Explore & master

"Super Mario Bros", "Assassin's Creed", "Uncharted"... video games and the big screen: a winning bet?

Guergana Guintcheva , Professor
Philippe Aurier , University of Montpellier

In this article, originally published in French in The Conversation, Guergana Guintcheva, Professor at EDHEC, and Philippe Aurier, Professor at the University of Montpellier, look at the process of adapting a video game for the cinema (or vice versa) from the angle of the concept of brand extension.

Reading time :
2 Jul 2024

In 2023, Super Mario Bros, the film based on the Nintendo game of the same name, topped the box office in France with 7,359,264 tickets sold. This is a specific case of a well-known and commonly used practice in the entertainment market: the adaptation of narrative content from one medium to another, a successful strategy in many respects.


Is content adaptation a winning strategy?

The most common case is the adaptation of a book for the cinema, which has proved its effectiveness since the origins of the medium. From a commercial point of view, film adaptations of books earn 53% more than films based on original scripts, and 70% of the 20 most profitable films in the world are based on books.


As far as audiences are concerned, adapting a story that has worked well and won over a wide target audience ensures the attraction of a captive audience who will certainly want to see it again in another medium that enriches the experience. The attraction of repetition can be seen from childhood. From a very early age, we listen to or watch stories (fairy tales, stories told by our elders, books and films). Laura Perachio shows that children prefer fidelity to creative interpretation. They like to relive a story they already know. They look for a predictable experience that reassures them because they know the characters, the climax and the ending.


Transposing a story without distorting it

The process of adapting a video game to the cinema (or vice versa) can be analysed from the angle of the concept of brand extension, well known in marketing. Brand extension consists of developing and marketing new products under the name of an existing brand, but in new categories.


For example, Nutella (parent brand) launches biscuits (extension of the brand into a new category, biscuits). The aim is to leverage the awareness, image and trust associated with the existing brand, in order to penetrate new markets. It is essential that the brand extension is consistent with the values of the parent brand, to avoid any confusion or dilution of its image. This consistency, known as the "fit" between the parent brand and the extension, facilitates the transfer of the brand's values to the extension. In turn, this strengthens the credibility of the parent brand and creates a positive connection with the target audience.

The figures show that this form of brand extension is highly successful in the case of video games adapted for the cinema.


Why does the synergy between video games and cinema work?

Firstly, over the years and with technological advances, we have seen a technical convergence between these two media. Video games, like cinema, seek realism in framing and shots; use real actors via motion capture to make character animations more realistic; use high-definition graphics; and include cinematics (scenes during which the player does not play, used to advance the narrative, introduce a character and boost immersion).


Secondly, adapting video games for the cinema capitalises on captive audiences who are already loyal to the game universe and will certainly be the first to go to the cinema, which reduces the risk associated with launching the film. What's more, transposing the world of a video game into a film format broadens the audience base, as the film is a short, mainstream format that is easier to access. Usually, a video game lasts several dozen hours (143 hours to finish Assassin's Creed Odyssey; 52 hours to finish Mario Kart Delux, or even years for the saga games (33 years 123 days for the Dragon Quest game), whereas the short film format allows immediate immersion in the universe.


The Assassin's Creed film in 2016 was not necessarily aimed at immediate profitability, but rather at promoting the licence through wider distribution of the brand to audiences not familiar with the licence and the game universe.

It is important to emphasise that there is an asymmetry in the adaptation process, with the majority of video games being adapted into films while few films are adapted into video games. Even if film production companies and video game publishers seem to cooperate successfully, it is crucial that the adaptation is validated by the audience.


A mixed reception

The answer is nuanced. For example, the film Uncharted, adapted from the hugely successful PlayStation game series, was a commercial success with an estimated production budget of $120 million and $400 million in box-office takings worldwide, but it received a mixed rating from the public: 6.3/10 on IMDb.

The film Super Mario Bros, on the other hand, with a production budget of $100 million, has topped the billion-dollar mark at the global box office and has been more favourably evaluated by the public: 7/10 on IMDb.


Audiences who consume narrative content from another medium at the cinema arrive with expectations that the adaptation must satisfy. But these expectations are ambivalent. Audiences want to find a perfectly preserved story that they already know and love, while at the same time enjoying a sufficiently different, new and enriched experience. Adaptation must therefore tread a particularly fine line, with faithfulness to the source on the one hand, and creative enrichment on the other. For example, the Super Mario Bros film remained very faithful to the colourful world of the game and its protagonists, while at the same time offering a more complex story with real research into the character of the strong, independent Princess Peach who stands up for herself with her wrestling holds, with creative elements specific to the film medium, such as the voices of well-known actors, and music that recalls the themes of the game but is remixed with musical discoveries such as Bowser's declaration of love to Peach on the piano.


The link between video games and cinema will continue to grow stronger in the future. Globally, the video games industry outstrips the film industry in terms of revenue. It is growing steadily and its player base is constantly expanding.

This cooperation is therefore clearly a "GG" ("Good Game" in gamers' jargon).



This article by Guergana Guintcheva, EDHEC Business School Professor and Philippe Aurier, Université de Montpellier Professor, has been republished in its french version from The Conversation under Creative Commons licence. Lire l’article original.


Photo by Tom S via Unsplash

The Conversation

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