Video Game Adaptations: A leap of faith in ignoring non-gamers?

Córa-Laine Moynihan

Since 2007, Ubisoft has been on a mission to capture the attention of gamers through one of its most popular franchises Assassin’s Creed. With the twelfth major instalment of it, AC: Valhalla, released earlier this month, Ubisoft accompanied this by announcing that a live-action series is in development with Netflix.

Assassin’s Creed is an action-adventure franchise that explores the on-going battle between two secret societies: The Assassins, and the Knights Templar. The former fight for freedom, the latter craves order and control. Through an open-world, players jump back and forth from the present day to a historical time-period where they further the battle in the Assassin’s favour.  From the Third Crusade to the American Revolution, and even back to the Viking Age, the Assassin’s Creed Franchise blends history with fiction in an enjoyable way.

TV audiences aren’t the same as gaming, and this is why most adaptations don’t succeed

Jason Altman (Head of Ubisoft Film and Television L.A), stated that, “For more than 10 years, millions of fans around the world have helped shape the Assassin’s Creed brand into an iconic franchise.” However, when the first live-action adaptation appeared in 2016, fans were left disappointed.

Much of the narrative and setting that the games had built throughout their more than ten years of existence, had been lost in translation to the big screen, and the film struggled to communicate its narrative to those unfamiliar with its origins. It’s unsurprising then, that the film received a low rating of 5.7 from IMDb. TV audiences aren’t the same as gaming, and this is why most adaptations don’t succeed.

Considering Ubisoft’s first attempt at adapting the franchise flopped on the big screen, will the series succeed on the small screen?

Videos games appear to be a booming source of inspiration for up and coming films and TV shows, and its safe to say that there is a lot of potential in adapting them. The Assassin’s Creed franchise has numerous storylines that can be picked up and formed into a pretty entertaining show. The first three games can easily be adapted considering they follow the same modern-day protagonist – a potential three seasons are already laid out on a plate, ready to be gobbled up. Ubisoft even seem hopeful of the show’s potential with Altman adding “we’re thrilled to create an Assassin’s Creed series with Netflix, and we look forward to developing the next saga in the Assassin’s Creed universe.”

will they be able to overcome this boundary between existing and new audiences

Adapting video games, particularly RPGs, also pave the way for much more creativity. With multiple main quests and side ones to get lost in, RPGs like Assassin’s Creed give producers many plot ideas for them to pick and mix from.

Take The Witcher series for example.

Originally a book series, adapted into a games franchise, and then adapted again into a Netflix series, The Witcher is one of the best recent illustrations of games being turned into TV shows.

The narrative is non-linear, and jumps back and forth between the different character’s timelines

Opening in a dreary, dead swampland the White Wolf broke onto our screens in the very manner expected of him: in an intense moment of heroics, blood, and battle. The Witcher first appeared on our Netflix suggestions just under a year ago now, and quickly shot up to become the most-watched first season of television ever on the platform. The drama series based on the popular RPG had reached around 76 million households a month after its release and is expected to enrapture us all again once its second season returns, hopefully, in 2021.

In introducing the much beloved characters with vivid backstories, the show didn’t shy away from the violence, sex, and cruelty familiar to fans of the games. Henry Cavill’s portrayal of the brooding warrior was scarily accurate – with subtle and calculated movements, a constantly watching eye, and his gravelly voice – minus a few ums and swears. Anya Chalotra’s Yennefer had the same assertiveness she exhibits in game, pursuing what she wants even if her desires and actions are questionable. The accuracy and care put into these portrayals are what brings the characters to life on screen. 

Yet, I can say all this because I’ve played the games.

Just like with Assassin’s Creed (2016), The Witcher isn’t non-gamer friendly. The narrative is non-linear, and jumps back and forth between the different character’s timelines and avoids explaining much of the history and culture of the world. It is left to the viewer to piece everything they need to know together. But, for a long-term fan of the game it is fairly simple to know what is happening.

In transferring a game narrative into a show, keeping the already existing audience is an easy way to ensure views, so it makes sense to skip the exposition and delve straight into the action. However, this causes many adaptations to forget about appealing to new viewers, and this can lead to their failure.  

If Netflix and Ubisoft truly intend to adapt the Assassin’s Creed franchise, will they be able to overcome this boundary between existing and new audiences?

Córa-Laine Moynihan

Featured Image courtesy of Natty Dread via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

In article trailers courtesy of 20th Century Studios and Netflix via YouTube.

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