The Game Is Changing

By Rodrigo Castro, Innovation and Technology Director Burson-Marsteller

In the past few years, there has been an increase in video game movie adaptations. While many gamers are excited to see their favorite game come alive on the big screen, there are nervous fans expecting to see the film adaptation completely fail their expectations. Since the early 1990s, video game films have earned the notorious reputation of being box office flops. Disappointing scripts, low budgets, and clueless direction seem to comprise every adaption. Production companies seem to misunderstand the material and lose focus of the video game’s primary objective. What seems at first like a rewarding investment for video game companies, usually results in a brand image catastrophe. Video game companies need to start taking a better approach when promoting their films to the audience.

While the Pokémon and Resident Evil series are a few of the lucky ones that dodged the “adaptation curse,” many others have gone downhill. In 1993, Super Mario Bros proved to be a major failure with a mediocre story line leaving many gamers completely unsatisfied. Hollywood Pictures had the film budgeted at $48 million dollars but in the end, the movie only made revenue of $21 million.  In 1999, Origin Systems’ Wing Commander was also given a movie adaptation that failed in the box office. The film had a budget of $30 million and it only brought in $11.5 million for the studio. In 2008, Uwe Boll decided to bring Gas Powered Games’ Dungeon Siege to the big screen for yet another video game adaptation. This movie had a $30 million budget, and was followed by disappointing revenue of $30 million.

The United States is not the only country with movie failures. Overseas, the Latin American region is experiencing the same issue when it comes to video game movie adaptations. Sony Pictures’ Pixels, premiered in Brazil on July 2015 with $11,849,499 (+8.2%) in its first week. On July 31st the movie did not surpass its opening week numbers and only made a sum of $9,268,713 (-21.8%).  In 2014, DreamWorks Pictures, The Need for Speed was a flop in Colombia. The movie only had revenue of $3,404,084.

Now the question is, why do these movies fail? For starters, a movie doesn’t offer the same kind of immersive experience as a video game. A game has a straightforward story, the player interaction is what determines how much fun it is and the level of enjoyment comes out of the game as opposed to a movie where the user has no control over the outcome whatsoever. A game is meant for users to become emotionally involved resulting in a highly unique experience. Grasping the concept of the video game is necessary for a successful movie. Hollywood still hasn’t found a way to fully understand how to adapt the game’s story line in a film. When these issues start to arise video game companies and production companies need to find a medium that in the end will satisfy the audience.

Video games are the defining medium of the twenty first century, like cinema was for the twentieth century. It is one of the biggest cultural shifters in the world today. It has changed the way we think about other mediums, including movies, TV, or art. The idea of making a video game into a movie is not a bad idea, but is imperative for brands to strategize a more approachable way when promoting a film. The industry is in need of a game changing mentality (pun intended).

In the industry, companies hire agencies to promote their films, and agencies have been known to create intimate trials offering gamers a “one on one” experience playing the game. Allowing gamers to preview the film is another simple method when promoting it that allows the consumer to have a unique experience that will hopefully translate into video game sales and success at the box office. Understanding and respecting video game culture is key to any brand that wants to connect with millennials and younger audiences (and not too-young audiences: average gamer age today is 35).

In an industry where so many adaptations have not seen any favorable results, a change must be instilled. Let an agency that respects the gaming culture be the bridge between this relatively new medium and the audiences it deserves. Let an agency that knows what people want tackle the behemoth that is the video game adaptation industry. Let an agency be your game changer.