The Last of Us shows how video game IP can drive TV series engagement

Despite a less-than-favorable track record, video game IP shows promise in driving TV series engagement, according to recent findings from Hub Entertainment Research — but only if it’s done right.

The firm’s latest edition of Gaming 360, interviewing 2,518 U.S. consumers aged 16-74, found both long-term engagement and skepticism from its respondents when it came to watching IP go from playable to playback. 

While 64% of gamers — people playing at least once a week on any platform — indicated they would be more interested in a movie or TV series based on gaming IP, a similar figure (67%) also agreed that “many TV shows or movies made from video games just aren’t very good.”

Senior Consultant at Hub Dave Tice told StreamTV Insider over an email conducted interview, “This is the legacy of a number of poorly received movies like Alone in the Dark, Mortal Combat: Annihilation and BloodRayne. As with any movie, the story comes first and then the acting.” But for many of these attempts, Tice reasons that TV and film producers may have kicked their feet up knowing that the projects already had captive audiences.

Some attempts “may be less cynical,” he continued. “Perhaps a game publisher sells the rights to someone they thought had sufficient resources and didn’t. Or a producer tried to do it right, but then — as is sometimes the case — despite a respectable script, actors and director, the movie just doesn’t work,” he elaborated.

But perhaps the most successful counter paradigm in this approach is The Last of Us. The report found that 82% of those who had played the video game sampled the TV series. Additionally, these gamers familiar with the narrative were more likely to finish the series (62%) than those who had never played the game (49%).

Hub Entertainment TLoU graph 1

The Last of Us had already established a strong audience as a video game, selling over 37 million copies as of late last year. “That’s not going to happen without people enjoying the story of the game as well as its play,” he added.

In being adapted into a series, Tice believes the producers were wise in largely staying true to the developed story as well as bringing on respected actors and established showrunners and writers. And even the episode that departed from the narrative the most, “Long Long Time,” gained significant adoration from fans.   

The episode has been “almost universally declared the best TV episode of 2023 – if not one of the best ever,” as Tice puts it. “So that’s how you set the bar for excellence in moving a game across platforms.”

Some video games aren’t meant to be watched

Despite the potential for video game IP presented in Hub’s recent report, Tice also emphasized contrasting findings that underline how some games just won’t check all the boxes that The Last of Us has been able to.

Sixty-seven percent of respondents agreed that “video games are meant to be played, not watched,” and 64% agreed that “it’s unlikely a TV series or movie will be made of a videogame I am interested in.” He presumed the latter 64% to be in part from graphic content in many video games.

Still, streaming services have tapped into this connection between TV and video game IP in other ways. Netflix reversed the strategy by adapting some of its most successful titles into games, though the move to add casual games is a “fairly low-risk strategy,” according to Tice. “[I]f Netflix or others try to go with some hard-core games, then things get more complex.”

Even with Netflix being a major trailblazer in video, the service is currently “playing catch up” with competitors like Apple and Amazon when it comes to bundled services such as video, gaming and music. Tice noted this can drive a higher overall feeling of value from a service and therefore more time spent on it. In fact, Hub’s research has found that subscribers using more than one service in a bundle are less likely to churn subscriptions.

“Engagement, or time spent on a service, is the name of [the] game, so to speak, especially now that advertising is in play,” he said.