April 15, 2022
Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Friday, we’re talking about the explosive boom in video game film and TV adaptations, as well as what to read, watch and play this weekend.
Perhaps you’ve heard that the video game industry is larger than Hollywood. It’s a kind of silly bit of business trivia that gets trotted out now and again to prove the bonafides of the game market. A single game can cost anywhere from four to six times as much as a standard movie ticket (though many of the most popular are free), and substantial chunks of film and TV are subsidized through subscriptions and advertising, making the comparison not as useful as it sounds.
But the two industries, once pitted against one another by artistic and economic merit, are far from competitors. In fact, Hollywood seems to have finally woken up to the value of video game brands as powerful storytelling vehicles, and it’s now set off an entertainment arms race to cash in on adaptations of everything from Halo to Mario to Sonic. This wave of adaptations raises an important question: Can Hollywood now do for gaming what it did for comics?
The Sonic sequel broke a major record. Conventional Hollywood wisdom has been that video game adaptations almost always flop, either because the audience for any one gaming property is too niche or the finished product is subpar. That’s no longer true, and it hasn’t been since 2019’s “Detective Pikachu” broke box office records and earned a rare (yet still modest) 68% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Adaptations are everywhere. Since the success of “Detective Pikachu” and TV series like Netflix’s “The Witcher,” game adaptations have exploded, with production studios and game developers alike hoping to replicate the success of Marvel on the big screen and “Game of Thrones” in the living room.
Comic book movies aren’t getting replaced. Marvel may have moved on from the Infinity Saga, and “Morbius” is its most embarrassing flop to date. But the latest “Spider-Man’s” $1 billion-plus milestone combined with the colossal box office performance of “The Batman” illustrates the maintained momentum for superhero films.
We’re likely a ways off from video game adaptations enjoying a “Dark Knight” moment at the Oscars, though efforts on the animation end like Netflix’s “Castlevania” and the League of Legends spinoff “Arcane” make it seem more likely an animated adaptation strikes awards gold sooner than a live-action one does.
But the gaming industry’s Hollywood takeover is just beginning. Soon enough, streaming services and theater slates will be filled to the brim with narratives and characters known best to game console owners. And unlike comic books, which never stray too far from superheroes and the action genre, video games have the potential to tell diverse stories for a far wider audience.
At this rate, a game adaptation might even nab a Best Picture Oscar before a comic book film does.
— Nick Statt
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“Pachinko” — Apple TV+. “Pachinko” is a captivating drama that follows the story of a Korean family and the challenges it faces in a world dominated by both racism and economic inequality amid loss and other personal struggles. Based on Min Jin Lee’s bestselling novel of the same name, the series effortlessly combines multiple time periods, languages and storylines, demonstrating how world history is very much present in people’s everyday lives. New episodes of the miniseries debut every Friday. If you’re just starting to binge it now, do yourself a favor and don’t skip over the iconic opening credit scene: Its joyfulness helps to both frame the show and celebrate its characters.
How Club Penguin Changed My Life — Chris Gliddon. This week’s news of a major Club Penguin clone closing down over copyright infringement allegations will undoubtedly bring back memories for anyone who has ever stepped a webbed foot into the long-gone kids’ MMO. For a different perspective, it’s worth revisiting this in-depth reflection from one of Club Penguin’s first employees.
BlackPix — Plex, Roku Channel. One of the premises of free, ad-supported streaming (FAST) channels is that they allow for a cable-like leanback experience with content that may never have found its way onto your cable lineup. BlackPix is a perfect example of this: The channel combines feature-length documentaries and films focused on Black athletes, artists and everyday Americans to a 24/7 stream that’s worth adding to your free channel diet.
Cosmonious High — Meta Quest and Steam VR. From Owlchemy Labs, the studio that brought us Job Simulator and Vacation Simulator, comes this new game that takes you inside a high school for aliens. The best way to picture Cosmonious High is to imagine a school that looks like it came out of the brains of Nickelodeon producers who got fired because their ideas were a little too out there. It’s chaotic, fun and surprisingly difficult. Kind of like real high school, I guess?
“Russian Doll” — Netflix. Remaking “Groundhog Day” was never going to be easy. Netflix nevertheless pulled it off with “Russian Doll,” thanks to a decidedly darker take on constant deja vu. Let’s just say, death seems very much inevitable in this show. Season 2 premieres next week, which means you’ll have a whole weekend to catch up on, or rewatch, a great first season.
— Janko Roettgers
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Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to email@example.com. Enjoy your day, see you next Tuesday.