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It wasn’t too long ago that a big event movie would launch with a videogame tie-in on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii. But with the costs of developing games rising and the time needed to create a quality game not syncing up with Hollywood production schedules, online game developer Funtactix has been working with Paramount Pictures (Mission: Impossible The Game, Rango: The WORLD) and now Lionsgate to provide alternative free-to-play games aimed at the mainstream audience.
Liongate enlisted Funtactix to work with best-selling author Suzanne Collins on The Hunger Games Adventures, a new free-to-play Facebook game that launched to the world this weekend. The Hunger Games fans have been able to explore this virtual Panem for a few weeks now with exclusive access, but now the 500 million Facebook casual gamers can team up with Katniss Everdeen (who appears as a stylized Jennifer Lawrence) and become part of the mythology.
“We come from the console business and Facebook games are a completely different experience,” said Sam Glassenberg, CEO of Funtactix. “We’re the only engine on Facebook that supports completely customizable 3D characters that are close to console quality running inside Flash. This game technology is a generation ahead of anything else out there.”
Funtactix has designed the new game to allow casual gamers to jump right into the experience. Game mechanics are explained through a tutorial with Katniss helping players through the process. One of the things she helps players do is customize their private escape in the forest. Players are also able to customize their avatar to their likeness.
The first part of the game focuses on District 12 and features key areas from the film like the Hob, the Seam and the bakery. Players will also interact with characters like Peeta, Gayle and Haymitch. Each week, new content will be added to the game.
“We’re focusing on the rest of the universe outside of the Hunger Games themselves,” said Glassenberg. “These are new stories and adventures that take place outside of the film. Your goal is to become the hero of Panem, and in doing so you work with and assist characters from the movies and books.”
Funtactix has worked closely with Collins in expanding the universe that she created with the trilogy of books. The game will serve as the official unveiling of the official North American map of Panem, which will show exactly which current cities serve as the homes to the post-Apocalyptic Districts featured in the books and films.
“This game is a living, breathing thing that we’re updating all the time with all types of events,” said Casey Dickinson, Funtactixmarketing director. “It’s a great vehicle to keep fans engaged in new content in between movie releases. In many ways, this game is the evolution of Hollywood-based games. The traditional console model of licensing a movie doesn’t really work well anymore. The development cycles take years, twice the length of the production cycle of movie. For us, this free-to-play experience is the best because it’s open to all the fans and it offers them cool content.”
For those players who lack the patience to rest in the game world or wait for in-game energy to be replenished, the game does offer micro-transactions via Facebook credit or in-game currency. Players can purchase energy packs, but all of the game’s content will remain free for all players.
While players won’t be embarking on quests together, the game does offer a social experience.
“We’re focusing on key themes from the book like friendship, collaboration and trust,” said Glassenberg. “We tie into social game mechanics with things you can ask your friends for and players benefit from inviting friends into the game world to check out their custom forest area. We’ve taken a lot of fun game elements form MMOs and casualized them. Instead of coordinating with 10 friends to play at the same time, players can work together to play asynchronously.”
Funtactix has been listening to fan feedback for this game, which will continue to evolve over the course of the next three films’ releases. This “real-time conversation” with fans has already impacted the outfits that are available for players to customize their avatars with. Players were very vocal about wanting a larger selection of outfits and specific outfit types in the game, as an example.
Lionsgate has been an active participant in this collaboration of linking the game and film worlds. An exclusive clip and a teaser trailer for the film have been released in the game world and more such bonus items will be released moving forward. In addition, gamers were able to access Sting’s new track, “Rue’s Song,” in the game simultaneously with its iTunes debut.
The first movie continues its record pace with $251 million domestic box office and $113.9 million foreign box office. Catching Fire, the second movie in the franchise, will bow November 22, 2013.
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