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Amazon’s Fallout is another success story for transmedia, but the strategy needs to evolve

Cover image for Amazon’s Fallout is another success story for transmedia, but the strategy needs to evolve

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by Rhys Elliott

Everyone was talking about the Super Mario Bros. Movie (The Mario movie) and HBO’s The Last of Us this time last year, and now Fallout has entered the mainstream thanks to the Amazon show. But, for game publishers, the transmedia strategy is nowhere near maximising its potential.

The Mario movie was the biggest turning point for studios realising the potential of games. It grossed over $1.3 billion worldwide, making it not only the biggest game adaptation ever (by revenues) but also the second-biggest animated movie.

The Mario movie even outperformed juggernauts like Frozen and Despicable Me. If studios were not paying to attention to games before, they certainly are now.

On the TV front, Netflix shows like The Witcher and Cyberpunk (two franchises gaming popularised), HBO’s The Last of Us, and now Amazon’s Fallout have shown that game IP can be part of the cultural zeitgeist outside of gaming. Marvel’s Secret Invasion on Disney+ failed to pierce the mainstream, but HBO’s The Last of Us and now Fallout have been the talk of the town.

This is symbolic of the shift towards games IP, and the shift will only continue with each success story. Transmedia strategies work, and Hollywood and TV studios are benefitting. As we said to The Guardian, game-based movies are the new superhero movies.

Game-based movies and TV shows need more synergy with games

When these kinds of game-based movies and TV shows hit, the media often runs bombastic headlines about increased engagement for games in the franchise. The most recent headlines come from engagement bumps for Fallout games.

Bouncing off the show, Fallout titles recently attracted five million players in one day, with one million coming from 2018’s Fallout 76, the newest game in the franchise. While these numbers are impressive, Fallout games were heavily discounted in line with the series and much of the engagement likely came from returning players.

It is also worth noting that a +7,500% increase of a very small number can still translate to a small number, meaning the impact of transmedia on the games themselves is not as big as it may seem.

These strategies are great for building up an IP, which is hard to measure, and licensing fees are another boon for IP holders. Yet, the actual revenue impact for game publishers has been relatively small, or at least smaller than it could – no, should – be. The engagement window is also fleeting; the popularity of the Fallout games on Steam has already plateaued.

The Fallout franchise could have benefited from an extended engagement period if Amazon released Fallout episodes weekly (rather than all the episodes releasing at once). There could have even been some watch-time rewards (similar to Twitch’s activation) each week that gave Fallout 76 players in-game perks or cosmetics, encouraging players to log in weekly.

A Fallout-themed Fortnite activation would also have been well-received by gamers. Xbox has already added its IP to Fortnite, so why not run a timely promotion now?

Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity here though – and one that has been missed in almost every game transmedia experiment so far – is that there is no new game or media for viewers to watch after they have finished the series. There is an alarming lack of synergy.

If there were a new Fallout game to complement the TV show, the revenue impact of transmedia strategies would be more lucrative for the games market too. The next Fallout game is years away, marking a massive missed opportunity. 

Culture moves so quickly these days that waiting to capitalise on a burst of engagement for an IP makes no sense. Nintendo would have benefitted if Super Mario Wonder was on the shelves when the Mario movie hit the silver screen (Wonder launched six months later), and the same goes for Fallout.

This summer, a Borderlands movie is launching with a star-studded cast, but with no game to complement it. We will almost certainly get headlines about how player shares have grown for Borderlands 3, but again, it will be a missed opportunity. Publishers are heating up the engagement oven, but they aren't serving any revenue-generating dishes to consumers. 

AAA games are massive in scope and are often delayed, so timing a game to release in line with a show/movie in the same IP is easier said than done. Still, it is very much in game studios’ best interests to at least try, especially given the industry’s challenges as of late.

Games to movie and TV transmedia: What works

Movie and TV studios should not look to gaming as a silver bullet. Both IP licensees and licensors need to treat the source material with respect, or risk diluting the IP in question and the reputation of the adapting studio. Games are not an IP slot machine and their fandom should be respected.

Going forward, we expect to see some poor video game adaptions from studios that are looking to jump on the trend’s hype train without planning their approach properly. Such products will of course be outshined by the success stories, though, as they always are.

Not all game properties were created equal. Adaptations must strike a balance of:

  • Fitting the original IP
  • Catering to die-hard fans
  • Releasing at the right time
  • Being accessible enough for new audiences.

It is even more effective when a movie and film launch in tandem with a game in the same franchise. A quality product within a given IP is a tide that rises all media within that IP.

Movie and TV studios are reaping most of the benefits of transmedia strategies right now, and it is time for the games industry to follow suit with smarter content roadmaps and more synergy.

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