Universal Pictures, Lionsgate, MGM Acquire Stakes in Hong Kong Gaming Company Fifth Journey

'Despicable Me: Minion Rush' is Hollywood's most successful mobile game in China to date.
Universal Pictures

Universal, Lionsgate, MGM in Gaming Company Stakes

Hong Kong-based mobile entertainment company Fifth Journey said Tuesday that it has signed strategic partnership deals with Universal Pictures, Lionsgate and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios to develop mobile games, interactive entertainment and virtual reality experiences based on the three studios' film properties.

As part of the deal, each studio also is taking a strategic minority stake in the startup game developer. Financial terms were not disclosed, but Fifth Journey says the studios will be its largest outside investors to date. 

Fifth Journey tells THR that its first project under the deal will be a mobile game developed for an animated Universal film due out this summer. The company declined to share the names of the studio projects it is working on, but said it will release mobile entertainment for five studio films over the coming 18 months. Universal is set to release Illumination's The Secret Life of Pets this summer.

“Mobile games are a highly engaging form of entertainment in their own right and, given that, they can also be envisioned as a hub through which fans may access and experience different elements of their favorite IP,” said Bill Kispert, executive vp digital platforms at NBCUniversal Brand Development Group. “We look forward to working with Fifth Journey to first develop an authentic, film-based game and then to use this point of connection to bring players deeper into that world and its ecosystem.”

Founded in early 2015 by Eric Tan, a former sales executive at Electronic Arts in China, and Craig Derrick, a veteran producer previously with LucasArts, Fifth Journey closed a $2 million seed round of financing in August. Last summer, the company also announced its first major deal, partnering with Lionsgate and Millennium Films to develop a mobile game based on the Expendables franchise. The game's release is expected to coincide with the opening of the fourth film in the franchise in Q2 2017.

Tan also previously served as an executive at Gameloft, where he oversaw publishing of a slate of Marvel games in China, along with the China release of Universal's and Gameloft’s hit game, Despicable Me: Minion Rush.

Tan says he co-founded Fifth Journey to help the studios achieve deeper penetration across secondary platforms in Asia. Despite Hollywood's impressive track record in tapping the growing theatrical markets of China and greater Asia, success for the studios and international developers in the region's fiercely competitive gaming space has been rare.

Fifth Journey calls its approach a “fan-first, 360-degree mobile entertainment platform.” 

"We are the first to aggregate auxiliary revenue lines such as movie ticket sales, streaming, merchandise, community and more, where the game acts as the central engine that converges all these different experiences," Tan says, adding: "For the fans, it’s a one-stop shop for that franchise, all within one-click. For Hollywood, it’s a solution to a long-standing problem — how to monetize in a fragmented world."

Fifth Journey’s global head office and publishing headquarters are located in Hong Kong, while its creative offices are based in San Francisco. 

"We see a lot of China deals coming into Hollywood — Wanda buying Legendary; Perfect World Pictures investing in Universal," Tan added. "This strategic partnership and the studios taking an equity stake in an Asia-based mobile entertainment company signals the reverse of this trend, and underscores that Hollywood now wants to take matters into their own hands and capitalize on the fastest growing markets of the world."

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