One of the most regular pieces of news that seems to crop up is some game being given a movie deal by some studio. We saw this just yesterday, with a collaboration between J.J. Abrams and Valve announced that could point to a Portal or Half-life movie being made, with a collaboration between the filmmaker and the developer a powerful one.
In many ways I suppose this is a reflection of just how far gaming has come since the days it was pushed to the side and almost entirely ostracised by society. The situation now is hardly amazing, we still get politicians and the media rallying against violent games and linking them to just about every piece of real world violence, but there’s certainly a more broad acceptance of gaming as a whole, even if certain elements are still left out in the cold.[drop2]You could also see it as Hollywood complimenting the writing in games, that their characters and stories are good enough to be seen on the silver screen as well as in your home.
Of course, given the number of changes that movies often make to the games they’re based on, perhaps it’s not the writing as a whole that’s improved but simply the core ideas.
What’s really improved though is one simple thing, brand recognition. Games now make enough money that they’re impossible for movie makers to ignore, they frequently make the box office take look pathetic by comparison.
There is, of course, the huge gap in price between a ticket to the cinema and a brand new game (although with the rising price of tickets the gap’s closing), but there’s still an absolutely huge market for games and their characters that movie studios want to tap into.
I can’t really blame them for that, every business on the planet wants to get more customers to buy their product. However, at times it really does feel like the cross-media proliferation of games has gone just a little bit too far.
The concept of characters from a game popping up somewhere else is certainly nothing new, Saturday Supercade started in 1983 and featured short episodes featuring characters from arcade games (Donkey Kong, Frogger, Q*Bert and Pitfall Harry), while the late 80s and early 90s saw Mario and Sonic, among others, getting their own cartoons and comic books.
Kids loved the characters, and making transition to other forms of media was an obvious one that provided profit for everyone involved.
As gaming has grown so has the desire for their characters to make the transition over to comics, books, TV and films. It now seems like just about any popular piece of IP will be picked up for a film, and I wonder if this isn’t always the best thing for the original games.
Yeah, the Super Mario Bros. movie.
It may well be that these crossovers bolster the original game, bringing the characters to a wider audience and, crucially, drawing in more money for the publishers and developers to make more games with. However, too often I think they’re simply bad, harming the game’s reputation and enforcing a notion that games can’t tell “proper” stories.
If a movie’s good then, maybe, you might be able to redirect some of those patrons back towards the source material, although the popularity of movies like the Avengers or Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy hasn’t done all that much to bolster the sales of comics featuring the same characters.
Of course much of the time the announcements of a movie deal comes to nothing, it’s simply a studio buying up the rights on the chance that they feel like making it and to stop a rival from picking up a potential blockbuster. I’m actually content with this, and hopefully a longer time spent developing the film will lead to a better quality product if it does get released.
Realistically that’s what we need if games are going to continue to get movie deals – good films of good games. If that starts to happen more often then perhaps it could be good for gaming as a whole, although I do worry that an oversaturation may seem a little desperate, similar to some of the backlash against the number of movies tied into comics.