Syfy President Dave Howe Sets Sights on Video Games (Exclusive Q&A)

Dave Howe Syfy President 2011
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The network is tapping into its gaming audience through new programming and online games.

As president of Syfy, Dave Howe oversees the direction of all aspects of the TV networks’ ventures. Over the past few years, he’s established partnerships with game publishers like THQ and Trion Worlds in an attempt to converge the worlds of video games and traditional Hollywood programming. Syfy premiered its first THQ video game movie, Red Faction: Armageddon, this summer. And the TV network is working with Trion Worlds on Defiance, the world’s first massively multiplayer online (MMO) video game that will connect directly to a scripted, live action television series. Howe talks about the role video games will play for Syfy moving forward in this exclusive interview.

THR: Why are we seeing so much activity in the video game space from Syfy this year?

Howe: Our viewers are a very big video game playing audience. They understand technology. Video games have always been on our horizon because our audience is so techno-savvy. I think it’s a combination of our ambition through some of our ventures to grow new businesses and revenue streams, and also an attempt to create new ways of telling stories to capitalize on in the new development of technology. Video gaming has come a hell of a long way since the days of Pac-Man. Today’s big games like Call of Duty create real-time stories and characters that are much closer to the TV movie experience than it ever has been, so now is the time for us to really capitalize on that.

THR: How will your partnerships with game companies like THQ and Trion Worlds alleviate some of the challenges of turning video games into TV shows and vice versa?

Howe: We know the traditional Hollywood model of taking an existing property and trying to adapt it for a different media doesn’t work. Most gamers would always deride the spin-off game from a movie franchise or the spin-off of a movie from a game franchise because they’re usually created after the fact. The characters in the story were not designed for those particular media. They’ve had to be adapted and retrofitted to make them work. We wanted to come at it more smartly and co-create and co-develop.

THR: Essentially, you’re talking about a transmedia approach, correct?

Howe: Yes. Everything is designed to live in a different media. We created these characters, stories and mythology knowing that they absolutely will work in TV, movies or animated series. It was always the intention before we even greenlit them, so that gives us a head-start in terms of ensuring that we’re true to the characters and the storyline in all media. I think the other key here is that the majority of video games from movies or TV series or TV series to movies from video games involve a completely different creative team. That means that the vision of the director, writers and producers are not the same as the team that are developing the game. And that inevitably impairs the success of that game because it’s like a defective clone.

THR: How has Defiance been designed for today’s multitasking game audience which often watches TV and surfs online simultaneously?

Howe: Our audience is at the forefront of all things digital. They’re multitaskers. They’re using DVRs, they’re texting, they’re streaming content in a way that no other consumer of any other network is. Basically, that means we cannot take for granted the notion that people are going to come to a live linear TV experience with an expectation that they want to experience entertainment simultaneously across different screens and different platforms. Everything that we do has to have that digital component.

THR: How big a part of your overall programming do you see video game content becoming for Syfy moving forward?

Howe: I think it’s early days for us. Trion was our first major joint venture and we entered into that two or three years ago. We have the joint venture partnership with THQ. We just announced a gaming initiative whereby we’re publishing around six Facebook games. This is a beginning of what we hope will be an aggressive expansion and we do truly believe that his is a ripe opportunity for Syfy to capitalize on and the right opportunity to really exploit the passion, the interest, the habits, and the entertainment consumption habits of our audience in a way that we’ve never been able to do in the past. We’re very excited about games and we see it as a big growth opportunity for us over the next five to 10 years.

THR: Publisher Bigpoint has over 2 million registered players for Battlestar Galactica Online even without the TV show airing. What are your thoughts about the opportunities the online gaming space opens up for Battlestar and other TV shows current or past?

Howe: I think when you have a property like Battlestar Galactica, it’s timeless. Yet it’s great to have a TV series on air simultaneously, but it’s not necessary. Battlestar is a franchise that’s existed since the ‘80s. We took a run at it. Universal Pictures I think has a big development and potentially another movie. It’s a known franchise that will always work if you are true to its spirit and you really find the right vehicle to create properties and games that can live in isolation. We had great success with the TV series. We’ve seen great success with the video game. We’re developing a potential pilot for another spin-off series, Blood and Chrome, which will launch next year. We have an amazing franchise that we want to continue to exploit irrespective of whether the TV series is on air.

THR: Does the success of the Battlestar game open up other opportunities for the Battlestar franchise?

Howe: Yes, it has. It really has. It confirms what we expected, that the franchise is bigger than a TV series that we happen to be running. I think it says to us that it’s an amazing property that we can continue to develop and grow. We can continue to figure out new ways to tell the story and to spin off the story. You can look forward to more Battlestar Galactica spin-offs in the future.