Gamers and Hollywood adjust their strategies


The gold rush days of big-screen video game tie-ins -- when rights to the 1999-2003 "The Matrix" trilogy sold for a reported $10 million -- are long gone. In their place, a new breed of partnerships and long-term licensing deals aim to bring movie and game audiences together without breaking the bank.

"We don't believe in doing one movie," says Robin Kaminsky, executive vp publishing for Activision, the company behind the video game versions of Sony's "Spider-Man" and Paramount's "Shrek" films, as well as Paramount's upcoming "Transformers" movie. "We believe in building franchises for our consumers."

Building franchises using innovative new business models is the main theme of the second annual Hollywood & Games Summit June 26-27 at the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel, far-reaching deals will be on the agenda.

Kaminsky's deal for "Spider-Man 3" falls under a licensing agreement between Activision and Marvel Entertainment that runs through 2017, and "Shrek the Third" is part of a multiyear deal between Activision and DreamWorks Animation.

"What makes the DreamWorks deal unique is that it's not tied into a specific property," Kaminsky says. "It's a group of properties, and we are their core partner for video games going into the future -- across movies -- for a number of years."

Activision is banking on the right to produce games based on "Shrek" and other DreamWorks characters even in nonfilm years. "When we evaluate licensing an intellectual property, one of our core criteria is: Does this have the ability to be franchised for multiple years?"

Even though DreamWorks parent Paramount is releasing the "Transformers" movie, Activision's DreamWorks deal only covers the studio's original animated characters -- the "Transformers" rights had to be licensed from toymaker Hasbro. Companies like Activision are reluctant to talk numbers, but deals like this are "not too different from other licensed products," Kaminsky says.

Instead of buying the game rights to a current big-screen blockbuster, game publisher Midway Home Entertainment Inc. went another route with its movie-based game "Stranglehold," producing a "spiritual sequel" to director John Woo's 1992 international hit "Hard-Boiled."

"It's a license that isn't a license," Midway chief marketing officer Steve Allison says. "We have a strong commitment to develop new IP, but we also know the new IP success rate is about 10% on average, which means the odds are stacked against you."

Acquiring an IP that resonates with core gamers but isn't necessarily a hot Hollywood commodity "offsets that risk and gives us a better chance at success," Allison says. "The deal is much more economically friendly than a standard movie deal. There's no revenue split. They're a licensing partner, and they get a traditional licensing fee."

Working on a game inspired by an older film has unique challenges, not the least of which was signing up "Hard-Boiled" star Chow Yun-Fat, whose 1992 Hong Kong film contract did not cover digital image rights.

"We had to go get Chow on board, which was a bit of a pursuit," Allison says. "We flew guys out to Hong Kong, and he did digital scans and took hundreds of photos, and he's been there for the voiceover sessions."

For game developers, having the time and open-door access to work with a film's creative team is vital. "The amount of assets needed to create games is huge," says Disney Interactive Studios senior producer Nick Bridger, whose recent credits include the "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" game. "Our requirements far outstrip the other divisions and can put a huge strain on the resources at a studio."

"You have to start the game early enough," Kaminsky says. "Sometimes, movie timelines and game timelines don't match up perfectly."

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