EArts to start vidgame series based on toon

Can a videogame be as funny as “The Simpsons?”

Electronic Arts is hoping the answer is yes as it’s signed a long-term deal with Fox and Gracie Films to make a series of games based on the long-running cartoon franchise.

Financial details weren’t available, but previous long-term deals for top franchises like James Bond have been worth tens of millions by the time they were complete.

“The Simpsons” is one of the few outside properties popular enough with the young male gamer demo to garner a long-term, lucrative deal with a vidgame publisher. It’s the only one outside the action-adventure genre, which easily translates into a game.

Others have included Bond, “Lord of the Rings” and Robert Ludlum’s spy book series.

“Simpsons” games have previously been published by a number of different vidgame publishers. While some were successful, most placed the characters in existing game genres like racing or action. Only the most recent, “Simpsons: Hit and Run,” from Vivendi Universal Games, injected some of the humor from the series.

EA has already begun work on the first game under its deal, which is being developed for next-generation consoles like Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

Three writers from the series will serve as consultants to EA in creating its story and bringing humor. Actors from the series are expected to lend their voices to the games.

“We think this is a great vehicle to bring humor into games, which is something we don’t do well,” said Nick Earl, general manager of EA’s Redwood Shores studio in northern California, where “Simpsons” games will be developed. “If we do it right, we hope there will be incredible equity with these characters in the videogame world.”

Fox and Gracie have been talking to vidgame publishers for more than a year. Several were interested before EA landed the license.

“In every respect, this is bigger and more substantial than past (‘Simpsons’ videogame) deals,” noted Elie Dekel, exec VP of licensing for Fox.

EA on Tuesday reported a decline in profits and revenue for the quarter ended Sept. 30. No. 1 vidgame publisher made $51 million in net income on $675 million in revenue, down 47% and 6%, respectively, from a year ago.

Company has had a tough year, with slowing sales and the delay of one of its top games, an adaptation of “The Godfather,” from the holidays to early 2006.

Earnings were slightly better than Wall Streeters expected, though, and EA stock closed up 7.96% at $60.23 on Wednesday.

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