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A few years ago, the release of a big movie was almost always synonymous with video games, often mediocre, sometimes successful. Titles that look like derivative products, generally without great ambitions, brought into the world to ride the popularity of a feature film. Except that things have changed. Over the past ten years, these adaptations have been very small and have taken on more discreet forms. But recent announcements seem to be starting a new comeback.
In the space of a few weeks, film and video game fans had their ground to grind. First the announcement of a James Bond overseen by IO Interactive (Hitman); then that of a new Indiana Jones managed by Bethesda, Machine Games (dads of recent Wolfenstein) and the JV branch of LucasFilm; and finally an open-world Star Wars project on the side of Ubisoft Massive, at the origin of The Division, always in connection with the firm which bears the name of this dear George. The list gets longer if we step back in time, with the highly anticipated Hogwarts Legacy: Hogwarts Legacy or The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, respectively announced in September 2020 and March 2019, which resume the worlds of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. So yes, it’s literature at the base, but these works have exploded thanks to dark rooms.
An affluence which is surprisingly, at a time when video games had gotten into the habit of capitalizing on their own licenses rather than calling on their cousin the cinema. Because it’s been a good ten years that “movie games” have been put aside, after a certain golden age which spanned the middle of eighties at the end of the 2000s. The origins of this phenomenon include Ocean Software, one of the first companies to have offered the rights to blockbusters (Jurassic Park, RoboCop) to make video games. The adaptation of the famous robot-policeman, entrusted to the Japanese Data East, for example was a big success.
From there, the machine is started: even if the quality of the titles varies, the licenses resulting from the seventh art reassure and guide the buyers in the shops. Alexis Blanchet, researcher specializing in video games and cinema, author of Pixels in Hollywood, explains that in the 90s and 2000s, movie games represented 10 to 15% of game libraries on game platforms, and even 30% for the Game Boy Color.
To the rhythm of the film
In addition to the identity of the feature film, the exit window also plays a large role in this machinery, with for example Christmas 1988 and the commercialization of RoboCop’s UK VHS for Ocean and Data East. But the best is still to aim for the date of first diffusion of the film, even a few days before. This is not all a miracle recipe, however. So, how not to quote the legendary E.T. of Atari, aka “the worst song in history”, appeared in December 1982 at the same time as Spielberg’s baby. A title that has become a symbol of industry crash and the fall of its publisher Atari Inc, developed in just five weeks to be present when the famous alien arrives at parties. An extreme case, of course, but which says a lot about the way in which games-movies are produced for almost thirty years.
This kind of race against time is commonplace for adapted titles from movies, whether in the ’80s or more recently. In a media article Wireframe, developer Andrew Burrows explains that he received the green light for the adaptation of Transformers one year before the deadline in 2007In other words, not much for a multi-platform 3D title. The latter will not receive the favors of the press.
Burrows cites other constraints that make life hard for movie games, including lack of information from film studios, whose script and designs are often finalized a year before theatrical release, or who lock in data to avoid any leak with the advent of the internet. This kind of opacity can create quite marked shifts between film and game, as in the adaptations of the first Harry Potter, where the appearance of the characters, some spells and protagonists are taken directly from the books, before everything comes close to feature films in the third and especially the fourth opus.
To all this is added the sum to be paid to acquire adaptation rights (between 20 and 25 million dollars for ET), and especially the very nature of each contract, which can sometimes include the requirement to produce a certain number of games per year or pay operating costs over the long term. There are also exclusive contracts over several years, as in the case of Electronic Arts with James Bond and Star Wars.
The end of Andrew Burrows’ testimony (“our game was not selected”) also highlights the relationship between publishers and film studios in the 2000s, while the companies of the seventh art, then well aware of the potential of the video game, assign their licenses to the best candidates. Alexis Blanchet explains that “in the era of the PS2 where simultaneous adaptations of films in games are particularly strong, cinematographic rights holders auction their licenses and place publishers in competition, unlike in previous years, where it is the companies of the video games which negotiate piecemeal with the beneficiaries “.
The whole symbolizes a change in the spirit of the firms of the seventh art: the JV adaptation is gradually losing its status as a derivative product to now promote the intellectual properties of cinema. Titles like King Kong by Michel Ancel and Peter Jackson in 2005, and GoldenEye 007 on Nintendo 64 a few years earlier play a big part in it. The latter, in addition to being a superb adaptation, is also a small revolution for the genre of FPS.
An even more different perception today, since the beneficiaries have abandoned the auctions to meet directly with development studios specializing in their field (EON with IO Interactive for James Bond, LucasFilm Games with Ubisoft for the open-world Star Wars). Alexis Blanchet notes, however, that Disney was one step ahead of its competitors, negotiating the rights of its characters on a case-by-case basis depending on the platforms from the 90s.
The whole testifies to a much better understanding of the video game industry by film companies. An age of reason that is understandable: licenses like Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed, synonymous with quality blockbuster, are today as popular (if not more) than the big names of the seventh art. Thus, the objective is no longer to produce a game that uses the script of a film, or even to want to make the creation deadlines of a feature film stick with those of a triple-A, but to see bigger, with new story arcs.
Several strings to his bow
Because this is what the future James Bond, Indiana Jones and Star Wars promise us: new and ambitious adventures with franchises from the cinema. In this regard, Electronic Arts has already paved the way, with games like the Battlefront or Jedi Fallen Order (which were also released a month before each new episode of the last Star Wars trilogy, bringing together both the marketing power of the film and that of a video game blockbuster). The same publisher had already taken a few steps aside with the usual specifications for game-films, dedicating original stories to 007 when the rights to the latter still belonged to him. And coming out of old cinema licenses to make video games much later is not new either. This was already the case with titles like Scarface: The World is Yours or The Warriors.
According to Alexis Blanchet, we should therefore not cry out for the comeback of films in games with the recent announcements. These projects never really disappeared, even after the late 2000s, when the trend dries up and boxes like THQ (not to be confused with THQ Nordic), mired in dozens of adaptation contracts, collapsed. The researcher thus notes four forms of adaptation, with which the cinematographic imagination has remained present.
It is enough to type the name of universes very known as the Lord of the Rings in the stores of Google and Apple to find a corresponding free-to-play. A form of play that can easily adapt to the marketing plan of cinema companies and which even allows regular adding of content. With that and super-productions at the Electronic Arts Squadrons, the balance seems perfect. Small movie games are the supporting roles and video game blockbusters are the headliners.
Brent Dubin, known as the Gaming Giant among Globe Live Media staff, is the chief Gaming Reporter for Globe Live Media. Having attended all the major events of Gaming around the World, he is sure to give you exactly the update related to gaming World you are looking for.