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Game, DVD Combos May Gain Steam

18 Sep, 2003 By: John Gaudiosi

Despite having a U.S. installed base of 18.1 million PlayStation 2s and 5.5 million Xboxes -- and the same media distribution disc in DVD -- home video companies and video game publishers have not worked together in directly targeting the same consumer on the same disc.

That was until Microsoft gave Vivendi Universal Games the green light to incorporate a playable level of The Hulk Xbox game ($49.95) on Universal Studios Home Video's The Hulk two-disc DVD ($26.98), which streets Oct. 28.

“We've been very active in the games crosspromotion front since the launches of PS2 and Xbox, and this is just another way we can enhance the consumer's DVD experience,” said Ken Graffeo, EVP of marketing, Universal Studios Home Video. “We have a good relationship with Microsoft, and this allows us to offer the games consumer a new enhanced experience.”

Graffeo added that, based on consumer reaction to the playable game demo, Universal will explore other opportunities for future game demos on DVDs. He also said he's open to any possibilities, including PS2 game demos.

The Hulk game, which takes place a year after the events in the film, features playable Bruce Banner stealth missions and action-packed episodes as the Hulk. Consumers who buy the new movie will be able to play the game demo in their Xbox game machine. In another crossover, codes will be included both on the DVD and within the film to unlock new characters and items within the video game. The Hulk DVD also will include a “Making of The Hulk Interactive Game” featurette.

While Hollywood-licensed PC game demos have been a staple on movie DVDs for years, these demos required the consumer to place the DVD in a PC. To date, the stumbling block to what seems like an obvious crossmarketing opportunity has been the platform makers: Microsoft and Sony. The PC format is free for anyone to use, but Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo control all content on their discs. (Nintendo's GameCube does not play movie DVDs.)

“It's not an insignificant technological hurdle to ensure that a playable game demo can go on a DVD disc and still protect the security for both the game code and the Xbox,” said Albert Penello, Xbox hardware marketing manager.

Consumers can play movie DVDs on a PS2 out of the box, while Xbox owners are required to purchase a separate $30 DVD remote control that unlocks the system's DVD movie playback function. According to Penello, 60 percent of Xbox owners watch movies on the console.

As the game industry continues to grow and attempts to reach a wider audience, dozens of Hollywood-licensed games are in development, including Bulletproof Monk, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Bad Boys II, The Fast and the Furious, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, and the “Harry Potter” and “James Bond” games.

“We've designed the technology so that other game publishers and home video companies can utilize it,” Penello said. “But we have to be careful with it. We'd like to see the big movies and big games coordinate, but it's between the home video companies and the game publishers. All code still needs to be certified by us, so for everything to line up correctly isn't easy.”

While the theatrical release is often the target, as was the case with The Hulk video game, which shipped in late May, the home video window serves as a backup release cushion should the game suffer delays or as a second boost of marketing dollars for the game company.

“With games and movies being co-developed at the same time in some cases, it's exciting to think about the potential down the line for integrated entertainment,” Penello said. “This is definitely something that's in its infancy.”

According to a research report surveying 200,000 households released by consumer research firm CENTRIS, there are 41.7 million DVD players in U.S. homes. Of these homes, 5.1 percent have both a stand-alone DVD player and an Xbox or PS2 console. Though Xbox was first out the gate with a DVD-game combo, the report stated that PS2 owners are three to four times more likely to put a DVD in their game console than XBox owners.

Sony Computer Entertainment America's EVP said more than a year ago that the PS2's installed base would make it a logical choice for home video companies to target PS2 owners, but that any movie DVDs would have to be on Sony's proprietary PS2 code.

“I think that if The Hulk proves to be wildly successful, Sony may rethink its current stance,” said P.J. McNealy, analyst, American Technology Research. “It doesn't cost that much to put a playable demo on a disc, and this could quickly become an expected extra by consumers, just as deleted scenes are today.”

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