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Hollywood Influence in the Game

7 Feb, 2005 By: John Gaudiosi

LAS VEGAS — Hollywood was hot at the 2005 DICE (Design, Innovate, Communicate and Entertainment) Summit here last week.

Game makers were told to take a cue from the movie industry in everything from the creative process to financing.

“Game makers have the ability to create the next Taxi Driver or Apocalypse Now,” Marc Ecko, founder of clothing company Ecko Unlimited, said at the two-day event, which was sponsored by the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences and attracted 600 attendees. Atari will publish Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure this fall for PS2.

The 32-year-old entrepreneur used the “Star Wars” movies to extol the creative power of game developers. Globalization and a more corporate Hollywood may not allow another Golden Age for cinema, he said. But “game makers can still become the next Scorsese or Spielberg because games are a real and vital art form,” Ecko said.

Comic legend Stan Lee spoke about video games as a legitimate form of entertainment that has its place in the entertainment world alongside comics, movies and TV.

“I love that video games allow kids to become part of the adventure of the story,” said Lee, who is now working on several video games based on new comic properties at his new company, POW!

Seamus Blackley, a former game developer turned Hollywood agent, talked about the way Hollywood bankrolls movies through creative financing, opening the door to new ways to get games financed and made.

“Games are officially hot in Hollywood,” Blackley said.

New business models are coming soon, he added, and the future of the game business relies on using this money to invest in great talent and taking risks on new game ideas.

Indeed, great talent is already showing up in games. Distinguished actors James Caan and Robert Duvall have joined the late Marlon Brando in providing voice acting and licenses for Electronic Arts' The Godfather video game, due this fall.

Next year's DICE summit will itself be an example of convergence between Hollywood and the game industry. Turner Broadcasting System Inc. was a major sponsor of this year's summit, and the 8th Annual Interactive Achievement Awards — held as part of the confab — were Webcast on Turner's site. Next year, when the summit moves to Los Angeles, TBS will air the awards show.

While original games dominated this year's awards ceremony and were a major thrust of the conference discussions, Hollywood-based games do have their place in the games business, speakers said.

Jon Epstein, the video game agent for United Talent Agency, said Hollywood games play an important role in a video game publisher's overall portfolio.

“Don't assume that because a video game is based on a Hollywood license that it's not as good as an original [game],” Epstein said. “Electronic Arts is able to create new game franchises like ‘The Sims' and ‘Battlefield: 1942' because it can count on a return from licenses like ‘Harry Potter,' ‘James Bond' and ‘The Lord of the Rings'.”

In the case of The Incredibles, THQ is working with Pixar to extend the game beyond the first film. A sequel to the best-selling Incredibles game, which has sold 2.5 million units domestically, will ship this fall.

“We're taking the characters from the film and putting them in new and interesting situations, while adding cooperative multiplayer [capabilities] to the mix,” said Shiraz Akmal, director of development at Heavy Iron Studios.

“Movie studios understand that games can extend the life of their brand beyond the scope of the film experience.”

Last week, THQ announced record fiscal third-quarter results, citing multimillion-unit sales of games based on The Incredibles and The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. Activision last week announced development of games based on DreamWorks' upcoming Shrek 3.

Video game licenses are now a part of every major Hollywood blockbuster's launch. Electronic Arts enlisted U.K. developer Eurocom Entertainment Software to create the game for this summer's Batman Begins.

“I think you will see more games extending the film franchise with new experiences rather than replicating the movie experience,” said Hugh Binns, director at Eurocom.

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