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The film industry is adapting video games more than ever before, and the dynamics of media forms have changed. At GamesBeat Summit 2022, three panelists (moderated by Alexandra Del Rosario from Deadline Hollywood) covered transmedia and the future of gaming franchises, particularly in film and television.
Video game adaptations have had a thorny history. At a certain point, it was a mark of pride for a game to get a film adaptation, but gamers (and moviegoers in general) also knew they couldn’t expect them to be good. David Stelzer, director of Unreal Engine Games Business and one of the panelists, said the often derided quality of game-to-film adaptations stems from the game developers not having much control themselves.
“For a long time, the power was with the film studios and traditional media companies saying, ‘Yeah, this isn’t your space. You can license these rights to us.’ Most people don’t realize that once the game company gave that up, the game company used to have no say in that project,” Stelzer said. “You started seeing the power button. IP owners wanted to hold on to the rights and control that fate.”
Now filmmakers are more concerned with making games on their own terms and respecting the source material. Carter Swan, Senior Producer at PlayStation Productions, says, “I don’t always need a video game fanatic to adapt a game, but I do need someone who understands what makes the game great, what makes the characters great, and what makes the fans great matters love it. If they can understand that, I can help them not to make canon mistakes. This part is easy. It’s the spirit of it.”
Hollywood is full of gamers
The film industry was in turmoil recently and acquired the movie rights to video games. In the last report we get adaptations of several games including Mario, Minecraft, Borderlands, It Takes Two and others. Dmitri Johnson, CEO of dj2 Entertainment, said the key is finding games that translate well into the film.
“You’re immersed in the actual story [of the game] and what’s happening,” Johnson said. “You can see how the end result of the adaptation is something that my mom overhears on HBO or Amazon or Netflix and looks at the whole thing and says, ‘Wait, this is based on a game?’ As much as we can, that is the goal.”
Panelists also noted that the rise of television has created several new opportunities for customization. Swan noted that a TV show may be a better format for some adaptations. “Instead of making it in 2 hours, make it in 10. You don’t have to lose nearly as much, and you can respect and honor the whole story a lot more. . . I think it gives us a real platform to tell the stories in a much better way.” He also noted that the profusion of streaming services is multiplying the platforms on which video game stories can be told.
Johnson noted, “We have a generation of filmmakers and executives who, like us, grew up playing games. Twenty years ago you explained to people why games are this bastard stepchild. Today you hardly get the name out before someone says, “Oh yeah, I played that.”
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