Adapting children’s media for the video game market

5 November, 2023

Image: My Little Pony: Make Your Mark, Netflix

There’s been much industry chatter about adapting video game IP for the TV space. With the success of series such as CastlevaniaThe Witcher and Arcane (based on League of Legends), this attention is justified. However, seeing adaptation as a one-way street misses out the potential of pre-existing TV franchises. Shows should also consider takeing the chance to enter the video game space.

3.2 billion people were playing video games worldwide as of 2021, with the numbers having gone up since. The video game market is a dominant force for entertainment and storytelling, giving fans the chance to role play within their favourite worlds and develop deep connections with characters. For a TV series to reach peak popularity, it could be beneficial to journey into this interactive space where players themselves make decisions and impact the world.

Video game adaptations of TV series don’t have the best reputation. Most licensed games are considered shovelware, from examples such as Superman 64 to forgettable dreck such as the PS1’s V.I.P. But this perception is shifting: Cult classics such as Golden Eye and The Simpsons: Hit & Run brought familiar characters to popular genres (FPS and free-roamer respectively), while games such as Batman: Arkham Asylum and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic employed big budgets to flesh out their respective worlds and empower the player within them.

Successfully adapting a TV series into a video game is possible then - the only question is how to go about it. What genre of video game best suits each genre of TV? What genres are kids playing nowadays, and how dependent is it on their age? How can a video game adaptation actually add to the world of the TV show without being a mere cash-in?

Transformers as an example of successful video game adaptation


Hasbro is known for taking its range of toys and turning them into hit TV series. However, Hasbro also has a strong history of experimenting in video game development, whether that be adapting physical games like Monopoly or publishing new games such as Q*Bert. Unsurprisingly then, Hasbro has fantastic video game adaptations of their TV series as well.

The Transformers series is perfectly suited for video game adaptation. There’s a wide cast of visually distinct characters to play as in-game, the action-adventure genre suits itself to a combat system, and the world has enough lore to lift from to create weapons and locations. The Transformers series also has an evergreen popularity, from the Michael Bay films to the more recent Transformers: Earthspark which commands 5.4 times the demand of the average series worldwide.

In 2008, Glu Mobile developed Transformers G1: Awakening, a turn-based strategy game in the style of Advance Wars for iOS mobile devices. This game appeased fans of the franchise in many ways. Firstly, the game stems from the original after-school cartoon, utilising nostalgia and fan-favourite characters rather than riding the wave of a recent film release. Secondly, the game released on mobile which is a readily accessible platform for even non-gamers.

By utilising a genre that had already been near-perfected, Awakening had a solid foundation and could use extra development resources to create lore, new artwork and polish. Additionally, Awakening added extra flourishes on top of the base gameplay to personalise the warfare premise with special moves that made sense in-universe. Overall, Awakening succeeded because it tried to be a good game first, and a good addition to the Transformers franchise second.

Peppa Pig brings video game adaptations to young kids


There are plenty of examples of solid video game adaptations that are safe for young children as well. One unexpected example is the preschool series Peppa Pig, which was adapted into the video game Peppa Pig: World Adventures in early 2023. The enduring popularity of the show has been overwhelming, consistently ranking in the top 10 animated series worldwide with a current demand of 51.2 times the average demand for any series.

Peppa Pig: World Adventures takes the family-friendly premise of the show and widens the scope to explore the world. This setup is fantastic given the worldwide popularity of the series, and the educational benefit to kids - a drawcard for many parents. The game also features light character customisation, allowing kids to role play within the Peppa Pig universe. Crucially though, the game understands its young audience: None of the gameplay is overly complicated and the point-and-click controls are intuitive.

My Little Pony’s potential as a video game adaptation


Although Hasbro has had many successful video game adaptations, one perfect candidate has somehow missed the mark: My Little Pony. The 2010’s series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was a phenomenon in online communities with 43.4 times the demand for series worldwide. The show spun off a whole subculture of “Bronies” - adult male fans of the series’ uplifting, cheery storylines. Online culture largely overlaps with gaming culture, so the series seemed perfect for a video game adaptation that leveraged its charming characters and magical world.

Most MLP video games have required more marketing and a tighter focus on audience interests, however. Optimizing pre-release marketing strategies is crucial to ensure success of content. The success of 2022’s MLP: A Maretime Bay Adventure was undermined by comments regarding the game’s short run time (around two hours). The developers purposely implemented this shorter run time to cater to MLP’s younger audiences, but this missed a key opportunity. Firstly, 21.2% MLP’s fanbase is Gen X alone and these older fans should be catered for. Secondly, even younger players would enjoy a longer experience.


A future MLP adaptation could take these factors into account. The light adventure game genre was a great fit for the franchise as it allowed a leisurely pace to the game. Adding in further RPG elements might hold older fans’ attention though. For example, making the game co-op or multiplayer would allow players to put into practice the positive social lessons of the show through productive interactions - think Roblox or MapleStory. Additionally, character customisation would allow players to design their own ponies with different markings and hairstyles.

Transmedia: Storytelling through video games


If MLP: A Maretime Bay Adventure chose to restrict the player to one character, they could at least use the game to build out a new canon within the MLP universe.

This is where transmedia comes in. Transmedia involves telling a narrative across multiple different platforms in synchronicity. Anime has utilised this technique since the 80’s, with the most famous example being Pokémon. The media world of Pokémon encompasses manga, anime, video games, card games and apps that share characters, locations, world events and, of course, the Pokémon themselves. Each story is canon, asking fans to engage with all types of media to have the fullest experience. And when the content is quality, fans are more than happy to oblige.

Looking to the west, superhero franchises are a modern example of this technique. Marvel has comics, films, TV series and now even a digital card game with Marvel Snap. Like anime, superhero stories are well-suited to this kind of transmedia storytelling due to their vast worlds and deep banks of characters and lore. Other similarly-sized franchises, such as Transformers or My Little Pony, could benefit from looking into transmedia storytelling.

But transmedia storytelling isn’t just for well-established series or big budget franchises. Smaller stories can benefit by engaging with their fans though unexpected means. Apps are relatively small investments compared to full-fledged video games. Imagine, for example, a Power Rangers companion app that has a gashapon-style minigame. Fans of the show could collect their favourite heroes, villains and weapons while unlocking short text descriptions that build out the lore of the Power Rangers world. This app leverages pre-existing ideas and artwork to engage the viewer.

Whether an adaptation is canon or not, the same rules apply. The game should be a great game first, and a great addition to the franchise second. The game should also match the tone of the series by understanding its audience, particularly for a younger audience. And although it may seem obvious, the last thing a fan wants is to have their pockets emptied to try a new medium. Games create invaluable quality time with the audience, they’re not just a one-off cash-in. By following these rules, many more TV series could make the jump to the video game space and draw in new fans from the gaming community.

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