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NEW YORK – Starz Digital Media, the digital and on-demand licensing arm of Starz, will launch a new Facebook social game, Spartacus: Vengeance The Game, on Jan. 27, the same day that the new season of the action series starts on the premium TV network.
Starz launched its first-ever social game, Spartacus: The Game, originally named Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, on Facebook in Jan. 2011. It has drawn approximately 4 million registered users and had more than 1.2 million monthly active users at its peak, according to the company. It did so well that Starz decided to follow it up with the second game, in which it made a bigger, but undisclosed investment.
For now, a sneak preview video teaser is available to help promote the new game, which – like its predecessor – is free.
Viewers of the teaser can “like” the game and sign up to be invited to play it once it is live. The show has more than 2 million Facebook fans globally.
Starz executives said that the game will help promote the series’ return to existing and potential new fans. Dave Katz, vp, digital media, Starz Media, said the game is an “excellent cross-marketing mechanism to attract the gaming audience on Facebook.”
The game is also designed to keep fans engaged even after the new season ends – something the first game succeeded at, according to Starz executives.
It also provides revenue opportunities for the company. Just like the first game, Spartacus: Vengeance The Game will allow users to pay for weapons, energy and other in-game features. Starz wouldn’t detail how much revenue the first game brought in.
Separately from the game, Starz will offer the first full episode of the new Spartacus season for sampling in more than 61.1 million U.S. pay TV homes starting on Jan. 20. Multiple pay TV providers, including Comcast, DirecTV, Dish and Charter Communications, are participating via on-demand and online platforms, which Starz sees benefitting from increased tablet use, in the effort to raise awareness. The episode will also be available at www.facebook.com/spartacus.starz.
Viewers of the sample episode will be directed to pay TV providers in case they want to sign up for Starz – and they will get a $25 cash rebate, or the cost of about two months of service.
“Sampling is a tool to help spread the news of the return of the show, reach out to potential new fans and promote Starz as a great source of premium content,” said Kelly Bumann, senior vp, consumer marketing, Starz Media. “And our distribution partners can expose consumers to their online and on demand platforms.”
Starz executives said that such promotions can get hundreds of thousands of people to sample a show digitally. The first season of Spartacus even drew around 1 million with two sample episodes, they said. The sample episode will remain available through the season finale given that TV viewers these days have many opportunities to catch up on series.
Meanwhile, the new Facebook game takes Spartacus and players outside of the arena walls.
“The teaser video gives users a good overview of the new Spartacus: Vengeance Game, which takes on a greater level of sophistication by adding new elements such as improved visuals, multi-fighter battles, a more robust game economy, advanced game progressions, and more varied strategic options,” said Mara Winokur, senior vp, digital media and business development, Starz Media and lead executive for Starz Digital Media. “We knew we had to step it up after the first game.”
Explained Katz: “We are competing with Zynga and others who continue to up the ante.”
Starz didn’t share any target for the number of players that it wants to reach, but Winokur said she hopes that the new Facebook game will be “more successful” than the first.
As with Spartacus: The Game, Starz Digital Media partnered with Large Animal Games for the development of the new Facebook game. “‘Spartacus: The Game helped change the landscape for branded Facebook games based on media properties and was very successful,” said Wade Tinney, CEO of Large Animal. “With Spartacus: Vengeance Game, we intend to amp up all of the things our players and the show’s fans love.”
The new game takes the player, a recently escaped slave, outside of the arena to take on challenges, missions and lead a group of fighters. Strategy and fighting are key elements as players will be given missions to wrest locations from Roman control while working with, and conspiring against, characters from the show.
Katz promises that the game’s development will be ongoing. “It will evolve like our first game and will be completely different in three months,” he said.
Like other social games, for example, the new Spartacus Facebook game lets players explore a map, which provides the flexibility to add locations and missions over time. Starz executives say they also listened to fans of the first Spartacus game. “People liked the fighting mechanism, so we kept that, but instead of 1-on-1, we now have 6-on-6 fights,” Katz explained.
Also, the social element is key in the new game. “Players can help each other and run into each other or fight,” Katz said. “And there are missions where you team up with a friend. We were really trying to take that social interaction to the next level.”
International fans of Spartacus can also enjoy the game even if the show’s new season only returns later. Turkey and France were the markets where the first game was most popular outside the U.S., according to Starz executives.
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