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Video games and the transmedia revolution

After the success of HBO’s The Last of Us TV adaptation and the release of the highly anticipated Super Mario Bros. movie just around the corner, are video games experiencing a transmedia revolution? We explore the importance of wider media channels such as film and TV and how they play into the exposure strategies for established gaming IP. We also look at the growth of high fashion and streetwear in video games, and how clothing companies can make the most of the opportunities out there.

Video games and the transmedia revolution

The Last of Us is widely regarded as one of the greatest video game series ever created. As a flagship IP for PlayStation, the first game was met with universal praise when it was released on the PS3 in June 2013, with Metacritic users still praising it as one of the best games released on the console. 

More importantly, The Last of Us and its sequel, The Last of Us: Part 2, released on PS4 in 2020, set new gold standards for storytelling in video games. When a TV adaptation was announced, fans were worried about how its transition from video game to TV screens would be handled, not least because most video game adaptations have been critically panned (just take a look at the reviews for the Resident Evil TV series).  

Thankfully for The Last of Us fans, HBO’s adaptation – which is largely penned by series creator Neil Druckmann alongside Chernobyl’s screenwriter, Craig Mazin – has been met with similar praise to the games. It’s HBO’s second-largest debut since 2010, and currently holds a 96% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Typically, most movie and TV adaptations of video games stray too far from the source material, but The Last of Us has been praised for doing the opposite. And with the video game industry now worth more than film and TV combined, the success of The Last of Us might demonstrate that gamers, first and foremost, should be the core target audience for any video game adaptations. 

But The Last of Us is just one of many video game franchises that are due to make their way to movie and TV screens. There’s a new Super Mario Bros. film around the corner, Amazon is working on a God of War TV series, and while we don’t have dates for them yet, some of the other video game IP confirmed for an adaptation include: Days Gone, Streets of Rage, Space Channel 5, Megaman, Bioshock and many, many more

A recent article in WIRED explores how video games are tapping into transmedia to create world-building franchises. This is, of course, something that film, TV and comic properties have been doing for decades, but the positive reception to The Last of Us and Super Mario Bros. coupled with the fact that there are more video game players than ever before could lead to a new generation of video game IP fleshing out their universes across other creative mediums. 

Film and TV will eventually become a core part of the business strategies for platform holders such as PlayStation and Nintendo, similar to how both companies have been experimenting with mobile strategies to expose their IP to new audiences. 

There are obvious benefits to this. The Last of Us: Part 1 got off to a slow start when it was re-released on PS5 in September ‘22 because of its $70 price tag, but UK physical sales for the game jumped by 238% after the launch of the TV series. Similarly, sales for the PS4 physical version of the game jumped by 322%. So, there’s strong evidence that successful video game adaptations aren’t just great exposure for the IP; they’re great for boosting sales numbers too. 

Given the somewhat shaky history of video game TV announcements (many projects are announced only to remain in a purgatory-like state of pre-production) it’ll be interesting to see if growing demand for film and TV adaptations of gaming IP speed up the process of projects such as the Metal Gear and Gear of War films that were announced many years ago. 

Are video games the new frontier for fashion?

Video games have become one of the hottest places to market new products, and that’s especially true for the fashion industry, according to a recent op-ed in The Guardian. Louis Vuitton, Supreme, Palace, Puma, Uniqlo, Lacoste, Burberry, Balmain, Prada and Gucci are just some of the brands that have collaborated with or featured in video games. In fact, it would probably be quicker to mention the brands that haven’t entered the gaming space yet – so what’s going on? 

While major collaborations such as Ralph Lauren giving its logo a Fortnite makeover or Minecraft and Burberry teaming up for digital and physical capsule collections, fashion houses tapping into gaming audiences aren’t anything new. 

One of the major breakthroughs between the two industries came when Lightning, the protagonist of Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIII video game, became the face of Louis Vuitton for its SS16 campaign. But even then, the idea of video game characters being used as digital models can be dated all the way back to 1999 when the protagonist from Kenji Eno’s D games was used to model clothes from Yohji Yamamoto. 

What we’re seeing now is a natural evolution of that. Similar to how video games are now using film and TV to reach new audiences, a growing number of high fashion and streetwear brands are using video games to do the same thing. 

As Louis Vuitton is probably not the first brand that springs to mind when someone mentions Japanese role-playing games, this could be the first time that many of Final Fantasy XIII’s younger players encountered the brand inside a game. And we’re sure that some of those players – even if it’s a small percentage of the 7.7 million people who purchased the game – will have converted into Louis Vuitton sales. 

One of the reasons virtual fashion is so hot right now is that there’s a growing focus on user-generated content in video games. Developers have more tools at their disposal to create authentic digital clothing, which gives players a seemingly infinite number of ways to express themselves through in-game fashion items as they dress their characters and avatars in their favourite clothing. 

But simply putting virtual versions of your clothing into a video game is no guarantee that it’s going to sell. There are several things you need to consider, from the functionality and transferability of your clothing to how it looks and, perhaps more importantly, how much it costs. 

The functionality and transferability of virtual merchandise is usually dictated by the game or platform it’s made available on, but any digital clothing you can transfer from one game to another (such as on the Roblox platform) is always going to make for an easier sale when it comes to justifying the cost. 

Similarly, if your virtual clothing has a tangible use outside of just making your character or avatar look great, that’s another reason for players to purchase. Examples of this might be an achievement or award for purchasing a full clothing set, or some cosmetic items offering in-game power-ups such as special abilities. The branded Dragon Ball characters in Fortnite are a great example of this. 

Finally, make sure you consider your target audience and how well your fashion brand aligns with the game or platform. Streetwear brands such as Supreme and Carhartt will inevitably turn heads in a new Skate or Need for Speed game, but could feel out of place in a role-playing game such as Final Fantasy. 

Some brands can get around this as long as the collaboration or campaign is activated in a way that feels genuine. Burberry and Minecraft aren’t two brands that people would typically associate with each other but the creative for the campaign is done in a way that both Burberry fans and Minecraft fans will love. 

Can Disney Speedstorm overtake Mario Kart?

There have been plenty of attempts by game studios over the years to overtake Nintendo’s Mario Kart series. We’ve seen licensed games based on a long list of franchises including Angry Birds, South Park, Shrek, Wacky Races and even Hello Kitty, but none have come close to the 173 million worldwide sales generated by the Mario Kart games. 

To put that into perspective, those figures make Mario Kart one of the best selling video game franchises in the world – more popular than Final Fantasy and even Sonic The Hedgehog. Despite that, Disney seems confident that there’s enough fuel left in the engine to take it on, with the release of a new licensed kart racer, Disney Speedstorm, racing onto PC and consoles in April. 

Described as ‘the ultimate battle racing game featuring your favourite Disney and Pixar characters’, Disney Speedstorm is already drawing comparisons with Mario Kart 8 thanks to its glossy visual style and massive roster of iconic characters. But is there enough room in the market for another hero-based kart racer? Especially as Mario Kart 8 on the Nintendo Switch is still going strong six years after its initial release thanks to a regular flow of downloadable content. 

It’s a spin on this model that might be the key to success for Disney Speedstorm. Rather than carrying an RRP, Disney Speedstorm is a free-to-play title where players will have the option of spending money if they want to access more content in the game, such as additional characters and race tracks. Disney Speedstorm can also be classed as a live service game, where new updates will be regularly added to the game after its release.

Just like Mario Kart 8, this regular flow of content in Disney Speedstorm should keep players coming back for more, while those that have paid for the limited options in the base game will be encouraged to spend more if they enjoy the game and want to enhance their experience. 

But this isn’t the first time that Disney has licensed its characters out for a kart racer. Walt Disney World Quest: Racing Tour was released on the PlayStation One, while Toy Story Racer was released on the Gameboy and PlayStation One in 2001. 

Similarly, this isn’t the first time a major company has tried replicating a Nintendo franchise and moving it to a free-to-play model. MultiVersus is a crossover fighting game that emulates Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros series by pitting characters from Warner Bros Entertainment against each other. Despite a strong start, the game’s player count on Steam has dropped by 99% due to weak gameplay mechanics and bugs. 

What makes Disney Speedstorm so exciting is it has all of the ingredients needed for a successful kart racer. Gameloft, the studio developing Disney Speedstorm, has a solid reputation for developing successful racing games thanks to its work on the Asphalt games, and also has experience working with Disney IP on Disney Dreamlight Valley (think Animal Crossing but Disney characters). So there’s no doubt that Disney Speedstorm will deliver on the quality that’s expected from both Disney and racing fans. 

On top of that, the sheer volume of IP associated from Disney means this game could resonate with an incredibly diverse audience of gamers, from Kingdom Hearts players and Star Wars fanatics to Toy Story stans and Mickey Mouse fans, all of whom will want to race their favorite characters around their favorite locations from Disney films and TV series. 

The free-to-play element of the game means players can experience Disney Speedstorm without having to spend a single penny, although it’s likely that they’ll convert into sales if they enjoy that experience. 13 of the 20 most successful video games released on consoles in 2022 were free-to-play, according to Newzoo’s PC and Console Market in 2023 report

That means there’s an opportunity here for Disney Speedstorm to convert Mario Kart players, while establishing itself as the go-to kart racer on other platforms such as Xbox and PlayStation, both of which don’t have any kart racing games that come anywhere close to the success of Mario Kart. 

And with so many monetization options, from character costumes to vehicle customization on top of the option to purchase new race tracks and racing karts, Disney Speedstorm could be a lucrative racing venture for both Disney and Gameloft. 

We’ll be keeping a very close eye on the game as it releases in April, especially as we wouldn’t rule out crossovers with other IP from the world of video games and entertainment. 

In Brief

Here are some of our other favourite brand collaborations, licensing deals and partnerships from the last month.

  • EA teamed up with PUMA to launch some fancy Need For Speed trainers.
  • F1 racer Max Verstappen has signed a sponsorship deal with EA Sports to create content across their portfolio.
  • Uniqlo has launched a batch of new video game T-shirts, this time featuring designs from SimCity and Katamari Damacy.
  • Two titles from Rogue Games will launch exclusively on Netflix.
  • Geralt from The Witcher was added into Fortnite as a new character in its latest season.
  • Premier League football club Wolverhampton has partnered with video game publisher Gameloft to promote its multi-platform arcade racing game Asphalt 9: Legends.
  • You either love ‘em or hate ‘em, but Crocs have found their way into Minecraft.
  • Konami’s eFootball has announced deals with 97 licensed teams from across England and Europe.
  • 11 Bandcamp artists were added to Fortnite’s in-game radio station, Radio Underground, marking the first integration between the two companies since Epic’s acquisition of Bandcamp last year.
  • Despite previous backlash from the gaming community, Ubisoft continues to explore NFTs with its IP as Rabbids make their way into The Sandbox

And in other news…