Netflix’s Cyberpunk series shows why streamers want video game adaptations

The news: Maligned upon release two years ago, the Polish video game Cyberpunk 2077 is having a renaissance thanks to a Netflix adaptation that propelled sales and showed the power of video game-to-TV adaptations that are taking over streaming services.

Cyberpunk’s comeback story: When acclaimed Polish game studio CD Projekt Red finally released the highly anticipated game in 2020 after years of development, it was a catastrophe. Plagued with controversy, the barely functional game was in such poor shape that it was removed from the PlayStation store.

  • Last month, its fortunes reversed. An anime adaptation by acclaimed Japanese studio Trigger released exclusively on Netflix has propelled the game back into the zeitgeist, leading it to dominate sales charts for weeks—yesterday, CD Projekt Red announced the game had sold 20 million copies.
  • The Netflix series represents the growing power of international and foreign-language media—Cyberpunk began life as an ‘80s tabletop game in England, was adapted to a video game by an acclaimed Polish game studio, and adapted again by a Japanese studio for release under an American media company.
  • But more than that, it also shows why streaming services are racing to partner with game developers and publishers for adaptations of popular franchises, especially as domestic subscriptions slow.

A win-win scenario: Cyberpunk’s adaptation isn’t the first crossover event of its kind, but its success shows that both developers and streamers can increase their audience by taking game franchises beyond video games.

  • Just about every major streaming service has a video game adaptation that’s already aired or is in the works. Cyberpunk isn’t even Netflix’s first: It released League of Legends-based show “Arcane” last year, a live action “Resident Evil” show, and has released anime adaptations of games like Tekken and Castlevania, to name a few.
  • Amazon Prime Video is working on an adaptation of Sony’s God of War franchise, as well as a Fallout series; Paramount+ recently aired a show based on sci-fi shooter Halo; HBO Max just released a trailer for its adaptation of The Last of Us which will be co-produced by the game’s original director; and Apple TV+ has a workplace comedy about a game studio produced in part by publisher Ubisoft.
  • Why the sudden surge in adaptations? Games surged to a height of popularity during the pandemic, driving subscription-starved streamers to turn to them for new ideas and viewers.
  • Video game adaptations also expand Netflix’s audience ahead of the launch of its ad-supported tier. Through Netflix and other streamers, advertisers have a brand-friendly way to reach gaming audiences, rather than having to navigate the fraught and often controversial space that is online video game content.

The big takeaway: Partnering with streaming services is a no-brainer for game developers and publishers looking to expand the value of their intellectual property. But streamers will have to court publishers; games have grown just fine without streaming adaptations, while streamers are the ones on the back foot.

  • Publishers of new, big hits have rapidly sought out streaming deals. Bandai Namco announced that it’s looking to expand the IP of hit game Elden Ring “beyond games,” and Electronic Arts is working with Amazon to adapt last year’s game It Takes Two.