The first installment of the film adaptation of Suzanne Collins' blockbuster young adult series "The Hunger Games" opened at midnight. It's expected to break all manner of box-office records, get its studio, Lionsgate, back on track, and inspire fevered debates among parents about whether their kids should be allowed to see a movie about children in a dystopian alternative future killing other children for sport.
From a business point of view, there's a larger question to be asked, beyond the philosophical and ethical ones that have already been addressed: Will "The Hunger Games" inspire massively successful video-game and merchandising tie-ins? And at a deeper level, who would want certain kinds of potentially inevitiable "Hunger Games" video games/merchandising?
The Wall Street Journal has already covered the business case for Lionsgate. It's good but not great. The studio could make around $100 million. But that's just the movies. And a cinematic franchise, as George Lucas discovered when he retained what were in the 1970s thought of as fairly worthless licensing rights. is waaayyy more than the movie now. In fact, you could argue that the film is just a large moving billboard that's seen indoors.
As far as video games go...Scholastic, Collins' publisher, has already created several realtively mild online games that draw on "Hunger Games" scenarios. There's also a very kiddie-friendly game for iOS devices (iPhones, for example) that stars heroine Katniss Everdeen launching arrows and things that aren't other children. No one under 18 drowns in his own blood after being shot in the neck by bowmistress Kat.
And therein lies the challenge. Would a fully-blown "Hunger Games" video try to capitalize on the single-shooter potential of the books and movie? While parents might be able to talk themselves into letting their kids see the movie, because the violence is masked by various PG-13 filmic techniques, there isn't much chance of that happening in video-game land.
The merchandising is a whole 'nuther can of worms, but at least the Kingdom of Kids and their parents have been prepared. The parents of young "Hunger Games" enthusiasts may very well have their treasured collections of Star Wars figures, including that pristinely preserved Boba Fett, still in the original packaging. They wouldn't be especially troubled by Katniss Barbie (I'm not making that up). On the weapons front, Nerf has arsenelled the children for years — starting, in fact, with a very Katniss-esque bow and arrow set in 1991 before moving in the direction of the sort of firepower that would impress the 101st Airborne.
The bottom line is that money will be made on stuff that isn't the movie. And that raises some real issues about whether that money is being made on follow-on entertainment that really good for kids.