Brash game for Hollywood

Videogame unit takes aim at movies, TV

Hollywood has its first resident videogame publisher.

Brash Entertainment, the private equity-backed game publisher co-founded by Legendary Pictures’ Thomas Tull, is coming out of stealth mode today with the news it has raised $400 million and will focus exclusively on games developed from movie, TV and music licenses.

Company has projects in the works based on movies from five studios and has multigame deals with several of them. It’s already working on a dozen movie-based titles, including one based on Lionsgate’s “Saw” franchise and another, sources confirmed, based on “300.” First games will come out this holiday season. While Brash is remaining tight-lipped about its initial release slate, one title will almost certainly be tied to “Saw 3.”

Warner Bros. will exclusively distribute all of the new company’s games worldwide through its homevid operation, which recently started distributing games in North America for Eidos and Codemasters. Studio is expected to partner with Brash on several games, some of which it may co-finance and co-publish through its Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment vidgame division.

Idea for the company came from Mitch Davis and Nicholas Longano, former heads of in-game advertising company Massive, and Atlanta businessman Bert Ellis, a Massive investor. They started developing the idea together last year after Microsoft bought Massive. Ellis connected the group to Tull, a former business partner, who used his experience putting together Legendary’s fund to help raise money. Abry Partners, a major investor in Legendary, is also lead investor in Brash.

Davis and Longano are serving as CEO and prexy, respectively. Ellis and Tull are both on the board. All four are investors.

“The folks I do business with have been watching the space for some time, trying to figure out the right vehicle to put money in,” said Tull. “It’s hard to think of too many other sectors with this kind of growth, and I think there are really compelling things you can do with movie-based games.”

Although its dozen games in production, along with another 40 in development, immediately put it in the ranks of a midsize publisher, Brash’s business model is different in many ways than that of its competitors. Besides a complete reliance on licensed properties and partnership with WB for distribution, it is also bucking industry trends by working entirely with independent developers to make its games. Most videogame publishers have been acquiring game studios or building them inhouse in order to control the production process completely.

Though titles based on Hollywood properties like “Star Wars,” “Lord of the Rings” and numerous kids properties remain popular among gamers, many publishers have been trying to reduce their reliance on them. Electronic Arts, for instance, has told investors it will try to develop more original properties in order to build franchises it completely owns and can profit from in the long run.

Brash execs say they may consider original properties in the future, but for now, they’re building the business entirely on licenses. Though the potential upside isn’t as big, since it has to pay royalties to licensors and a distribution fee to WB, the young company will get the benefit of lower marketing costs by tying into studio ad campaigns when it releases day-and-date with movies, as Brash intends to do in most cases.

“It’s a slightly different risk profile,” granted Davis. “We may not have the breakout success of (hit original games) ‘Gears of War’ or ‘Halo,’ but we have a big ambition to produce high-quality, commercially successful games around licenses.”

Because so many of its operations are outsourced, Brash has a lean staff of about 50 people, many of whom are game producers with previous experience working on licensed titles.

Given its headquarters in Hollywood and close partnerships with studios, Brash is aiming to work early in the development process with talent attached to movie, TV and music projects. That effort will be headed by chief creative officer Larry Shapiro, who recently joined Brash from CAA, where he co-led the vidgame department (Daily Variety, April 27).

“We’re taking a new creative approach, working with some of the best Hollywood and videogame talent,” Davis said. “What we’ve seen thanks to Larry and Thomas is that a lot of folks in the entertainment community are excited and sophisticated about the opportunities in videogames.”

It remains to be seen whether Brash will be bidding for the biggest licenses against major publishers like EA, Activision and THQ, which already have successful deals for major properties like “Harry Potter,” “Spider-Man” and the Pixar films, respectively.

Entry of another big player in licensed games can only benefit studios as increased competition helps them get better royalty terms or make deals for less desirable properties. It should also help the growing number of producers, agents and consultants in Hollywood working on the vidgame biz.

Brash execs say they have a diverse slate of games in development, including action, adventure, family and music-based titles. It will develop for all the major consoles, handheld and mobile devices.

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