H'w'd hopesto cash in on lucrative biz with movie licenses

With vidgame publishers jockeying for position in the next-generation console wars, film and TV licenses are increasingly becoming hot properties. And with showbiz trying to tap into vidgaming’s $20 billion a year coffers, Hollywood couldn’t be in a better position.

“Licensed properties will continue to play an important role, an expanding role, as the videogame industry enters what promises to be the biggest and most lucrative cycle in the 20-year history of the industry,” says Anton Bruehl, president of Intl. Development Group. “The Time Warners, Viacoms and Universals stand to make a lot of money if they have the right for gaming.”

This year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, which began Wednesday and will run to Saturday, will include a long list of licensed movies on the show floor, including:

  • Electronic Arts will debut its first three “Harry Potter” games (for PlayStation, PC and Game Boy Advance) from its multiyear licensing deal with Warner Bros. Interactive.

  • “The Lord of the Rings” will have two separate lines of videogames. Vivendi Universal Publishing’s Sierra studio inked an eight-year deal with the estate of author J.R.R. Tolkien to make games based on “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” books, ending a long legal battle over the literary rights.

  • Universal Interactive Studios will bow games based on “The Mummy Returns” “Jurassic Park III” on PlayStation 2 this fall in conjunction with the homevid release of the films. With its first-look deal with Universal, UIS will likely play a role in bringing upcoming blockbusters like “The Scorpion King,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “The Cat and the Hat” and “Where the Wild Things Are” to vidgame systems, again once the pics bow on homevid.

    “Hollywood has a shorter production time table than the vidgame industry, which makes it difficult to match day-and-date console releases with movies,” says Greg Goldstein, VP of licensing and brand development. “Since videogames rank as the No. 1 or No. 2 source of licensing revenue for the majority of Hollywood studios, getting something out there in conjunction with the theatrical release is important.”

  • Although next year’s E3 show will focus on “Star Wars: Episode II” games, LucasArts will unveil three new titles based on “The Phantom Menace” (“Starfighter: Special Edition” for Xbox and PC, “Star Wars Racer Revenge: Racer II” for PlayStation2 and “Star Wars Obi-Wan” for Xbox) and a pair of classic “Star Wars” games (“Star Wars Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II” for Gamecube and “Star Wars Galactic Battleground” for PC).

  • Still a no-show at this year’s E3 will be “The Matrix.” Through a report filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission, Microsoft has loaned Interplay $5 million in exchange for a six-month exclusivity window for “The Matrix” vidgame on Xbox. It will feature exclusive online gameplay and must ship within three months of the theatrical release, which is slated for late 2002.

  • French gaming giant Infogrames is developing titles set within the “Mission: Impossible 2″ universe that aren’t expected to debut until at least late next year. It is also expected to bring “The Terminator” franchise to vidgames even further down the line.

  • With Ubi Soft delivering games based on the animated “Batman” series, Warner Bros.’ new “Batman” and “Catwoman” movies will become hot vidgame licenses. Activision already has the license to next summer’s “Spider-Man” pic, while Infogrames has “Superman.” Activision hopes to ship its Xbox and PlayStation2 “Blade 2″ games in conjunction with the Wesley Snipes sequel.

  • Kids licenses have translated well to vidgames. THQ has had success with “Rugrats” and “SpongeBob SquarePants,” and will develop games based on the December theatrical release of “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.” Activision has the rights to the “Stuart Little” films, including next summer’s sequel; the animated “Jackie Chan Adventures” TV series; and animated “Evolution” TV skein. THQ’s “Scooby-Doo” license will receive a boost next summer when the live-action feature bows. Nintendo’s “Pokemon” continues to reign, and Infogrames’ “Dragon Ball Z” and Bandai’s “Digimon” titles are expected to be hits with kids.

  • Disney Interactive has teamed up with Sony and THQ for summer’s “Atlantis: the Lost Empire” and Thanksgiving time’s “Monsters Inc.” from Pixar. Disney’s “Spy Kids” has become a hot license, since the first film earned over $100 million and sequels are on the way.

  • TV licenses have picked up in the past few months, lead by Activision nabbing “The Weakest Link” and Infogrames grabbing “Survivor.” VUP’s Sierra will bring Fox’s “Cops” to Xbox and PlayStation2, while Activision is sending Fox’s “World’s Scariest Police Chases” to PlayStation. Other shows heading to games include “La Femme Nikita,” “Relic Hunter” and “Futurama.”

  • Older licenses also have cropped up: U.K.-based publisher Rage Software has the rights to all five “Rocky” movies. (Stallone’s latest, “Driven,” is heading to Game Boy Advance and PlayStation2 from BAM! Entertainment). VUP’s Sierra is bringing “Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza” to PC and “Die Hard Next Generation” to Gamecube. Titus is resurrecting “Robocop” on PlayStation2. NewKidCo will ship a half-dozen “E.T.” vidgames by next year’s 20th anniversary theatrical release.
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