"Super Mario Bros", "Assassin's Creed", "Uncharted"... video games at the cinema, a winning bet?

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

Guergana Guintcheva, EDHEC Business School and Philippe Aurier, University of Montpellier

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Is content adaptation a winning strategy?

The most common case is the adaptation of a book for the cinema, which has proven 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 screenplays, and 70% of the world's top 20 highest-grossing films 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 a captive audience who will certainly want to see it again in another medium to enrich the experience. The appeal of repetition can be seen from childhood. From an 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 denouement.

Transpose a story without distorting it

The process of adapting a video game to film (or vice versa) can be analyzed from the angle of the concept of brand extension, well known in marketing. Brand extension consists in developing and marketing new products under the name of an existing brand, but in new categories. For example, Nutella (parent brand, spread category) launches cookies (brand extension into a new category, cookies. The aim is to leverage the reputation, 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 parent brand and extension, facilitates the transfer of brand values to the extension. In turn, this reinforces the credibility of the parent brand and creates a positive connection with the target audience.

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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, as the years go by and technology advances, we see 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; include cinematics (scenes during which the player does not play, serving to advance the narrative, introduce a character, boost immersion).

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

The Assassin's Creed film of 2016 was not necessarily aimed at immediate profitability, but rather at promoting the license by making the brand more widely known to audiences not already familiar with the license and the game universe.

It's important to point out that there's 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 be cooperating successfully, it's crucial that the adaptation is validated by viewers.

A mixed reception

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

The Super Mario Bros movie, meanwhile, with a production budget of $100 million, has topped the billion-dollar mark worldwide, and has been more favorably reviewed 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 they already know and love, while at the same time enjoying a sufficiently different, new and enriched experience. Adaptation must therefore tread a particularly narrow ridge, with faithfulness to the source on the one hand, and creative enrichment on the other. For example, the Super Mario Bros movie remained faithful to the game's colorful universe and protagonists, while at the same time proposing 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, and with creative elements specific to the cinematic medium, such as the voices of well-known actors, and music that recalls the game's themes 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 strengthen in the future. Worldwide, the video game industry outstrips the film industry in terms of revenue. It is growing steadily, and its player base is steadily expanding.

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

Guergana Guintcheva, Professor of Marketing, EDHEC Business School and Philippe Aurier, Professor of Marketing, University of Montpellier

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.