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Spielberg and Katzenberg: Gaming Connection

movies and gamesMogul David Geffen probably isn’t readying himself for a foray into the gaming world, nor is he likely to lend his name to something video game related.  That makes him the odd man out among the elite three who lent their initials to form Dreamworks SKG when they founded it.  Geffen’s peers, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg both have ties to gaming.  In fact, both each had gaming related news Tuesday.


The Katzenberg Connection: Dreamworks Animation and THQ
Propping up otherwise troublesome financial results and news of layoffs, game developer THQ announced a new agreement with Dreamworks Animation that will give them game development rights for Dreamworks fall 2010 release.

According to the company, the agreement grants THQ exclusive rights to publish games for all console and hand held systems as well as wireless and PC titles for the film which is tentatively titled “Mastermind.”

Historically, Activision (currently merging with Vivendi Games to form Activision Blizzard) was Dreamworks Animation’s preferred game development partner.  Activision published titles for Shrek, Madagascar and Over the Hedge.

THQ, in contrast, was a past partner of Dreamworks Animation’s rival, Pixar (Disney).  THQ had game development responsibilities for Ratatouillee and Wall-E.

THQ’s deal with Disney is still in effect and covers two more unnamed films.  There’s no evidence or suggestion partnering with Pixar rival Dreamworks will hurt THQ’s chances of renewing that deal.  But Disney has been looking to move more game publishing and development work in house so THQ’s days with Disney may be numbered.

The one title Dreamworks deal, though potentially lucrative in its own right, could signal an effort to explore a backup plan (in the event Disney doesn’t renew their partnership).   It’s also could add some leverage in a future negotiation. 

On the part of Dreamworks, the one title deal is also an indication that while they’re exploring options, they’re not prepared to give up lucrative gaming options prematurely. As Marvel Entertainment is proving, having control of as many aspects of digital content as possible is lucrative.

For both sides, the deal rings out as a case of “testing the waters.”

A deal Dreamworks signed with Activsion in 2005 covered game titles through this summers release of Kung Fu Panda which is due out June 6th.

The Spielberg Connect:  Boom Blox Debuts
Few people in Hollywood who make a living behind the camera have the kind of name recognition as Steven Spielberg.  He’s a modern legend, famed for his storytelling skills, who’s name will one day likely be used side by side with luminaries like Disney and Hitchcock, or peers like Scorsese.

What isn’t widely known about Spielberg is he’s an avid video game player.   In 2005, he signed a three title development deal with Electronic Arts.

Tuesday, the first game from that deal hit the market.  Gamers expecting narrative and story, an ET or Indiana Jones, will be disappointed.   Though mainstream, as is his style, the game isn’t story driven.

Boom Blox, according to its own legend, was dreamed up in the parking lot after work developing story lines for a more typical Spielberg project: an epic game for the Xbox 360 and PS3 code named LMNO.

Boom Blox, Spielberg said, is a game meant for his kids.  “I wanted something that would appeal to all ages,” he said. “Starting with kids 8 to 12, then hopefully, spreading upward to teenagers and adults.”

The game was designed to be education in an indirect way so it’s physics by way of destruction and construction.   Through various levels, the game morphs from things like a graphics rich version of a carnival game (knocking things down by throwing baseballs) to a digital re-interpretation of old wooden block favorite, Jenga.  There, players are challenged to deconstruct towers brick by brick without breaking them.

The puzzle aspect of Boom Blox is addicting, reminiscent in a far more evolved and polished way, to games like Tetris.  Unlike Tetris, however, this isn’t a game that repeats the same singular challenge.  In the genre of “casual games” it builds small stories and challenges players with different types of physically interactive puzzle,

The game isn’t going to be thought of as a “gamer’s home run.”  It’s a Casual Game, it’s simple in concept.  Some game elements could improve but it’s not a bad first go.  In the language of film making, it won’t win from the Academy, but it’s good family fare.  A decent popcorn flick worth the price of admission. 

LMNO will be more traditional Spielberg, this is just a test, something light.  It succeeds for what it is: a fun, accessible casual game.


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