EXCLUSIVE: HBO Director of Narrative Design On Why Video Game Movie Adaptations Fail - Prima Games

EXCLUSIVE: HBO Director of Narrative Design On Why Video Game Movie Adaptations Fail

by Liana Ruppert

We sat down with Adam Foshko, the current director of narrative design at HBO, to talk about why the history of game adaptations is rife with failure during the GameDaily Connect conference this week. With so many movies and TV adaptations on the horizon, it’s important to look back on the critical missteps of the past in order to bridge the gap between games and other media as flawlessly as possible. 

Speaking with Prima Games exclusively, Foshko talks about his own experience with narrative design both in gaming and on the big screen. With his previous work with Activision on franchises such as Call of Duty, Destiny 2, and Skylanders, Foshko’s berth of creative design is wide, something that has proven invaluable during his time with HBO. As gaming continues to blend with other medias, he speaks candidly on a few of the key reasons why there have been so many failed attempts in the past. 

From a lack of clear direction to an apparent condescending attitude by many that take on these projects, Foskho pulls no punches when it came to reflecting on the past and what that means for the future: 


In the video above, Foshko mentions that the biggest misstep comes from many project leads not understanding what those franchises represent. “You can count on one hand how many are ‘great,’ even ‘good,'” he mentions, which paints a stark reality of how video game translation has worked when making the big screen jump. With so many projects having made the Hollywood move for decades now, to have so few actually make a positive impact is a problem and will continue to be a problem as long as the movie market continues to demand gaming interpretations.

The problem of transition to the big screen with a lot of games is that they are so layered in their storytelling and that’s something that becomes even more complex when looking at those particular titles that are intertwined with player-choice. With so much content and context, translating that to an hour and a half movie is a rough endeavor made even worse by a lack of passion and knowledge. 

The narrative director also mentions that the approach needs to change from an “exact interpretation elements of a game that people want. Instead, it should be an elevation of those things, of the experience itself.” By making the transition less literal, Foshko adds that this will not only interest hardcore fans, but “light” fans as well in addition to newcomers as a whole. With the more open approach, the adaptation can appeal to a wider audience without having the expectations of an exact replica – something that has been attempted in the past and usually ends in disaster. 

He also advocated that it’s about showing a “different side” of a tale that we’ve already fallen in love within the game-space. Instead of a literal translation, film and TV should explore “what could have happened” or even an inverse of actual in-game events to provide a different perspective of a beloved franchise. This provides true-to-source ideation while also offering a brand new experience within a familiar universe. 

“You’re basically adding to the fabric of the world,” he tells us when moving beyond a controller and beyond a half-assed attempt at replication. One point that he brought up that was incredibly interesting to me was that a lot of these directors, writers, producers that pick up game adaptation projects often aren’t knowledgable about the franchise and almost “look down” on gaming as a whole. That perspective, to him, oftentimes leads to a less dedicated approach to a movie, cheapening the vision and direction because for some it is seen as a “lesser medium.” 

With gaming continuing to take over mainstream media, this attitude has to change. Gaming has been a source of good in community relations, as a means for college scholarships, and so much more. With people like Foshko out there, joined by many other passionate individuals, we are inching closer and closer to the game adaptations that fans want since these types of projects are showing no signs of slowing down any time soon. 

Liana Ruppert

With an arguably unhealthy obsession with Dragon Age and Mass Effect, Liana is wildly passionate about all things in the gaming community. From shooters, to RPGs, if it's out - she's playing it. A medically retired US Sailor and now full-time hoarder of gaming collectibles, Liana's passion for everything in the gaming industry is palpable. Also, if you lose her in a crowd, just casually mention any BioWare game and the crazy pterodactyl screech will without a doubt follow. You can follow her on Twitter @DirtyEffinHippy or email her for editorial inquiries at [email protected]!