DC Entertainment Planning 'Green Lantern' Tie-Ins With New Online Game

Future expansions of "DC Universe Online" will focus on other comic book-based film adaptations.

After more than five years of development and several delays, Sony Online Entertainment and DC Entertainment have released their first cross-platform massively multiplayer online game with DC Universe Online.

The $50 million game is now available for both PC and PlayStation 3, opening a new mainstream audience to the MMO space dominated by Blizzard Entertainment's PC juggernaut, World of Warcraft. This gives DCUO a window to tap into a market that Blizzard literally cannot enter: the console space.

"When we were making DCUO, we felt it was important right from the start to bring awesome action-based game play to the MMO genre," said John Smedley, president of Sony Online Entertainment. "We spent a lot of time making DCUO feel totally different than any other MMO on the market. It makes it accessible to the huge PS3 audience in addition to giving PC MMO players something they haven't seen before."

With the recent success of Warner Bros. films like The Dark Knight and the buzz building for The Green Lantern, The Flash and Zack Snyder's Superman reboot, the first licensed comic book MMO will serve as more than just an action-adventure game experience.

Jim Lee, co-publisher of DC Entertainment and executive creative director for DCUO, said that while the game will remain focused on 75 years of comic book lore, future expansions of the game will tie into film events like Warners' The Green Lantern.

"Fortunately, the Green Lantern that debuts in the feature film this June is based heavily upon the same core canon found in the pages of the comics," Lee said. "In that sense, Green Lantern is Green Lantern, so of course, future expansions of DCUO will want to tap into the same well of excitement and passion and awareness that's generated by such big blockbuster motion pictures."

In the end, Lee said expansion packs will still be adaptations of the core comic book stories but share thematic links to the stories told on the big screen.

"Themes of intergalactic heroism, conquering one's fears and making the galaxy a more just place translate well into both film and games," Lee said. "Fans just want great content, whether it be a hit movie or an awesome game. It's less important to have a game tied into a hit movie than it is to make the game fantastic on its own merits."

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With Marvel Entertainment busy on the movie front bringing characters like Thor, Captain America, Spider-Man and the Avengers to the big screen, Lee sees DCUO as a new way to introduce lesser-known DC characters to the broader audience beyond the comic book faithful.

"I think it gives us the opportunity to identify other key characters like the Flash and Wonder Woman and really kind of push them forward and show that the DC Universe is not just about Batman and Superman," Lee said. "There are hundreds of great characters."

DCUO is also bridging the gap between the traditional print comic book and the video game world with a new series of DC Comics called DCUO Legends. Issue 0 of the comic is included in the Collector's Editions of the PC and PS3 game. Issue 1 hits comic book stores this week.

Lee said the comics will introduce the events that set the game in action. The back story was created by DC Entertainment chief creative officer Geoff Johns and elaborated and written by DC Comics veteran Marv Wolfman.

"At the start of the game, there's a horrible catastrophe that happens in the future masterminded by villains Brainiac and Lex Luthor," Wolfman said. "Luthor realizes that he's made this horrible bargain with Brainiac, so he comes back in time to the present to warn the heroes and villains and creates a whole new legion of heroes and villains to stop this event from happening."

Lee said that the comics will blend game-world events with player-created characters, giving fans the chance to become part of DC Comics lore.

While MMO game publisher Gazillion Entertainment is working with Marvel Comics on Marvel Universe Online, that title won't be released for a few years. The real challenge in the MMO space, according to DFC Intelligence president David Cole, is getting consumers to pay the $15 monthly subscription fee on top of the $60 retail game purchase.

"The model is all about getting people to stay around for the long haul," Cole said. "It is really about making sure content is engaging for a long time and constantly updated."

The only MMO game that has achieved mass-market success is World of Warcraft. Cataclysm, the latest expansion in the fantasy online world, sold a record 4.7 million copies in its first month last year. Blizzard also has more than 12 million subscribers playing the game around the globe. And there the odds are stacked up against DCUO ever achieving that kind of an audience.

"I don't think that the branding is particularly powerful because few can name DC characters other than Batman and Superman," said Michael Pachter, video game analyst at Wedbush Morgan Securities. "I'm not sure that the game will have staying power."

Said Cole: "DC Univers ehas the potential to do quite well in sales, but probably nowhere near the level of World of Warcraft. Nothing is likely to touch that, and really, to be successful, they don't need to."

If DCUO does connect with the PC and PS3 audience, the groundwork has been laid for DC Entertainment to tap into a new test market for lesser-known characters and new story ideas. 

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