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EA Goes Hollywood: Signs with UTA

EA hollywoodGaming’s love of Hollywood and Hollywood’s love of gaming seems to be blossoming into quite an affair.  About a week ago, Ubisoft acquired Hybride Technologies, the Canadian special effects shop behind movies Sin City and 300.  Yesterday, Paramount and Legacy Interactive revealed the first games to come from their partnership will be remakes of past Paramount films.  Now Electronic Arts has signed up an agent.  They’ll look to United Talent Agency (UTA) to help them navigate Hollywood and create movies from games.

In a statement, EA Entertainment VP  Patrick O’Brien explained “some of our teams have already made steps to expand our games into other forms of media … This partnership will help us take these efforts to next level and match each of our titles with the right artists, producers and financiers.”

The deal, while unique, borrows from a recurring theme.  It was just a week ago that Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot said "The future of our industry depends on our ability to create brands that captivate audiences and to extend those brands to other forms of entertainment.”

His logic stems from simple economics.  Today’s console games can take years to produce.  With computer animation and effects involved, the development costs can run in to, and easily beyond, tens of millions per title. Add to that marketing expense and the cost can pass that of an A-List Hollywood summer blockbuster.    With such massive capital outlay, gaming publishers need to maximize earning power and the return on their investment.  One of the easier ways to do that is to give a title an expanded life in other media.  It’s a way of reaching new audiences and extending the titles lifespan.  It also marries the marketing machine (and dollars) of Hollywood to the game publisher. It aligns interests.

Cash register results support those theories, even just on a lightweight first glance look.   It’s simple fact, for instance, that ground-up game titles that become hits spawn franchises and multiple sequels.  (Grand Theft Auto, Metal Gear, Sims etc).   Movie spinoffs tied to major hits generally are repeat best sellers too.  The monthly NPD sales data is dotted with installments of Star Wars games, Indiana Jones titles or the latest Disney/Pixar tie in. 

These are facts many are keenly aware of.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that Steven Spielberg has a development deal with EA to create game titles.  Or that mega producer Jerry Bruckheimer (who has a game development deal with Viacom) is at work to  create a feature film from Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia game franchise.   James Cameron, of Titanic and Terminator fame, is at work on a film called Avatar with Ubisoft set to release the game version too.  

Movies and games increasingly support each other.

EA is currently at work developing a movie around the popular Sims game.  20th Century Fox is chaperoning that project.  An animated feature set to accompany upcoming title Dead Space is in development with Starz/Film Roman.  UTA will likely help see those projects through along with future offerings from the EA catalog.

I wouldn’t expect Madden NFL: The Movie to start filming anytime soon.   At least I hope not. Spore, the film version, on the other hand, that might not be too far off.

Update: In another example of the Hollywood/Gaming lovefest, Universal has announced plans to get more involved in the game biz too. They’ll begin with a self financed adaptation of recent film “Wanted.” The title will be offered for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC by early 2009. European studio Grin is doing development work. Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment will take the on publishing responsibility; a service Universal isn’t equipped for at this time.

According to Variety, the news makes Universal the fourth major studio to take aspects of video game production in-house (or via an owned affiliate). Warner Brothers, Paramount and Disney are also doing the same.

Universal previously got out of the game business starting in 2000 when Universal Interactive became part of Vivendi Games. The transition was completed in 2004 when Vivendi sold 80% of its stake in the movie studio and theme parks to GE, creating the NBC Universal subsidiary. Today Vivendi Games is part of the newly formed Activision Blizzard company.

Fox and Sony Pictures, the other two majors not counted by Variety have ties to gaming through their parent corporations.


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