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1. Major Time Constraints
The first reason it's hard to make good movie adaptations is that developers are working under time constraints. In the eyes of Hollywood, these games are part of the film’s marketing (more on this later). So if a movie is coming out around the holidays, then devs must move Heaven and Earth to ship the game out before then.
That means games are likely to ship with bugs, bad graphics, boring gameplay...all the hallmarks of a typical movie adaptation. But it’s entirely possible that if devs had another year or two to polish these titles, they would be amazing.
2. The Cost of the License
Another way to look at poor movie adaptations is this: behind the scenes, there is a lot of resource management going on. For example, let’s say that a developer has X amount of money they are willing to put towards making a new game.
If that game is their own IP, then 100% of that budget goes towards the game. But when it is someone else’s IP, then they are paying through the roof to get the license. And every dollar they spend for the right to simply make the game is a dollar they can’t spend on making the game any good, resulting in the crappy licensed games we usually see cluttering shelves.
3. The Movie Doesn’t Have Many Game-Friendly Elements
Most of the time, we blame game devs for poor movie adaptations. But in some cases, we should acknowledge that the original movie doesn’t have many elements that translate to a good game.
The Home Alone games are a good example of this idea. The movie doesn’t really have much in the way of action and excitement until near the end. But games typically must have action from beginning to end. This leads to the game throwing in enemies like evil snowmen and runaway robots just to keep the action moving.
And that’s the paradox. Home Alone ended up being an absolutely terrible game. But even if the gameplay is fun, throwing in enemies that would be more at home in an episode of Doctor Who meant that it was always doomed to be a poor adaptation of what we saw in the movie.
4. Filmmakers See These Games As Just More Marketing
We touched on this earlier, but it bears repeating: in the eyes of Hollywood, these games are no more than another bit of marketing.
What does that mean in practical terms? Honestly, a filmmaker or movie studio isn’t going to stress out over a game adaptation’s quality any more than they stress out over the quality of the Happy Meal tie-in toys. They just want to build hype and get butts into theaters, and if that means ruining some kid’s Christmas with a hideous video game, so be it.
5. Corporate Interference
Part of what makes bad game adaptations baffling is that they sometimes come from good developers. And you can get whiplash by looking from a great original title on your shelf to a horrendous movie adaptation and realizing they came from the same company.
So, what happened here? In some cases, it may be corporate interference. While plenty of filmmakers couldn’t care less about the video game adaptation, the money men behind studios like Warner Bros. may demand that some elements be thrown into a game and other elements kept out.
The final result is “too many cooks in the kitchen,” and corporate interference, combined with hard deadlines, mean that great devs crank out disappointing adaptations.
6. The Best Movie Games Have Little To Do With the Movie
Here’s another paradox for you: generally speaking, the best “game adaptations” of movies have very little to do with the movies in question.
For example, Goldeneye 007 is usually held up as the “golden” standard for good video game adaptations of films. But the game takes crazy license with the very idea of adaptation, giving us set pieces and levels that were not in the movie at all, complete with big head and paintball modes.
The same is true of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The movie was an abomination, but the game veers away from the film story at almost every turn. The result is a good game with a decent story, but it has almost nothing in common with the movie except the shared name.
7. They Are Completely Different Kinds of Experiences
The final reason that it’s hard to make a good movie adaptation is simple: movies and games are each their own medium. And what works for one simply doesn’t always work for the other.
When you watch a Harry Potter movie, it’s fun to imagine magic coursing through someone’s body and blasting out through their wand. But put that into a game and you just have another character firing energy blasts...something we have seen in hundreds of games. Additionally, many Harry Potter fans love quiet scenes between their favorite characters onscreen, but game adaptations instead emphasize blasting foes and completing platforming challenges, robbing fans of the drama they may want.
At the end of the day, you’ll be far happier if you keep these worlds separate. Let good movies be good movies and good games be good games, and don’t be disappointed if the attempted crossovers between these worlds almost always let you down.