Game-based TV shows – what works?

by Ben Kirby
0 comment

TV shows based on video games are big business all of a sudden, and honestly, with good reason! We’ve seen loads.

The Witcher, Halo, The Last of Us, Arcane (League of Legends), Castlevania, Twisted Metal and most recently Fallout. Of course, there are many more, but in terms of the biggest impact, these names get to the top of the list, for better or for worse.

Each of these has taken a proper stab at the material on offer. Some have landed better than others, granted.

What’s working, what isn’t, and what will work for a long time? It’s interesting because I’m sure there are hopes of a long-running series, making massive money, being the next Game of Thrones in terms of cultural impact.

What works for game-based TV Shows?

From what I can see, the best TV adaptations work for one of two reasons:

  • Stick to the material
  • Bask in the well-established world and lore

If there’s a deviation from these, where producers, writers and directors get caught up in their own vision. It can go off the rails very easily. We’ll come to that shortly.

In terms of what works. Look at Fallout, look at The Last of Us. Hell, look at Arcane. They follow the rules above, and land so well that they’ll be used as examples for things like this, forever more.

You have The Witcher (based on games, based on books….I know). The first season landed. It was faithful to the material, and we all know how much effort and love Henry Cavill put into it. Then the deviation starts, and well, it loses the magic.

Castlevania was a surprise. An animated series out of nowhere that delivers, delivers, delivers. It respects the lore, it hits in atmosphere and theme, and it just works.

TV isn’t easy, and gamers are a hard fanbase to appease when you’re taking something that they love and turning it into something else. But when done right, it hits in a way that some TV shows just cannot compete with. Game adaptation or not.

Fallout TV series - Lucy

What doesn’t work?

We listed the rules for success. And I’ll be honest, I think those 2 points are as simple as it can be. Pick one and run with it.

Stick to the material like glue and have success like The Last of Us. Respect the world, the lore and the aesthetic. It sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Apparently not. Look at Halo. It looks the part, but it takes so many liberties, trying to tell a “human” story. Removing the helmet (and suit!) of Master Chief and showing ass, wasn’t required. These are side stories that nobody asked for. There are books and games, expanded universe content, ripe for the taking. But no, it’s the age-old TV show adaptation. Someone wants to take liberties, to tell a story nobody wants.

The Witcher has gone the same way.

Twisted Metal feels like a rare one that slipped through the net. But I think that’s more down to the fact that it focused on building up the world, and also the lore and universe of Twisted Metal isn’t quite as rich as the aforementioned.

TV shows taking a unique “twist” on established video game worlds just doesn’t work.

Halo ended season 2 on a high, by the way. But it took two seasons to get there. That’s not good, engaging TV.

Keep it simple, stick to the rules.

Halo TV Show screenshot

What will continue to work?

This question is what prompted me to write the up.

Why do I feel that Fallout, Arcane and Castlevania would all have longer legs than a TV Show as successful as The Last of Us?

Simple. The Last of Us is following the games to the letter. Admirably so, by the way.

What happens when you run out of games? When you run out of pre-determined, well-established and loved narrative beats? Do you carry on and write your own story? Uh-oh, that’s going against the established rules of TV adaptations. It’ll run away with itself. Mark my words.

Fallout is a great, very recent example. The world is well-established and perfect as a TV show. Stick to the lore, maintain the look, and feel, and you can tell any story you like.

It helps when there’s no named, main protagonist. If it’s a player-driven RPG where you play your own way. Watching a TV show if like watching a Twitch stream of someone else’s playthrough. Much easier to digest, and much easier for writers to play in the world with some pre-established toys and rules.

Fallout could go on for 10 seasons. The Last of Us can’t, it just can’t.

Arcane is exactly the same. Stylish, a new character in an established world. It just works, goddamn, it really works. It could go on forever.

League of Legends Arcane key art with main character Jinx

Fingers crossed

I’m no TV oracle. Hell, I’m no gaming guru. But. I do love to be entertained, I do like to look at what works and what doesn’t, and I think I can see what’s going to last.

Writers, producers, showrunners. Calm down. If you get to tackle a massive IP for a new TV show, you can own it, and take pride in it. But respect it, play with the tools you’re given, don’t try and make it something else.

I’ve no doubt that it’s high pressure. TV is a big deal. Streaming services are so significant, it’s likely too much to handle sometimes. But if you’ve been given an IP that people adore, the hard bit is done. The developers of the games have done the work of making a world that people want to see and visit. Just respect it.

Let’s hope we see more success and more gaming/TV crossovers. If we do, everyone wins!

Want more opinion pieces like this TV show one? Then click right here.

You may also like

Leave a Comment