In the entertainment industry, the thirst for profit never fails to lead to somewhat questionable decision-making, especially when it comes to adapting storylines from one medium to another. We’ve all seen it: Books and TV shows are turned into movies, and movies are turned into video games.
Last summer brought us playable versions of blockbusters, such as The Green Lantern, Thor, Transformers and Captain America. Meanwhile, this upcoming winter promises an array of familiar titles such as Happy Feet Two and Jurassic Park: The Game.
Movie-based video games have been a part of the gaming market for nearly three decades now. But in terms of quality, this “genre” of video games ranks consistently at the lower levels.
Movie-based video games have had a bad rap since their introduction in the early ’80s. Games, such as the Nintendo Entertainment System’s Back to the Future and Ghostbusters, accrued nothing short of widespread criticism for their awkward controls and disjointed storylines.
In 1982, despite the universal success of its cinematic counterpart, the Atari 2600’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial was met with such hostility that its failure to impress buyers most likely contributed to the video game industry crash of 1983.
Today, the stigma against movie-based video games has changed little with companies continuing to spew them out in armies of unimpressive final products.
But recently there have been some positive changes. With advances in high-definition technology and increasing expectations for complex storylines and gameplay, video game companies are slowly beginning to place more emphasis on quality rather than quantity.
The last few years have featured a decline in the number of movie-based video games on the market. In 2009, 15 movie-based games were released, whereas in 2010, there were only 11. The number decreased even more last year and will likely continue to drop in the future.
It appears the industry is finally learning from its mistake of saturating the market with poorly-developed companions to box-office hits.
Even this change can’t completely shake movie-based games’ images as low-budget train wrecks.
So how can the gaming industry give movie-based products a new name?
The biggest problem occurs when companies attempt to synchronize the release of their video games with the release of the games’ movie counterparts, which results in rushed production and overly simplistic, generic gameplay. Though this marketing move sounds reasonable, it isn’t an absolute necessity, especially if the threat to meet deadlines compromises the game’s overall value.
The solution is to limit the creation of movie-based video games to large franchises. Therefore, if a movie is a part of an ongoing franchise, a movie-“inspired” video game, rather than a direct movie-based game, could allow for more flexibility with its release date and give developers more time, money and energy to put into the project.
For example, 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum was released a full year after the premiere of The Dark Knight and was still met with high praise. The extended period of time between the release of the movie and its loosely tied video game encouraged game creators to produce an end result that enticed Dark Knight fans as well as hardcore gamers.
Similarly, Aliens: Colonial Marines, a game based on the Aliens movie franchise, is scheduled for release in spring 2012. A demo version previewed at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo left fans eagerly craving to dive into the dark and delicious adventure of a game that has been in the making for years.
In contrast, Wanted: Weapons of Fate, a game based on the 2008 movie Wanted, sold poorly after hitting the shelves a full four months after the release of the DVD. Because the movie was not part of a larger franchise like the Dark Knight or Aliens, without the steady support of a continual fan base the later release date was a fatal business decision.
On the other hand, if Weapons of Fate had been released earlier, production value would have been lacking. High-quality video games take at least two to three years to make, which is precisely why large franchises are best-suited for movie-based video games.
Of course, the only exception to this rule is that children’s movie-based video games are almost always guaranteed to be hits. With these games, graphics and gameplay don’t need to be the highest quality to appeal to kids; as long as they resemble the movies, they’re ready to hit the stores.
Aside from children’s movies and large franchises, there really isn’t any need to create movie-based video games anymore. Doing so only pushes consumers to lose more confidence in the gaming market and potentially mimic what happened in the 1983 crash. No video game is a guaranteed success, but if game companies at least try to limit the amount of movies they make into games, they’ll have a better chance of producing enjoyable and superior products.
Hannah Muniz is a junior double majoring in East Asian languages and cultures and creative writing. Her column “Game Over” runs Wednesdays.