Spielberg gets in on vidgame action

Initial work has already begun on first title

In the highest profile example yet of the vidgame biz teaming with Hollywood talent, Steven Spielberg has pacted with Electronic Arts to create three original videogame franchises.

Initial work has already begun on the first title. EA is keeping it tightly under wraps, though it is expected to be sci-fi or action adventure.

EA will own the games and their underlying intellectual property, including the right to make sequels and license them with or without the director. Spielberg and his Amblin shingle will have first look at developing the games for film and television.

Spielberg previously created the “Medal of Honor” game franchise, first produced by DreamWorks Interactive. It is now published by EA, which bought the studio’s game division in 2000.

Multigame deal is the first any A-list director has made with a publisher. It’s also the first deal of its kind for a game publisher with top Hollywood talent.

Helmer will have an office at EA’s Playa Vista facility, where he’ll oversee story development, game design, artistic visualization and all aspects of each franchise.

Publisher opened its Los Angeles office in 2003 with much fanfare about connecting with the Hollywood creative community. But while studio topper Neil Young does help negotiate licenses with studios, EALA largely operated like any other game studio before this agreement.

“It’s rare to find someone who’s so prolific in their medium and is so enthusiastic about our medium,” Young said. “Steven is going to come to us with concepts and then we’ll closely collaborate to try and make the best entertainment experience.”

Young said EA and the director connected via USC School of Cinema- Television, where Spielberg is involved and the publisher sponsors a graduate degree in interactive design.

At the opening of an EA-sponsored vidgame development lab at USC last year, Spielberg commented on the potential of games as entertainment.

“The next big emotional breakthrough in gaming is being able to tell a story that is consistent throughout the narrative,” he said. “If the game is 15 levels, it’s just like 15 chapters in a story.”

Spielberg is working on “Munich,” his Dec. 23 feature release for Universal.

Other nongame talent who have become closely involved in the game industry include Tom Clancy, who has a line of stealth titles from Ubisoft; the Wachowski brothers, who were intimately involved in the “Matrix” games; Peter Jackson, who has been an active participant in the “King Kong” game and is reportedly interested in deeper involvement in the game biz; and John Singleton, who is overseeing “Fear and Respect” for Ubisoft while also working on a film adaptation at Paramount.

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