After years of lacklustre video game adaptations, the entertainment sector has finally managed to strike gold with HBO’s faithful take on Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic modern classic, The Last of Us, with gamers and critics alike uniting in their praise for the new television series.
The show is already breaking records for the American TV network just a few episodes in, landing the second-biggest premiere in over a decade (bested only by the Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon) and the largest-ever viewership growth for a drama from premiere to episode two. These audience numbers were undoubtedly fueled by the franchise’s tremendous fanbase, with the series having sold over 37 million copies globally as of December 2022.
It appears those figures are set to grow even further, as the show’s success has led to a dramatic jump in game sales, with The Last of Us returning to the UK charts in two places. The Last of Us: Part 1 on Ps5 came in at No.20, and The Last of Us: Remastered on Ps4 came in at No.32 – a significant sales increase of 238% and 322%, respectively. It should come as no surprise that there’s already talk of a second season of the show on the way.
A familiar story
We saw a similar impact when Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, an anime based on CD Projekt RED’s sci-fi RPG, was released on Netflix last September. At the time, the developer saw a more than 70% increase in revenue as the streaming series drove more than 1m daily users to the game.
This shows, in no uncertain terms, that TV and film adaptations based on gaming IP have the potential to help video game franchises reach new audiences and reinvigorate existing titles. A similar case can be seen in Uncharted: The Legacy of Thieves collection, released just one week before the big-budget movie adaptation that hit cinema screens and came bundled with a free ticket. Fueled by the promotion, the film made over $400m at the box office, although it was met with mixed reviews from critics and fans alike.
Staying true to the game
There are plenty of other chart-topping games currently being adapted for TV and film, including the likes of Fallout, Horizon, God of War, Gran Turismo and even Super Mario Bros. But as other adaptions such as Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed have shown, creating a film or TV series based on a popular gaming IP doesn’t always guarantee success. In most cases, these adaptions deviate from the original source material and are rewritten with new stories that don’t stay true to the things gamers love about the IP.
The Last of Us was already a heavily narrative-driven experience, which I can only imagine helped with its translation into another medium. The series was also helmed by the game’s lead writer and director, Neil Druckman, enabling it to have a level of faithfulness to the source material unseen in other game adaptations. It also features cameos from the game’s voice actors, Troy Baker (Joel) and Ashley Johnson (Ellie), as well as music from composer Gustavo Santaolalla.
It’s unlikely many mobile games will receive the entertainment treatment given their lack of narrative. However, The Angry Birds Movie and its subsequent sequel demonstrate that it can be accomplished, although the second film’s disappointing showing at the box office (despite being well received by critics) may have made studios think twice about further mobile game adaptations. In the meantime, we may see wider collaborations within some mobile titles as more AAA gaming adaptations increasingly hit television and cinema screens.
In the coming months, more studios will likely announce plans to create further adaptations of popular video games as they hope to tap into their huge, pre-existing audiences in the same way as HBO. Franchises such as Grand Theft Auto and The Elder Scrolls, which have sold millions upon millions of copies, could be prime candidates. They’ll have every chance of success if they stay true to their fans by following the source material in the same way The Last Of Us has – I can’t wait to see who manages to deliver.