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'Wizard of Oz' Multiplayer Video Game to Launch on Facebook (Exclusive)

Wizard of Oz Video Game - H 2012

Spooky Cool Labs of Chicago licenses the rights to the classic movie for a multi-platform game that will be distributed by the social networking site.

Warner Bros. has licensed Turner Entertainment’s The Wizard of Oz to Spooky Cool Labs, a Chicago high tech start up which by this holiday season intends to offer the first branded online, interactive, multi-platform social game, based on the famous 1939 film, designed specifically for Facebook.

The highly realistic graphics rendered in full color 3-D that doesn’t require special glasses will include actual clips from the movie and incorporate iconic characters and images like Judy Garland as Dorothy and Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West.

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Looking to push new technology in the face of competitors like Zynga’s Farmville, Electronic Arts Playfish, Ingle Games and others, Spooky Cool was founded about two years ago by seasoned veterans of video games, pinball and slot machines led by CEO Joe Kaminkow and chairman Larry DeMar. Privately held, Spooky has raised over $10 million so far from investors, and spent almost $8 million on the development of the Wizard of Oz game over the past two years.

Kaminkow predicts the use of the world famous movie brands will “be very powerful on Facebook,” adding: “I don’t think there’s ever been a high end product developed off of a big brand like this, ever, in this space. There have been things like a Game of Thrones and others, but something so nostalgic based, will have great appeal to our demographic which is decidedly females 35 plus, up to 55 years of age.”

The game is being published on Facebook for the first time using Unity software on the social media network, originally developed by a Danish company. Kaminkow said they have a relationship with Facebook and have worked closely with their own game developers to create the new virtual world of Oz, where players can walk down the Yellow Brick Road with Dorothy, or see it from Dorothy’s point of view. The first hour or so of play is free and then users must wait to accumulate more playing time or make “micro payments,” buying “emerald” energy stores that extend their play. They can also pa extras from getting a Munchkin to cut wood for their house, to avoiding a visit from the Wicked Witch.

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 Facebook, says Kaminkow, has been “tremendously supportive” because of excitement over the technology, approach and brand.

“We saw this amazing thing occurring on Facebook,” says Kaminkow. “As game designers we have never had an opportunity to make a game that would be enjoyed by millions of people, maybe hundreds of millions of people, simultaneously and in an interactive way with your friends. We looked at that space and said, ‘Oh my gosh, everything we’ve ever done in our entire career has led us to this moment.’”

Kaminkow, 53, and others at Spooky Labs have a long relationship with counterparts at Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, having worked in past incarnations at Sega, IGT and elsewhere on games based on properties like Batman, Lethal Weapon and Twister.

“This is one of their golden brands,” says Kaminkow. “They have great trust in the abilities of our team because our team is so seasoned and we have had so many successful games with the studio in the past. There was a great deal of trust put in us by allowing us to get the brand.”

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Their deal includes an advance to Warner Bros. Interactive, a division of Time Warner, as well as royalty payments beyond that if the game is successful. Kaminkow declined to say how much they paid but predicts it will soon seem like a small price compared to their expectations.

There was a previous Wizard of Oz video game which is available on the Super Nintendo Entertainment system that was first released in 1993 by a company later acquired by Electronic Arts. The object is to defeat the Wicked Witch of the West who is trying to take away Dorothy’s ruby slippers, which she needs to return home to Kansas.

The Spooky Labs version will not only have much more realistic graphics but is also more complicated. When players first sign on they get a 45 minute tutorial from Glenda the good witch. From there the player alone or interacting with thousands, even millions of others, can choose to travel down the Yellow Brick road and face challenges like getting over the field of poppy seeds, or go off on side tangents and build houses and acquire assets, rights and powers over time to control events.

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The end game is still to find Oz and get back to Kansas but it can take a long time to get there. Kaminkow says in the beta testing some people (mostly adult women) played the game up to eleven hours a day.

“The game is sort of like jazz music,” says Kaminkow. “Everybody takes the song their own way.”

And the music doesn’t stop when the game ships. Their plan is to become part of people lives and keep adding more elements for years to come. “The day we launch the game in not the day we end development,” says Kaminkow. “It’s the day we ramp up development because we know the consumer is going to be insatiable wanting more and more experiences in the game. So we have a multiyear production plan of taking the players on this fantastic journey.”

Spooky Cool Labs, with about 60 employees, has other games in development, including at least one more title from Warner Bros. which Kaminkow would not reveal. “We have a whole slate of products coming,” says Kaminkow, “but Wizard is really our tent pole. It’s the most important product in our line and its getting all our attention right now.”