'Chipmunks' game Brash move

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Looking to target the family audience during the holiday season, game publishing startup Brash Entertainment will bring out a game based on the 20th Century Fox movie "Alvin and the Chipmunks," set to reach theaters in December.

The music- and rhythm-based game is being aimed at kids ages 7-15 as well as parents already familiar with Alvin and his tuneful brothers from their animated series and the many Chipmunks novelty records, which began in the late 1950s. "Alvin and the Chipmunks" will be released for the Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 2 and portable DS system.

Brash president and COO Nicholas Longano said the company is aiming for a day-and-date release with the film, which stars Jason Lee, adding, "We're going to try and get out there day-and-date with all our games tied to theatrical releases because that's when there's the most excitement around a franchise."

While there are plenty of game publishers that have great track records with film licenses -- most notably Activision, Electronic Arts and THQ -- Brash is the first whose business model is so intertwined with Hollywood.

Backed by $400 million in venture capital and other funding, Brash was formed in June and quickly went to work, inking deals with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, Universal Studios, Vanguard Animation and Lionsgate Films. Although "Chipmunks" is its first announced title, Brash already has dozens of deals to make additional games based on other unannounced movies.

"We're dedicated with one thing in mind, which is to create content out of these theatrical franchises because we understand both sides of the equation: the film side as well as how to create compelling gameplay," Longano said. "We already have around 40 licenses, and they include film franchises that have a legacy or heritage as well as franchises that people may not have heard of before but will make for a fantastic game."

Despite the recent success of "Spider-Man 3" and "Transformers" as licenses, games based on movies aren't always a sure thing. Indeed, some of the biggest debacles in video game history, including "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" and "Cutthroat Island," were movie-based titles.

But Longano said today's filmmakers have a much better understanding of gaming.

"We're still putting 18-24 months into the development or our titles, but Hollywood is really embracing video games," he said. "That means we're getting insight into casts and scripts and access to assets much earlier. We've even had talent come to us with properties and ask, 'If I make this into a movie, will there be a compelling game experience here as well.' "

Michael Goodman, director of digital entertainment at Yankee Group, is familiar with Brash and said the movie-game business model can work provided that the company keeps tight control on its expectations and costs.

"They need to focus on singles and doubles rather that try to hit home runs with every license," he said.

Brash already seems to understand that message, having signed a 10-year deal to have Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment distribute its games at retail rather than building its own separate sales force and distribution infrastructure.

As far as keeping costs in check, Longano said: "Before we start thinking about what the development budget will be, we take a look at the franchise and story line and what's going to make for the most compelling type of gameplay. We don't just want to bring out games that take you down the same path as the movie; we look for the most compelling elements of game play that really enhance the movie experience."

Although "Chipmunks" will be a family mass-market game, Longano stressed that the company also has licenses that appeal to older hard-core gamers. Other Brash executives indicated that they do have an agreement to look into making games based on Lionsgate's "Saw" movie franchise.
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