It’s always a bit of a step into the unknown when you plan a movie that is based on a video game, even if that video game is a well-loved franchise and has many millions of players and fans. Certainly it helps to have a strong franchise when you’re setting out to make a movie, and you only have to look at the variety of Marvel Comics characters who have varying degrees of success on the silver screen to realize it’s not the easiest trick in the world to pull off.
The advent of Warcraft in 2016 will certainly give both fans of the World of Warcraft video game franchise and those who are just interested in science fiction films with newly created universes something to think about in the coming year.
If you’re not familiar with World of Warcraft, frequently known as WoW, then it may not be the type of game you’re interested in or you just haven’t got round to exploring it. It is one of the most creative and intelligent games around of the massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) genre, and you could easily get hooked as you enter the mythical world of Azeroth and explore the dangers of wizards, orcs and trolls as you embark on quests.
There’s no doubt that fantasy films can do very well at the box office. For example, The Lord of the Rings, the three films based on author J. R. R. Tolkien’s trilogy, had the potential to upset many people who had their own imaginings of what characters looked like or how landscapes spread out as the story unfolded. Director Peter Jackson was praised for his vision, and many people who were worried they wouldn’t like the films found a tremendous amount in them to enjoy.
The dangers of milking a franchise are evident in the same director’s treatment of Tolkien’s preceding book The Hobbit, which he elongated to what some considered a bloated epic, not as true to the original as The Lord of the Rings.
As with any artistic endeavor, filmmakers can and do fail, so what are the pros and cons for Blizzard Entertainment, parent of the popular MMORPG, with the forthcoming Warcraft movie?
A brief history
Activision Blizzard appointed the highly successful businessman Bobby Kotick as CEO in 2008 (see this Bobby Kotick profile for more information) and, with the company considered to be on the verge of collapse, set about transforming it. One of the aspects he concentrated on was a business strategy that focused just on developing intellectual property so that it could be, as he put it, “exploited” over a considerable period.
This presumably meant that enormously popular franchises such as Warcraft and Call of Duty, which have gone through many new editions and with add-ons for the likes of Warcraft, will continue to be developed, marketed and sold not just to current customers but to a new generation.
The concentration on sequels chimes well with the similar concentration by moviemakers, and you can understand why. Developing a completely new concept for a video game or a film is time consuming, consequently expensive in terms of development costs, and simply might not work when released.
Of course, the likes of Warcraft would be unlikely to be realized on games consoles if designers had not put out speculative proposals in the first place. There’s no doubt that the gaming industry needs to make money – after all, it employs many thousands of talented people – so Kotick may well have the right idea by concentrating on the successful franchises and cancelling or not taking up new ideas where a sequel cannot be guaranteed.
It may not be popular with young designers pitching new concepts and ideas, but the fact is that the Blizzard Entertainment franchises are not only immensely popular but immensely lucrative as well. There will always be game designers and companies that will produce new material and could well find themselves, in the future, in a strong position to develop popular and successful sequels to their original games.
What are the pros and cons for the Warcraft movie?
Let’s start with the potential cons. You may well have been to see a screen adaptation of something you have read or played as a video game and disliked it because it didn’t fit with the way you thought about the characters or the plot. Maybe production values just weren’t high enough; perhaps the plot was ludicrous. There are many things that go into making a good movie – the right actors in the right roles being a given – so there is always a danger that making a movie based in a universe that many millions visit and interact with on a daily basis is going to be a major disappointment.
However, as Ira Gershwin wrote in the popular song: “It ain’t necessarily so.”
First of all there are two markets out there that can be exploited. The first is the gamers, the ones who spend their money and embroil themselves in the magical world and feel a part of the franchise, updating when new products hit the stores.
The second is the known audience for science fiction and fantasy movies. If you want escapism rather than bleak reality (and who doesn’t want a break from reality from time to time) then these sorts of movies triumph again and again. Of course, there are some turkeys (think Dune) but there are many great sci-fi/fantasy franchises out there.
Why shouldn’t Blizzard Entertainment test the market? If it gets it right, and director David Jones and his team are not rushing it, just as Blizzard doesn’t rush its games development, it could get a huge audience and turn many new watchers onto the video games themselves.
Guessing what will work at the box office is a fool’s game, but if Blizzard does get it right, it could certainly be in the driving seat with plenty more sequels to come – and a high financial return for its efforts.