It only took two episodes for HBO to renew The Last of Us for a second season. With an average combined viewership of 21.3 million viewers, The Last of Us is the second most watched HBO series right behind House of the Dragon.
The series, based on the post-apocalyptic PlayStation game, has increased its audience by 37% since launch. By the third episode, House of the Dragon’s viewership had already dropped. The rating card is also critically acclaimed. The series, available in France on Amazon Prime Video, has received a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while Bill and Frank’s “A Long, Long Time” episode has already been acclaimed by many media outlets, such as one of the best episodes in history. television.
So far, the so-called “video game adaptation curse” has had a lot of ink, despite successful small-screen transpositions like Arcane or Castlevania. The Last of Us is proving to Hollywood that video game production can create prestigious television. Does The Last of Us usher in a new era of video game adaptations in Hollywood? Are video games the future of TV shows?
“The Rise of Gaming Adaptations”
“Finding a successful video game and bringing it to the screen is a common thing,” recalls Alexis Blanchet. According to research by Ampere Analysis, between 20 and 25 films and series based on video games are released each year. “There is a strong trend towards more game adaptations,” says Lottie Tauler, research manager at Ampere Analysis. A figure that has “grown steadily over the past two decades” with an increase in the “share of TV series” attributable to streaming platforms.
Thus, The Last of Us heralds a wave of video game adaptations: out of 118 titles identified by Ampere Analysis at the end of 2018, almost 63 have yet to be released! And that’s not counting titles like Amazon Prime Video’s Fallout and God of War or even Netflix’s Assassin’s Creed and Horizon Zero Dawn announced after 2018.
“The first creative industry in the world”
Why is Hollywood so interested in video game franchises? “Video games are the first creative industry in the world,” sums up Laurent Michaud, a video game economist. The industry has approximately 3.2 billion gamers, according to DFC Intelligence, and according to Statista, the total worldwide revenue will be $221.4 billion in 2023.
In an increasingly competitive marketplace, streaming platforms rely on the popularity of certain video games to keep their subscribers or attract new ones around new TV franchises. “The video game is mobilizing innumerable players who no longer watch TV, who no longer have to go to the movies, and who are starting to leave the platforms. If streaming platforms want to make money, you have to get the audience where it is,” continues Laurent Michaud.
“Video games have come to play an extremely important role in leisure activities. They are more culturally relevant to 18-34 year olds than music or movies,” John Evershed, director of strategy for American animation studio Trioscope, told AFP on the occasion of the release of the Uncharted film adaptation in 2022. “Audiovisual production tends to fit the cultural practices and social facts that pervade society,” emphasizes Alexis Blanchet.
A good video game adaptation is also good for a game. In 2022, the video game Cyberpunk 2077 returned to success with the Netflix series Cyberpunk Edgerunners.
“Showrunners are now gamers”
Until now, video games broadcast into series or films have often been developed only as derivative works. Result: a lot of turnips. Now, “many young directors, showrunners, and entertainment figures have become gamers,” says Amy Hennig, president of Skydance Media’s new media division and creative director and writer of the first three Uncharted games in Indiewire columns.
Video games are no longer a pretext, but are considered the narrative bible that the audiovisual industry has no hesitation in betting on. According to The New Yorker, The Last of Us is worth more than $100 million – more than the first five seasons of Game of Thrones! First live-action series adapted from a video game.
At the helm of these video game adaptation projects are big names in Hollywood: Craig Mazin, Chernobyl showrunner for The Last of Us, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, creators of Westworld for Fallout, or even Phoebe Waller-Bridge. creator of Fleabag for Tom Raider.
Result ? These works now take on the form of legitimation and recognition. The Halo series is presented at the opening of the CannesSeries festival. Lisa Joy, co-creator of Fallout, will be President of Series Mania 2023. Arcane, nominated five times for the 2022 Emmy Awards, has won four awards, including Outstanding Animated Series. First video game adaptation.
“There is potential for convergence”
Perhaps the most obvious sign that video game adaptations are the future of entertainment is the fact that streaming services are investing in video games: Netflix just bought its sixth video game studio, Amazon Games just officially opened its fourth studio in Montreal, and Jason Kilar, CEO director of WarnerMedia, refused to sell Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment because, according to Bloomberg, the company was “too good to be sold”.
“Video games displayed on the screen are characterized by binding to audiovisual genres. The Last of Us is no exception to the rule: the action takes place in a post-apocalyptic universe and in the genre of a movie about zombies or infected,” deciphers Alexis Blanche. The blurring of lines between Hollywood and the video game industry will intensify, while the production of television series such as The Mandalorian or Westworld is now based on the Unreal Engine, the video game engine developed by Epic Games that has been used to create numerous titles. , including the famous Fortnite. “There is potential for convergence,” says Laurent Michaud.
Ubisoft is illustrating how the video game and audiovisual industries are already inextricably intertwined: the next installment in their mega-budget Assassin’s Creed franchise, Assassin’s Creed Infinity, will coincide with the upcoming Assassin’s Creed Netflix series produced by Ubisoft Film & Television. If video games are the future of television series, linear fiction is also the future of video games.