'Brutal Legend' finds a new home

Jack Black’s heavy-metal action videogame has a new tour sponsor.

Electronic Arts has signed on to publish “Brutal Legend,” a highly anticipated title starring Black that many industryites were surprised to see Activision drop after it merged with Vivendi, the game’s former publisher.

Under the deal terms, developer Double Fine will retain ownership of the intellectual property for all media. EA is only partially funding development and will handle worldwide distribution and marketing when the game is released next fall.

Game is the last major title from Vivendi to find a publisher after being dropped by Activision over the summer. Several other companies were in talks, with MTV believed to have been close to a deal in August.

However, many industryites were concerned because past games from Double Fine and its chief Tim Schafer, while critically acclaimed, have sold poorly. In fact, EA chief exec John Riccitiello called “Brutal Legend” a “significant creative risk” in an October interview, reflecting the views of many in the biz. With the economic slowdown causing consumers to focus spending on a small number of popular sequels, bets on original properties like “Brutal Legend” are particularly rare.

But EA appears to have been comfortable with the smaller risk borne by making the deal under its EA Partners label, which handles distribution, marketing and sometimes a portion of development costs for games like “Rock Band.”

“Everything associated with this game, from the rock background to the action/adventure genre to the involvement of Jack Black, screams megahit and mass market,” said EA Partners topper David DeMartini. EA has used its partners program to sign up games from a number of high-profile independent developers with some or all of their own funding recently, allowing it to make “rent a system” deals similar to the one Paramount has with Marvel.

Other former Vivendi Games titles that have found publishers include “Ghostbusters” and “The Chronicles of Riddick” at Atari and “50 Cent: Blood on the Sand” at THQ. It remains to be seen what publisher will pick up the Robert Ludlum estate’s license for Jason Bourne videogames that Vivendi previously had.

Black is hosting the Spike Videogame Awards on Sunday in order to promote “Brutal Legend.”

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