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Reel Content: How Movies Transcend the Theater (Part 1)

4 minute read | August 2013

A good movie doesn’t end, it becomes a brand. Studios, labels and publishers are continuously looking for ways to leverage the success of a film in music, home entertainment, books and games. In a four-post series starting with the gaming industry, we take a look at some examples and ask, “How does a movie establish itself as a brand powerful enough to translate to other entertainment platforms?”

The link between movies and video games dates back to the days when Mario and Luigi first took up plumbing. People are more aware of video game adaptations when they debut with the release of an upcoming movie. This is especially true for games based on animated and family films. The norm for awareness of a video game one or two weeks before its release is 27 percent-28 percent among 7 to 12 year olds. But as recent releases show, games tied to family films have far exceeded that range. Turbo: Super Stunt Squad scored a 32 percent Awareness among 7 to 12 year olds one week before the Turbo movie opened, The Smurfs 2 video game had a 55 percent Awareness among kids 7 to 12 one week prior to the release, and the Disney Planes video game currently has a 51 percent Awareness among 7-12 year olds two weeks before the release of the game and film.

It’s not easy adapting a game to a movie and timing the release with the flick. “Given the extremely truncated production cycle, and being limited by the plot and scope of the film, that makes producing a hit game all the more difficult”, notes Nielsen Games’ Scott Pitchford.

Given the challenges that developers face in this realm, more discerning gamers have taken a more skeptical view of video games tied to the release a specific film. “Video game adaptations of blockbuster action films, typically geared towards ages 13+, benefit from the gains in Awareness levels, but they often suffer from a lower pre-release perception of quality among those consumers,” Pitchford adds.

In Nielsen’s Video Game Tracking (VGT), “Rating Among Aware” measures the average consumer rating for a video game title on a 10-point scale. This rating is often lower than norms for these titles given the checkered past most movie tie-in games have had with consumers. Earlier this year, Star Trek: The Game had a 43 percent Awareness rating among total gamers at one week before the release of the game versus a VGT norm of 28 percent, At the same time, however, it grabbed a 6.60 Rating Among Aware compared with a VGT norm of 6.90. And the video game tie-in for last summer’s Battleship achieved 60 percent Awareness among total gamers at one week pre-release, but it had a below-norm Rating Among Aware score of 6.72.

The big movie brands that generate multiple properties, however, are the ones that seem to do better in terms of reception from consumers and critics. In these cases, developers can play with a powerful brand and pull from a rich universe of content without being locked into dictated plot points. They’re also not confined to production within a specific movie’s release schedule. Despite their ad-hoc nature, these titles are still able to parlay the brand equity from a film franchise into heightened pre-release Awareness—and in many cases, they can preserve consumers perceptions of quality as well. At one week prior to release, The Lord of the Rings: War in the North had 34 percent Awareness (VGT norm is 28%) and a Rating Among Aware of 7.02 (VGT norm is 6.90), Spider-Man: Edge of Time had 37 percent Awareness and an RAA of 7.16, and X-Men: Destiny had 40 percent Awareness and an RAA of 7.20.

Video games can also advance the story of a movie franchise. Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis, creators of the Ghostbusters series, penned the script for Ghostbusters: The Video Game in 2009 to extend the plotline from the first two movies. This year’s Aliens: Colonial Marines is another video game sequel to a movie, set in the timeframe immediately following Aliens, the second film in the franchise, and features Lance Henriksen reprising his role as the android character ”Bishop.”

As the line between theatrical and interactive entertainment blurs, it’s clear that the relationship between movies and games will only strengthen. Disney Interactive launches Disney Infinity this month, a mash-up of many Disney properties in a customizable sandbox environment. Also, at this year’s E3 convention in June, Electronic Arts revealed its plans to bring the popular Star Wars: Battlefront series to the next generation of gaming consoles. And Warner Bros. Interactive recently announced its development of a new video game based on the Mad Max universe.

As we’ve seen here with games, movie brands are no longer confined to the local theater. The opportunities are endless when it comes to creating engaging experiences for movie fans. Will a similar relationship between movies and games be the same for music, books, and home entertainment, and will it stay in the status quo or increase or decrease? Check back next Thursday or subscribe to our blog for the second part of this four-post series.

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