Why Video Games Dominate Pop Culture, But Not Comic-Con

Courtesy of Rockstar Games
"L.A. Noire"

The gaming industry needs to work on timing and casting big-name stars before it's ready for Hall H.

When Call of Duty: Black Ops launched in November, the video game sold 7 million units worldwide -- a gross of $450 million -- in its first day on the market. Not even The Dark Knight Rises could hope for such a one-day take. And though there are obvious differences in price, the volume of people who made COD's debut a gigantic event was enormous.

So why are games given second-class treatment at Comic-Con, the showcase for all things bright and new in pop culture?


Hall H at the Con has become synonymous with the biggest franchises in entertainment. In recent history, Hollywood has dominated the over-packed venue to bring us first glimpses of everything from Superman Returns to 300, from Twilight to Harry Potter. The combined box office of the films that have rolled through Comic-Con is in the tens of billions.

So nerds have taken over the box office, and video games are beginning to surpass films as top entertainment moneymakers. But is a video game release like Call of Duty on par with a movie release like The Avengers? And, if so, what does this mean for future Comic-Cons? From humble, geeky origins, the event has grown into a mirror that reflects the biggest events in pop culture, but will it start to reflect gaming's mainstream takeover?

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The short term answer is "probably not," but not for lack of interest. Walking the show floor of Comic-Con, you'll encounter almost as many Master Chiefs as Spider-Men. Gamers are at there en force, and publishers have taken note. Now, more companies than ever showcase their games in the exhibit halls and plaster the convention center with messages.

But timing is a major obstacle. Comic-Con trails E3 by a mere month, and while developers run themselves into the ground trying to prepare for that ultimate video game event, Comic-Con is an afterthought. Often, the demos and video presentations seen in June are trotted out again for the SDCC masses, and at an event that craves the new, that doesn't fly.

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The gaming presence is unlikely to grow at SDCC and extend to Hall H until it can produce the pomp and circumstance Hollywood brings. Game trailers are loud, bombastic things that have the power to fill a room with wonder. But watching an exclusive trailer or the very first demo of a game does not get to the heart of what it is: an interactive experience. That's why games are on the show floor: You have to play them to form a true opinion.

And when the trailer ends, what's left? A developer, a controller and a mic. Typically, no one in the room has prior knowledge of the guy delivering the message. The business needs to nurture auteurs, reward charisma and brand personalities. To command Hall H, the games industry is going to have to go Hollywood. Not just on the glam front, on the talent front. Recently, we have gotten a taste of actors being cast not only in voice roles, but using their likenesses to tell the story.

Think of Mad Men's Aaron Staton in L.A. Noire and imagine if he was a mega-popular actor like Bruce Willis cast specifically for the game. When the games industry makes that turn -- and it's headed that way -- that's when we'll see game events become gala events. In Hall H.

Chris Carle is entertainment editorial director of gaming and pop culture site IGN.com.