Earlier this week, there were more people playing CD Projekt RED’s outstanding open world role-playing game The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on Steam than there’s ever been. This is a staggering statistic that bears repeating: on New Year’s Day the title accrued concurrents of around 102,000 players, which is the largest number it’s ever attained in its entire four-and-a-bit year history – including launch day. Why? The answer is simple: the release of Netflix’s aggressively advertised live action adaptation has revived interest in the series’ most recent game. But it begs the question: why aren’t more publishers taking note?
The Witcher is an adequate television show, but it’s not an all-time great. Netflix has clearly invested heavily in the first season of the fantasy series, and it’s delivered a luscious visual feast with a strong cast of lead characters. That said, its script can be questionable in places, and the overall plot is meandering – albeit, admittedly, eventually fulfilling. It’s occupying a role in a post-Game of Thrones world, and there’s nothing wrong with that; there’s an enormous audience for fantasy-themed yarns, and Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels provide plenty of lore to pull from.
The thing that interests me most about the Netflix adaptation is the overall impact it’s had on the game, however. While we currently only have access to Steam data, it’s perhaps safe to conclude that there’s been an uptick in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt players on all platforms; here on Push Square, for example, we’ve seen some of our legacy guides gain a spike in page views directly after the release of the live action series. CD Projekt RED, as any competent company should, has capitalised by putting its game into sales such as Sony’s gigantic January promotion on the PlayStation Store.
All of this is building renewed interest in a release about to celebrate its fifth anniversary, but if the impact is this great then why aren’t more titles being adapted? We’ve seen the odd attempt in the past few years, with Alicia Vikander assuming the role of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider and Ratchet & Clank making their way to the big screen. But cross-media in games is typically considered folly; a back catalogue of bad movie conversions has perhaps put some publishers off.
The Witcher is obviously aided in a couple of ways: the games are critically acclaimed, the novels provide plenty of fiction to work with, and Netflix has become such an accessible means of content consumption that the barrier for entry is low. I probably wouldn’t have bothered with the series if it was broadcast anywhere else, but the ubiquity of the subscription-based streaming service means that I was willing to take a punt on the first episode out of morbid curiosity more than anything else. Obviously, you eventually get hooked, and that’s the underlying beauty of the organisation’s business model.
But I really don’t think this is a perfect storm: there are plenty of other games ripe for adaptation that could, with the correct creative guidance, enjoy ample success if they were to attempt a cross-media strategy. I think this is where the formation of Sony’s new PlayStation Productions division is interesting; the unit exists purely to leverage the platform holder’s biggest and best intellectual properties in new ways.
Is it so hard to imagine Aloy slaughtering Thunderjaws on the big screen? Wouldn’t creepy clown Sweet Tooth make for a great anti-hero in some kind of Twisted Metal television show? We’ve seen ideas come and go: Sly Cooper was supposed to get his own animated movie (and, later, cartoon series) but it never materialised; the Uncharted movie is a never-ending joke that’s been in the pipeline for as long as this website has existed.
But now we need to see some results: there’s demonstrable potential in a unified cross-media strategy that The Witcher proves. You need a good game, a good adaptation, and a strong marketing campaign. It’s easy to write these things down, but obviously it takes investment and an unshakeable creative vision to see it through. And yet, we now have evidence that it can be done, and I think other publishers should be paying attention.
Which games do you think would work well as movie or television adaptations? Would you like to see more titles follow in The Witcher’s footsteps? Cast your lead in the comments section below.