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Video games and the transmedia revolution

Industry Commentary
Image: HBO

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 Gears of War films that were announced many years ago. 

April 3, 2023

Read the episode transcript here

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