, The Movies remains the most expensive and glossy effort available.
What Molyneux and his team had to wrestle with – as everyone before and since has done – was the sheer nature of the game: was it a deep strategy game, where you plot things in heavy detail, or something light and accessible, with hidden depths, à la the hugely successful Theme Park? He and his team chose the latter for a hugely ambitious game that effectively spanned the history of cinema.
Starting off in cinema’s formative years, your job was to build a studio – right down to designing it – and manage the talent. Build the facilities, fill the facilities, get rich was very much the plan. Furthermore, a visual engine allowed you to make short films, and to this day examples can be found on YouTube of people who have done just that. This segment remains groundbreaking.
The broader game turned out, though, to be – in proper movie style – a bit of a box office disappointment. It did enough business to generate a Stunts & Effects add-on pack, but eventually, Molyneux and his team focused their efforts elsewhere when sales didn’t measure up. Reviews were generally good, but still there was a sense of a swing and a bit of a miss. Think the John Travolta-headlined hit Phenomenon. A pretty good film, with a final act that falls short.
Even looking back now, The Movies is a game that’s not shy of ambition, but doesn’t quite land as a coherent whole. It took three or four years to make – at a time where that wasn’t so commonplace – and perhaps that deterred others from following in its path. In fact, no mainstream publisher has gone near this area since, and been willing to dedicate the required resources for a full-on movie strategy game.
The Movies is still out there though, and still pretty good. But it blazed a trail others should have followed. Precious few tried. One piece of free pub trivia for you, though: Oscar-nominated composer Daniel Pemberton did the score for the game…
Perhaps the title that’s got closest to the Football Manager idea is an independent game that dates all the way back to 1993. Entitled Hollywood Mogul, it’s the work of a single programmer, a man called Carey DeVuono, and to date three games have been released, with sequels landing in 1997 and 2006. An old-fashioned trilogy, rather than a cinematic universe.
It’s a game where you have to look past the lack of gloss and visuals (a polite way of saying the graphics are a bit… let’s move on) and delve deep into the strategic side of things. There’s much to enjoy too. Perhaps Hollywood Mogul 3 gets overcomplicated, yet Hollywood Mogul 2 very much works, even if there’s a fair amount of clicking around to get films off the ground. Still, you get to release 100 movies, and it’s good fun. It’s not tricky to learn the tricks of the game, but even then, what happens when your lead star dies? What happens when that sure-fire sequel sinks? There are plenty of variables at work.
DeVuono has tried to get a fourth game going in the last year or two, and tried on one or two occasions to crowdfund it into existence as well. However, so far, no dice. A Patreon appeal supporting the game has closed, and a more direct crowdfunder stumbled too. It doesn’t mean that the new game is completely dead, but it’s clearly not close.
On the plus side, and if you don’t mind fighting through the older look and feel of the game, the latest version of it – now rebranded as Hollywood Movie Studio – is currently available for free download on the Windows PC platform (there’s an unofficial messageboard for the game here). It takes a bit of technical poking around to get it working, but it remains the closest we’ve got to a sports management game for the movie industry.
Open about taking direct influence from The Movies game, Moviehouse is the hot new talent on the block, from an independent that’s punching as hard as it can.
It’s from developer Odyssey Studios, and this time, the game starts in the 1980s. You’ll be kicking off as a small indie production company with just the basic equipment and a tiny film crew at your disposal. Your goal is then to grow your company – let’s, for argument’s sake, call it Film Stories Global International Amazing Productions Inc – and turn it into a major player. Top tip: try and get a horror franchise. Not sure if it’ll work in the game, but that’s what we’re fully intending to try.
You go about your work by hiring talent, overseeing scripts, shooting films, winning over critics and fans, making hits, dealing with toxic backlash on Twitter (made that last one up), and keeping up with technological change too. The Movies parallel doesn’t seem to go as far as making the films themselves though.
Still, it’s a game that appears to be biting off a lot, all the more ambitious given that it’s Odyssey’s debut title. But it’s also clearly trying to find that sweet spot – that The Movies narrowly missed – between an ultra-deep strategy game and something more accessible to casual gamers.
The game was released on Steam on 5th April, and the official website is awash with information here.
Hollywood Pictures 2
There’s not a lot of love out there for 2007’s strategy title Hollywood Pictures 2, but you can’t fault it for having a go. Unlike The Movies, this is less interested in getting you to design your studio and production facilities; instead it’s up to you to oversee the production of films. The game covers pre-production, shooting and editing, and you can jazz up your films by throwing extra cash at special effects late in the day.Worked a treat for Green Lantern, that.
Still, you can get quite surgical when it comes to the making of the movies themselves, and if Hollywood Pictures 2 has a stand-out to it, it’s probably that. But there’s not the feeling of correlation between what you make and how the film then performs. That it’s not all knitted together particularly well.
Think of it as a picture where neither the first, second, or third act is particularly well tuned, but there are ideas in each part. Still, the coherent whole hasn’t led to a fervent Twitter campaign for a third chapter.
Movie Studio Boss
Both Movie Studio Boss and Movie Studio Boss: The Sequel are games from an independent programmer who wanted to capture the feel of football management-style computer games from the 1990s. Not quite as deep as a Football Manager, but still with a fair smattering of strategy to wade through. They got made, they got published, but then they’ve fallen away.
The most recent of the games arrived in 2014, and it’s a turn-based title, where you make your decisions, move on a week, and see where things are going. Again, there’s a lot of clicking around the screen, and the actual film side of it feels a bit remote. Still, if you like the idea of sitting behind a desk and trying to get films moving, there’s something to it.
It’s obviously restricted by a very small development team, so it’s not long before you’re banging at the edges of what’s possible. Furthermore, even the latest version is nearly a decade old now, and inevitably feels it. Yet it’s priced at under £7 on the Steam platform for PC gamers, and isn’t without its merits.
Starring Charlie Chaplin
In the 1980s and early 1990s, it was cheap for games publishers to snap up movie licences. As such, everything from Edward D Wood Jr’s Plan 9 From Outer Space to Oliver Stone’s Platoon got turned into a video game. And then someone at publisher US Gold – based in Birmingham – got the idea to do a Charlie Chaplin video game. Aimed at kids. There’s no shade in that comment, either: introducing Chaplin to kids through a game sounded admirable. It also, sadly, sounded like commercial suicide.
Still, in 1987 the game duly appeared. You were Chaplin, you pratted around for a bit on a film set, they called cut, the film got released. The problem was computer technology was such at the time that the only way the game could assess what you’d done was to count how many other actors you’d biffed. The curtain thus came down: this was actually a fighting game, in movie clothes. And the moment in the game where it offered to replay your efforts, to watch as a film? You’re basically left with the sight of someone playing a not very good fighting game, not very well.
A sequel did not follow.
Movie Studio Tycoon 2
Finally, an upcoming title, with a familiar task in front of you. You’re given the chance to setup a movie studio, and you can pick where you begin: anywhere from the 1930s to the 1990s. Then, alongside the history of the film industry, you get to work. The drill is familiar if you’ve got this far through this feature. You need to start your studio, hire in talent, train them up, build things, make things, do things, and presumably book yourself a nice lunch.
This one allows you to make films across 30 genres and 25 different sets, and you can get pretty hands-on with the kind of films you want to make. Plus, you need to accommodate changing technology as the game rolls on. On the surface, this feels like a nice blend of stuff, but it’s still in development at the moment, and we’ve written about lots of nice trailers that have gone on to be crappy movies. If all goes to plan, we might just be able to go on and make one too.
Thank you for visiting! If you’d like to support our attempts to make a non-clickbaity movie website:
Buy our Film Stories and Film Junior print magazines here.
Become a Patron here.