Hollywood is no stranger to video games, but if last week’s E3 was any indication, the worlds of gaming, television and film are becoming closer than ever before.
Major companies such as Apple and Netflix clearly see promise in the video game market, as they both had a presence at the industry’s Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles. Netflix showcased a “Stranger Things” game that will drop on July 4, the same day as Season 3 of that show premieres on the streaming platform, and in 2020 they will release a free-to-play mobile game based on the show.
The platform also will be getting a film based on popular shooter “The Division” starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Jessica Chastain and in the fall, Netflix’s upcoming “The Dark Crystal” series will get a video game tie-in. If these kinds of intellectual property-based games are successful, it’s likely that Netflix and its competitors will double down on creating similar crossovers in the next few years.
“Shortly after season one of ‘Stranger Things,’ we realized this is a phenomenon,” Chris Lee, director of interactive games at Netflix, said on stage at E3. “It was our first attempt at doing consumer products and merchandise. We had never done anything like that before.”
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E3 attendees also saw a trailer for “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet,” an upcoming comedy series that will follow the developers of the massively multiplayer role-playing game “Mythic Quest.” The series will be on Apple TV+, Apple’s new streaming service that is set to launch in the fall.
The concept of video game-based films and television shows goes back several decades, but interest in that kind of content has sharply increased recently. There has been at least one big budget video game movie every year for the last several years, including theatrical adaptions of the “Warcraft,” “Resident Evil,” “Angry Birds,” “Assassin’s Creed,” and “Tomb Raider” video game franchises.
Though the television industry doesn’t have quite as prolific of a relationship with game studios as the film industry does, there are some exceptions. For example, Netflix has an adult-oriented animated series based on the popular “Castlevania” games that has been positively received by critics. Furthermore, Microsoft Studios’ “Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn” garnered millions of YouTube views and was even nominated for an Emmy.
It’s a simple enough business strategy: Put a franchise on as many entertainment verticals as possible to boost its audience and generate more revenue. There’s a lot of money to be made, but plenty of room for failure, too.
For starters, most film and television adaptions of video games are critically reviled. That might not matter if they perform well at the box office, but to date video game movies often fail to live up to financial expectations in the United States. Regardless, China, an increasingly essential market for Hollywood, often makes up weak numbers at American theaters, as recent video game films such as “Warcraft” and “Tomb Raider” performed quite well in that country.
Still, there are also some notable success stories. Pokémon, the highest-grossing media franchise of all time, might’ve started out as just a video game series, but the franchise also spawned an immensely successful anime series that has been airing for 22 years. Pokémon also enjoyed a significant multimedia win earlier in the year with the theatrical release of “Pokémon: Detective Pikachu.”
The film’s reviews might not have been effusive—IndieWire critic Kate Erbland described it as “oddly flat and strangely confusing”—but it is still the best-reviewed live action video game film of all time, according to Rotten Tomatoes. Oh, and a few people actually went and saw the thing, as the film has earned over $421 million worldwide, according to BoxOfficeMojo.
The “Star Wars” film franchise has also reaped the benefits of expanding into television and gaming. There have been a galaxy’s worth of “Star Wars” video games spanning several decades, many of which have been critical and commercial hits. The franchise also has several animated television shows in its back catalogue and Disney will further capitalize on the “Star Wars” brand in the fall with “The Mandalorian” television series, which will exclusively premiere on its upcoming Disney+ streaming platform.
Even if a television company doesn’t directly offer video games on its platform—Netflix might be working on some new games, but there’s no indication that video games will be on its actual platform—just offering video game-related shows could increase market appeal. That’s what Hulu did in 2017 when the service ordered four eSports, or competitive gaming, shows, and more recently, it’s what Apple and Netflix did at E3.
While mining brand awareness is one thing, the intersection of television, films and gaming is also coming at a time when companies and their platforms are working to become one-stop shop entertainment hubs. For example, it has become an industry standard for modern video game consoles to have apps for Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube. If a consumer can binge watch the upcoming “Stranger Things” season and then purchase the video game tie-in with just a few clicks of a button, that’s a win-win for the television and gaming studios involved.
It’s not just gaming consoles that are getting in on consolidating their entertainment offerings, either. Major companies such as Amazon and Apple are getting in on the centralized content trend, and including gaming elements is a natural part of that process. An Amazon Prime membership also includes complimentary access to the Prime Music streaming service and Twitch Prime, the premium subscription plan for Twitch, the most popular video game streaming platform on the internet.
As for Apple, the tech giant has essentially been in the video gaming market for years thanks to its app store, which hosts a plethora of immensely successful mobile games. But the company appears to be doubling down on gaming content, as it will debut Apple Arcade, a subscription service that will offer over 100 new and exclusive games, on Apple TV 4K in the fall.
It’s likely that Apple Arcade will launch around the same time as Apple TV+. Though it is unclear what platforms Apple TV+ will work on, it’s a safe bet to predict it will also be available on Apple TV 4K. Say, wouldn’t it be convenient if consumers could access all their exclusive gaming, television and film content on the same device? That’s where the broader entertainment industry is heading, and it’s why gaming-related television and film announcements will probably become increasingly commonplace in the years ahead.