Small Screen Can Be Fodder for Games27 May, 2004 By: David Ward
The success of DVDs based on television series is not going unnoticed by the video game industry, which is starting to take a closer look at developing titles based on both old and new TV shows.
This fall will not only see the release of new games based on “ER,” “Law & Order,” “Stargate” and “Fear Factor,” but also the resurrection of Sam, Bo, Luke and Daisy in a new “Dukes of Hazzard” title. Early next year comes the big-budget console title based on the cult-cop show, “The Shield.”
With the exception of children, animation and quiz shows, TV licenses in the past have had mixed success as game properties. But with the cost of movie licenses skyrocketing, TV properties may be the next best thing, offering the recognizable brands that drive both retail sell-in and sellthrough.
“I think for specific shows that have an extreme fan base, there's definitely a lot more interest,” said Tami Hathaway, director of licensing for Sammy Studios, makers of the upcoming “Shield” game. “With ‘The Shield,' the show's 18-to-35-year-old audience matches up well with the gaming demographic.”
Ariella Lehrer, CEO of Legacy Interactive, which has brought out a series of games based on “Law & Order” and this fall will bring “ER” to the game arena, said TV licenses have a lot of built-in advantage for publishers. “One of the things I love about TV shows is you get this great demographic information because the network knows exactly who their viewers are,” she said. “And when it comes to advertising your game, you know exactly where to find that customer because they're watching the show every week.”
The challenge, others said, is that there are so few current TV shows that both appeal to a target male demographic and have a premise that lends itself to compelling game play. “The problem we've always had with the ‘ERs' of the world is they're so character- based, so drama-based,” noted THQ licensing VP Germaine Gioia. “If you look at Nielsen, those shows are watched by a high female audience that is really price-point sensitive. So these games appeal to a certain type of casual player who won't be paying $50 for that software.”
That may be one of the reasons both studios and game publishers are looking to older shows in hopes of capturing that hard-core player. Philippe Erwin, VP of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, is working with Ubi Soft on the console release of The Dukes of Hazzard: The Return of General Lee this fall. Erwin said that it helps if the program is still airing, even if it's in limited syndication. He added, “If a TV show is big enough and there's still some sort of positive vibe from the show, there's great potential.”
While reluctant to credit it solely to the booming sales of TV-based DVDs, Erwin said there has been a recent rise in the value of TV licenses. “They're certainly not at the movie level,” he said. “But the good news is publishers are recognizing the value of content beyond films.”
In the interest of authenticity, many publishers are using not only the voices of the TV actors, but also the scriptwriters to develop plots and produce realistic dialog. Bryan Chu, associate product manager for “The Shield” game, said, “We're looking to maintain the integrity of the show, so we work very closely with not only the executives at Fox but also the talent at ‘The Shield.’
Lehrer credits television executives with understanding the need to aggressively cross-promote DVDs and games based on popular TV series. “With ‘Law & Order,' we promoted the DVD in our box, and the Universal TV DVD actually had a trailer about our game in it,” she said. “And we're doing the same thing with the ‘ER' game this fall with Warner Bros.”
The major impact of TV on the publishing community may not be felt for years, but it could lead to huge changes in how games are made. “I can't really tell you why DVD sales of TV shows are so hot, but I can tell you what it's beginning to do for us,” Gioia said. “As studios get more and more laser-focused on the video game industry, they're beginning to look for ways to make games more like TV, where they capture an audience and deliver episodic content to them every week.”
Gioia pointed to the promise of online delivery via Xbox Live or the PlayStation 2 modem as ways to deliver that steady stream of new game content. But she added, “What the game industry is going to have to address is how do you keep an audience satiated when TV had gotten them used to getting a weekly fix? People are not going to want to wait two years for the next game installment of ‘24.’