“Super Mario Bros”, “Assassin’s Creed”, “Uncharted”… video games in cinema, a winning bet?

2024-03-21 15:42:25

In 2023, Super Mario Brosthe film inspired by the eponymous Nintendo game rose to the top of the box office in France with 7 359 264 entrées. This is a specific case of a well-known and commonly used practice in the entertainment market: the adaptation of narrative content from one media to another, a successful strategy in many respects.

Adapting content, a winning strategy?

The most common case is the adaptation of a book to the cinema, and which has proven its effectiveness since the origins of this medium. From a commercial perspective, film adaptations of books earn 53% more than films based on original screenplays and 70% of the world’s top 20 grossing films are based on books.

On the audience side, the adaptation of a story that worked well and won over a large target audience ensures the appeal of a captive audience who will certainly want to see it again on another media to enrich the experience. The attraction to repetition is visible from childhood. From a very young age, we listen to or watch stories (tales, stories told by our elders, books and films). Laura Perachio shows that children prefer fidelity to creative interpretation. They like to relive a story they already know. They are looking for a predictable experience that reassures them because they know the characters, the climax and the outcome.

Transpose a story without distorting it

The process of adapting a video game to cinema (or vice versa) can be analyzed from the perspective of the concept of brand extension, well known in marketing. Brand extension involves developing and marketing new products under the name of an existing brand, but in new categories. For example, Nutella (parent brand, spreads category) launches biscuits (extension of the brand towards a new category, cookies). biscuits. The objective is to leverage the notoriety, image and trust associated with the existing brand, in order to penetrate new markets. It is essential that the brand extension is consistent with the values ​​of the parent brand, to avoid any confusion or dilution of its image. This consistency, called “fit” between parent brand and extension, facilitates the transfer of brand values ​​to the extension. In turn, this builds credibility for the parent brand and creates a positive connection with the target audience.

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THE numbers show that this form of brand extension is very successful in the case of video games adapted for cinema.

Why does the synergy between video games and cinema work?

First, over the years and with technological advances, we observe a technical convergence between these two media. Video games, like cinema, seek realism in framing and shots; use real motion capture actors to make character animations more realistic ; of the high definition graphics ; include cutscenes (scenes during which the player is not playing, serving to advance the narrative, introduce a character, boost immersion).

Next, the adaptation of video games to cinema capitalizes on captive audiences who are already loyal to the game universe and will certainly be the first to go to theaters, which reduces the risk associated with the launch of the film. In addition, the transposition of the universe of a video game into a film format broadens the audience base, because the film is a short format, general public and easier to access. Usually, a video game lasts several dozen hours (143h to finish Assassin’s Creed Odyssey ; 52h to finish Mario Kart Deluxeeven years for saga games (33 years 123 days for the game Dragon Quest), while the short format of the film allows for immediate immersion in the universe.

The film Assassin’s Creed of 2016 was not necessarily aimed at immediate profitability but rather objectives of promoting the license through a wider distribution of the brand with audiences not acquired by the license and the gaming world.

It is important to emphasize that there is a asymmetry in the adaptation processa majority of video games being adapted into films while few films are adapted into video games.

Even if film production houses and video game publishers seem to cooperate successfully, it is decisive that the adaptation is validated by spectators.

A mixed reception

The answer is nuanced. For example, the film Unchartedadapted from the immensely successful game series on PlayStation, is a commercial success with an estimated production budget of $120 million and $400 million in worldwide box office revenue, but audience evaluation is mixed: rating 6.3/10 on IMDb.

The film Super Mario Brosmeanwhile, with a production budget of $100 million, exceeded the billion dollars in revenue around the world and was more favorably evaluated by the public: 7/10 on IMDb.

The public who consumes narrative content from another medium at the cinema arrives with expectations that the adaptation must satisfy. But these expectations are ambivalent. Spectators want to find a story already known and appreciated, perfectly preserved, while living a sufficiently different, new and enriched experience. Adaptation must therefore progress along a particularly narrow ridge, with fidelity to the source on one side, and creative enrichment on the other. For example, the film Super Mario Bros remained very faithful to the colorful universe of the game, to the protagonists, while offering a more complex story with real research on the character of the strong and independent Princess Peach who defends herself alone with her wrestling holds, with creative elements specific to the cinematographic medium, such as the voices of well-known actors, music which recalls the themes of the game but which is remixed with musical discoveries such as the Bowser’s declaration of love to Peach on the piano.

The link between video games and cinema will continue to strengthen in the future. Globally, the video game industry exceeds that of cinema in terms of revenue. It shows constant growth and a continually increasing player base.

This cooperation is therefore clearly a “GG” (“Good Game” in gamer jargon).

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