Starz Launching 'Spartacus' Game on Facebook

The series becomes one of the first major TV properties to get a social game.

NEW YORK -- Starz's digital media unit is trying its hand at its first Facebook social media game tied to the premium TV service's Spartacus franchise, making it one of the first major TV properties to get a social game.

The company will also launch an iPad script app that will present Spartacus episode scripts with video and commentary, director's notes, cast photos, historical background information and more.

The free Spartacus: Gods of the Arena game -- which works similar to such hit social games as Mafia Wars that have become one of the red-hot areas of the entertainment industry -- will launch in limited beta on Thursday to the first 10,000 fans who register on Facebook.

The full public launch will happen Jan. 20, a day before the Starz TV debut of the Spartacus prequel, which has the same name as the game.

Social media gaming publisher 6waves -- which, with more than 75 million monthly active users, is one of the largest players in the space -- will help Starz launch the game.

Starz hopes to use the game, one of the first social games based on a hit TV show, to further engage and immerse existing fans and possibly reach new ones, as well as make money via the sale of virtual goods inside the game.

In a similar recent play, CBS Consumer Products and Ubisoft launched social game CSI: Crime City in October. It had more than 1.9 million monthly users as of Monday.

"Given its powerful characters and larger-than-life story lines, few television properties have as much potential for innovative social game play as does Spartacus," said Marc DeBevoise, senior vp digital media, business development and strategy for Starz Media and lead executive for Starz Digital Media. "We are excited to make our social media gaming debut and be one of the early networks to bring a branded TV property to the social gaming universe."

He didn't detail the firm's investment or a target for monthly or daily players, but said that the Spartacus show already has 750,000 fans on its Facebook page.

"It's a unique opportunity to potentially help market the show, but also make some money with micro transactions," DeBevoise said, highlighting that he expects a good return. At worst, it will turn out to be "marketing that we get paid for" with some revenue, he said before adding: "We saw that there are a ton of people playing these games. And we thought there is no reason why we couldn't leverage our intellectual property into that."

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It took about four months of development on the game, which will continue after the launch to ensure certain game play factors, such as how long it takes to reach certain points in the game, get tweaked further.

DeBevoise said his team also views the game as a first test in the social game space that could be followed by releases tied to other series in the future.

The Spartacus social game allows players to run their own gladiator school and train fighters to be champions. The ultimate goal is to achieve honor and glory through fighters battling in the top arenas of the Roman Empire. As in the series, there are elements of social manipulation and persuasion. For example, players can earn influence points with experience and bribe politicians or even poison other gladiators. Additional fighters are available for purchase as are premium weapons and credits to speed fighters' training.

Special events and game content tied to the six-episode airing of the Spartacus: Gods of the Arena prequel on Starz will be rolled out every week during the series' run. The game was co-developed with Large Animal Games.

Meanwhile, following its multimedia iPad app for original series The Pillars of the Earth, Starz will also introduce a script app for its Spartacus franchise. It will be available in the iTunes store Jan. 17.

The app is free, with the first episode of Spartacus: Blood and Sand, the series' first season, included with its download. Additional episode scripts will be available for 99 cents each, with the entire 13-part first season available for $4.99.

The first script for the prequel will be pushed out as a free update to the app. Each additional script from the six-part prequel will be available individually for 99 cents the day after debuting on Starz with the entire set available for $2.99.

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