How Games Based on Movie and TV Franchises Have Become More Than Just Cash-Ins

For about as long as there has been a video game industry where the technical capabilities allowed for it, there have been games released as tie-ins to popular movie and TV franchises.

Games Based on Movies and Movies Based on Games

As both industries have evolved and become more closely entwined, and as media itself has become a more multi-platform thing, we have seen a lot of developments in terms of how games are used to support their TV and movie counterparts, rather than as general cash-ins to make more money from the original concept. We have even seen an evolution of the reverse – where movies and TV shows are based on games. This concept is by no means new, however now it is the movies that are aiming to be successful in their own right, rather than a general cash grab like older efforts (remember the terrible Super Mario Bros movie from the ’90s?).

This is not to say that many movies based on games have yet managed to attain any real credibility, but movie franchises like Resident Evil do perform well, and last year’s Warcraft movie also received some critical approval as well as box office success. When you consider Japanese media, it is also worth noting that the anime franchise based on Nintendo’s Pokémon games has spawned over 20 feature length movies, as well as hundreds of episodes of the series.

Expanding Movie and TV Canon

When games were first developed to tie in to movies, the concept was usually to re-enact the story of the movie or show in an interactive format, or to allow for a more freeform way of pitting characters from the original material against each other, such as in a fighting game. This worked well in some cases, and badly in others, but was generally the accepted way of giving people what they expected when they bought a video game tie-in. However, these games added nothing new to the franchises they came from – the story was either the same as the movie canon (with whatever changes needed to fit with playable mechanics), or the things you did in the game were not connected to canon at all (because you chose to fight two people who never met in the original franchise or who were allies against each other, what you played out in the game ‘didn’t really happen’).

It was probably Star Wars that was the most famous franchise to start moving away from this, and to create games that actually showed you other stories from the expanded universe of the movies – in fact, to know all of the Star Wars canon out there, you need to have played several games, read books and comics, and watched additional animated series, rather than just seen the movies. Other franchises have also begun to do this. The Telltale games, for example, tell new stories set in the worlds of hit franchises like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, and show more of these settings and add to what we know about them from the shows.

Exploring Settings

Another way games are evolving to do more than just cash in on movies is by creating experiences where you can explore the settings of the franchises more, as your own unique character. This is quite common now in the MMO sector, for example, with games based on (once again) Star Wars, and other hits with interesting worlds and concepts like – which is based on the Terminator theme.

Games have become far more than just merchandise when it comes to film and TV, and can now be used to really enhance stories, expand worlds, and allow players to have their own adventures and experiences in the settings they have seen on screen. As VR becomes bigger, it will be interesting to see how the relationship between movie and game franchises harnesses that technology.

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One thought on “How Games Based on Movie and TV Franchises Have Become More Than Just Cash-Ins”

  1. Finally, someone after my own heart. Recent years have indeed shown that games based on movie and TV licenses can be genuinely interesting and good. I would name several examples usually listed as the best: Game of thrones that sticks to the roots of the original, which the new seasons seem to have deviated from, and Mad Max, a genuinely good postapocalyptic sandbox.
    Also, recent trends like this year’s E3 show that the ideas for original games and franchises are drying up, and judging by Disney’s activities, the next big thing will be movie, comic and TV show adaptations
    All in all, the thought is that the industry and the approach are changing, so the player experience with movie or TV licenses is probably going to change.

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