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HIVE EXCLUSIVE: Hollywood Gaming Takes Off as Southland Grows Into a Major Playground for Interactive Entertainment

5 Oct, 2001 By: John Gaudiosi

While video game companies remain active in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles has grown into a major playing ground for interactive entertainment as developers and publishers take advantage of Hollywood's ancillary companies.

In addition to the close proximity to the TV and movie licensing deals that will play a larger role in the mass market future of the video game industry, these L.A.-based game companies are making use of the various infrastructure like sound studios, music and scoring, cartoon and production design and talent agencies, that once catered exclusively to Hollywood, but have benefited from the convergence of next- generation video game development.

THQ, Activision, Sony Computer Entertainment America, Electronic Arts, Crave Entertainment, Universal Interactive, Vivendi Universal Interactive Publishing, Titus Interactive and Interplay Entertainment are some of the game publishers that have offices or headquarters in the L.A. area. French video game giant Infogrames moved from San Jose to Santa Monica in August in an effort to position itself as an entertainment company.

“While we already have a number of strong partnerships with studios including Paramount, Sony Pictures, and Warner Bros., we anticipate that our proximity to these studios will provide us with a greater level of interaction and cooperation with them as well as exposure to key trends affecting the industry,” said Alyssa Padia, senior v.p. for Infogrames.

“Hollywood licenses continue to appeal to game companies and Infogrames feels it is important to be in the right place to best understand the properties and licenses that are available. As the gaming and film industries slowly converge, more and more companies are cropping up in Los Angeles that combine both disciplines,” Padia said.

“THQ has worked with many of the major movie studios for several years,” said Peter Dille, v.p., marketing, of Calabasas, Ca.-based THQ. “We have a long history with Disney, working with them on Disney/Pixar's A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2 and the upcoming Monsters Inc. We also work with Warner Bros. on 'Scooby Doo' and Saban on 'Power Rangers.'”

“Our location is a draw for people who want to work in the entertainment business,” said Kathy Vrabeck of Santa Monica-based Activision. “We have great access to studio talent and outside resources to ensure the highest quality games.”

With the success of Tomb Raider on the big screen, L.A.-based video game companies also make it easier for Hollywood studios to approach them on possible crossover projects. With top video game titles selling millions of units worldwide, bringing games to the big and small screen offers Hollywood a large installed base. House of the Dead, Duke Nukem, Crazy Taxi, Resident Evil, Perfect Dark and Dead or Alive are just the tip of the video game iceberg, according to video game experts.

“Recently, the studios have expressed interest in many of our intellectual properties including Red Faction, Summoner and our upcoming Dark Summit,” added Dille. “Being in close proximity makes it a lot easier to do business.”

L.A.-based companies also benefit from the talent pool and production services that Hollywood has to offer, as the latest generation of gaming systems utilize the DVD format. Liquid Entertainment, Pacific Coast Power and Light, 989 Studios, Blizzard Entertainment, Shiny Entertainment, Left Field, Neversoft Entertainment, Way Forward, Treyarch, Check 6 and Naughty Dog are among the L.A. developers.

“More companies are coming down to L.A. because it's cheaper than San Francisco and because Hollywood is here,” said Jason Rubin, co-founder of Naughty Dog Studios, creators of the bestselling Crash Bandicoot franchise.

Studios like Santa Monica-based Naughty Dog take advantage of Folley studios and Hollywood composers to add high quality surround-sound experiences to their games like the upcoming PS2 adventure, Jak and Daxter.

“We're spending $600,000 out of our budget locally here in Hollywood with talent for the development of Jak and Daxter,” said Andy Gavin, co-founder of Naughty Dog. “Rather than create sound effects from scratch for a game, we can go to a sound effects house and pull from a library of 12 million effects, or create original sounds in a Folley studio. By using Hollywood talent for voice recording and sound, it brings a higher quality to the finished product, because this is what they do for a living. And it allows us to focus on game development.”

“The use of voiceover in video games continues to grow as we move forward, and if you are going to do it, you have to do it right,” said Joel Jewett, president of Neversoft Entertainment. “We are fortunate in that we have agencies like TGI (Talent Group) and SBV (Stutton, Barth and Vennari) just down the road, and access to sound studios like Juniper Studios in Burbank. Having been in the studio to record voice-over for both the Spider-Man and the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater franchises several times over the last couple of years, we have found that it pays to use the best people we can get. Good actors add to your game and save you time.”

Shiny Entertainment has taken advantage of its Laguna Beach location to work closely with Larry and Andy Wachowski with the development of The Matrix PS2 and Xbox video games, which will be released in conjunction with the new film. Rather than simply licensing the movie, the developer has had complete access to the next two films and is expected to incorporate as much as 40 minutes of original footage into the games, as well as the actors' voices. The game will also include the same types of special effects as the film.

“Our industry is growing rapidly, but just like Hollywood, the James Camerons and Steven Spielbergs are very few and far between,” said Dave Perry, president of Shiny Entertainment. “A major difference is that this talent is spread all over the world and so no real Hollywood for video games has ever happened.

"I personally see that changing as we are at a point over the next five years where video games are becoming as real and as complex to build as a major motion picture," Perry said. "That requires talent from every skill set (advanced production, storyboard artists, writers, acting, lighting, directing, sets, props, special effects, costume design, sound design/composing, choreography) as well as all the best video game development talent (game programmers, engine programmers, 3D modelers, designers etc...).”

“With the art and sound capabilities of the new generation of console hardware, the crossover of film artists and game artists that has already begun should really increase,” said Renee Johnson, senior producer at Berkeley, Ca.-based Digital Eclipse, which develops licensed Hollywood entertainment.

“A number of the animators and digital artists at Digital Eclipse are film school-trained and have worked in the film and television industry over their careers. The same is true for writers. What will be interesting to see is if game designers start to find a role in Hollywood. Reality TV game programs and non-linear film on the Internet really is pointing in that direction,” Johnson said.

“We have seen the games business playing an increased role in Hollywood, largely in the area of technology,” explained Nicholas Longano, senior v.p. of marketing, Vivendi Universal Interactive Publishing. “The technology and development techniques used in games development are some of the most innovative. I think we will continue to see Hollywood benefiting from technology innovations that originated from the video games industry.”

After testing the waters in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s with shoddy movie-licensed games, Hollywood realizes the importance of expanding its movie franchises into the interactive realm, which is comprised of a young, male demographic with disposable income. Video game licenses are now one of the top two forms of licensed revenue for movie studios, according to licensing experts.

”Most of the major players in Hollywood -- the studios, producers, even the talent --are well aware of the opportunity in the interactive space, and as a result, video game rights are often negotiated as fiercely as any other part of the film or TV deal,” said Greg Goldstein, v.p., brand development and licensing for Activision.

The current wave of licensed games takes a different approach from past mistakes.

“The important thing is to make sure that the game, whether it's an original property like a Crash Bandicoot or a licensed property like The Scorpion King, stands on its own as a great interactive experience,” said Jim Wilson, president of Universal Interactive. “Just as a bad movie can kill a movie franchise, a poor licensed game can damage a movie franchise, while a solid licensed game can help a movie franchise.”

As video games continue to grow and emerge as the number one form of entertainment, L.A.-based game companies help to ensure Hollywood's along for the ride.

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