VU pays for Marvel play

Game to bow in 2004 at earliest

HOLLYWOOD — In one of the biggest licensing deals in Marvel’s history, the comicbook king has licensed its entire 4,700-character library to Vivendi Universal’s vidgame unit as the basis for a massively multiplayer online role-playing title.

“Together, we’re really going to create the Marvel universe,” said Ken Cron, VU Games chairman and CEO.

Financial terms of the 10-year agreement were not disclosed, but execs on both sides of the deal said Marvel will contribute both writing and art assistance to VU Games’ developers in building the sprawling, expensive project. The game won’t be available until 2004 at the earliest, when two other hugely anticipated VU massively multiplayer games — “The Lord of the Rings” and “World of Warcraft” — are set to debut.

Massively multiplayer games are relatively new in the vidgame business, and represent a major shift in business model from one akin to book publishing to one more like a premium cable channel. As many as 100,000 players — who pay $10 to $15 per month — can play the games at the same time.

Unlike current multiplayer titles, fantasy hits such as Sony’s “Everquest” and Microsoft’s “Asheron’s Call,” execs said the Marvel game will allow casual gamers to quickly learn the basics and get into the game.

Wide appeal

Cron said the deal was attractive to VU because Marvel comic characters such as Spider-Man, the Hulk, X-Men and Daredevil (all now part of movie deals) have broad consumer appeal that can attract a big enough audiences to finance the $10 million to $15 million such a game typically costs to develop.

Marvel Enterprises prexy and chief operating officer Bill Jemas said the deal is the company’s biggest vidgame license ever, and involves more characters than it ever has licensed. The company held back rights to a massively multiplayer Marvel game for three years, Jemas said, before deciding to go with VU because of its size and its experience with the other online projects.

The deal covers all the company’s characters, and any new ones it develops, for all vidgaming platforms.

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