Filmmakers adapting video games don’t have to be fans — but it helps
Did you miss a session from GamesBeat Summit 2022? All sessions are available to stream now. Learn more.
The movie industry is making more adaptations of video games than ever before, and the dynamics of the forms of media have changed. At GamesBeat Summit 2022, three panelists (moderated by Alexandra Del Rosario of Deadline Hollywood) covered the topic of transmedia and the future of game franchises, especially on film and TV.
Film adaptations of video games have had a thorny history. At one point it was something of a mark of pride for a game to get a film adaptation, but gamers (and filmgoers 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 oft-mocked quality of game-to-film adaptations came from the game creators themselves not having much control.
“The power, for a long time, was the movie studios and traditional media companies who said, ‘Yeah, that’s is not your space. You can license us those rights.’ Most people don’t realize once the game company gives that up, in the old days, they had no more say about that project,” said Stelzer. “You started to see the power switch. IP holders wanted to hold onto the rights and control that destiny.”
Now filmmakers are making more of an effort to meet games on their own terms and respect the source material. Carter Swan, senior producer at PlayStation Productions, says, “I don’t always need a video game fan to adapt a game, but I need somebody who understands what makes the game great, what makes the characters great, and what makes the fans love it. If they can understand that, I can help guide them to not making canon mistakes. That part’s easy. It’s the spirit of it.”
Hollywood is full of gamers
The film industry has recently been on a tear, acquiring the film rights to video games. At last report, we’re getting adaptations of several games, including Mario, Minecraft, Borderlands, It Takes Two, and others. Dmitri Johnson, CEO of dj2 Entertainment, said the key is looking for games that translate well to film.
“You get into the actual story [of the game] and what’s happening,” said Johnson. “You can see how the adaptation end result is something that my mom might catch on HBO, Amazon, or Netflix, watch the whole thing, and say, ‘Wait, that’s based on a game?’ As much as we can, that’s the goal.”
The panelists also noted that the rise of TV has created several new options for adaptation. Swan noted that a TV show can be a better format for some adaptations. “Instead of doing it in 2 hours, you can do 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 plethora of streaming services multiplies the platforms on which to tell video game stories.
Johnson noted, “We have a generation of filmmakers and execs who grew up with games like we did. Twenty years ago, you’re selling people on why games are this bastard stepchild. Today, you barely get the name out before someone says, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve played that.”
GamesBeat’s creed when covering the game industry is “where passion meets business.” What does this mean? We want to tell you how the news matters to you — not just as a decision-maker at a game studio, but also as a fan of games. Whether you read our articles, listen to our podcasts, or watch our videos, GamesBeat will help you learn about the industry and enjoy engaging with it. Learn more about membership.