Will ‘Warcraft’ film’s built-in fan base save the movie in China?

By Wei Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2016-6-6 19:28:01

Mtime CEO Kelvin Hou introduces tie-in products for Warcraft in Beijing.  Photo: Courtesy of Mtime

A toy model of Warcraft character Durotan by Mtime  Photo: Courtesy of Mtime

A toy model of Warcraft character Durotan by Mtime  Photo: Courtesy of Mtime

(From left) Actor Daniel Wu, actress Paula Patton and director Duncan Jones pose at a press conference to promote their new movie Warcraft in Beijing on June 1. Photo: IC

It's still days before the Chinese mainland premiere of fantasy film Warcraft, but 31-year-old Su Yi has already booked a ticket for the film's first midnight showing. And he is not going alone. A group of his former college schoolmates are joining him for the fun. This will be the groups' largest get-together since graduation.

Su and his buddies numbered among the millions of Warcraft video game fans in China back in their college days. Though he has not played any games in the series for years, news of a Warcraft film still excited him.

"It reminds me of my youth spent in net cafes, which my parents and teachers probably saw as a waste of time," Su told the Global Times half jokingly.

"It's been 10 years since they announced they were making a tie-in film. I almost forgot about it. The fact that it is finally coming out is such a surprise."

Niche audience

Although Warcraft first got its start as a real-time strategy game, in 2004 Blizzard Entertainment entered the MMORPG genre with World of Warcraft (WoW). During its heyday in 2010, WoW boasted a total number of 12 million subscribers around the globe. Even the director of the film, Duncan Jones, is a loyal fan of the game, while American Chinese actor Daniel Wu decided to join the film because his wife is a WoW fan.

"I've always had a fascination towards WoW. To have the opportunity to make a film based on the game which I have played since the very beginning 20 years ago was something I couldn't pass up," Jones said at a press conference in Beijing on June 1.

Having just had his first child, Wu said he had promised his wife he would take a year's leave from work to be with the baby, but when his wife heard he has the opportunity to star in Warcraft, she urged him to go.

With its ties to the popular online game, Warcraft is sure to attract a huge audience base for its opening week on the mainland. In fact, current data indicates that Warcraft will very likely set some new records in theaters. According to a report on ent.163.com, as of 11 am on May 31, the pre-sale box office for Warcraft had reached 22.60 million yuan ($3.44 million). This already surpasses the midnight premiere box office of 20.85 million yuan earned by Transformers: Age of Extinction, the third-highest earning film in the Chinese mainland.

Though this is still far from  champion Fast & Furious 7's 52.47 million yuan record, ent.163.com predicts that Warcraft will very likely surpass that number in a week's time.

However, it remains to be seen whether excitement about Warcraft will expland beyond video game fans to regular audiences.

Early screenings in Europe and Asia have resulted in poor reviews of the film. Currently, Warcraft has a 19 percent freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while its average rating is a 4.2/10.  

Although it's difficult to tell if the producers behind Warcraft are prepared for a lukewarm reception from those who are not fans of the game, but a series of marketing activities and sheer amount of derivative products currently on sale seems to send a signal - the Warcraft film is not the only thing its producers have banked on in China, they are trying to turn Warcraft into a fad they hope everyone will want to be a part of.

The 'Warcraft' wave

More than one week before the film's mainland premiere, a large scale Warcraft model and VR experience exhibition was held in Taikoo Li Sanlitun, one of the most popular commercial areas in the capital. While the exhibition is scheduled to last until June 20, similar activities have been scheduled for about a dozen other cities around the nation.

While these exhibitions may only be available for people in big cities, the franchise's various derivative products can reach pretty much anyone. 

A quick look at Taobao, one of the most popular online shopping websites in China, shows that T-shirts with Warcraft logos are currently the most popular tie-in products, with the best-selling shop having sold more than 18,000 in total. However, it's difficult to tell the copycats from the authorized products. 

One of the authorized sellers of Warcraft products, the official online shop of movie site Mtime on tmall.com also shows that T-shirts are the hottest Warcraft item.

These T-shirts are the ninth best-selling item on the shop. However, it should be noted that all the other tie-in products in the top 10 are related to movies that have already been released.

According to a report by entertainment blogger Yidu Yule, an insider from Mtime, revealed that these T-shirts have sold out several times already.

"There have been occasions where some derivative products sold out, but it has always happened after a film became popular… We expect the sales volume for Warcraft products will be at least twice that of Star Wars 7, the current best performer," the insider said as quoted by Yidu Yule. 

Although these figures may not be that impressive from a global perspective, but this trend should be encouraging to product sellers in the mainland.

Though at the moment, copycat products are still a major obstacle for authorized sellers in the mainland, with Chinese moviegoers willingness to buy tie-in products so high, it looks like a new era for derivative movie products is about to sweep China.

Newspaper headline: Game on!

Posted in: Film

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