Universal hot for ‘Inferno’

Studio wins bidding battle over videogame

Universal Pictures won a bidding battle for an unreleased Electronic Arts videogame that sources said will be called “Dante’s Inferno” by the time it hits the marketplace next year.

Agreement is the second the studio has made in recent weeks for an EA vidgame property.

The deal — an option fee against seven-figure purchase price — ended an auction that pitted four studios against one another late last week (Daily Variety, Oct. 31). Paramount, New Regency and MGM were the other final bidders, after Warner Bros. dropped out Thursday.

Strike Entertainment partners Eric Newman and Marc Abraham will produce with EA. EA Entertainment veep Patrick J. O’Brien and game creator Jonathan Knight will be closely involved in the development of the film.

The property shook up a sluggish material marketplace. It was a surprise entry, because EA made past movie deals (including “The Sims” with Fox and producer John Davis and “Mass Effect” with producer Avi Arad) after the properties were already popular with gamers. This time around, EA hadn’t even announced the existence of the game at the time the concept was brought to the film marketplace. EA declined to comment or confirm the game’s title.

Both the “Dante’s Inferno” game and movie involve a journey through the depths of hell.

The gamemaker intends to become more closely involved with movie and TV transfers of its games. Making a movie deal well before the game’s release will give EA a shot at seeing a movie released closer to the beginning of the game’s life cycle.

One reason Universal had an edge was that the deal is a close cousin to one the studio just made for a screen version of the EA game “Army of Two,” which has Scott Z. Burns (“The Bourne Ultimatum”) aboard to write the script and Scott Stuber to produce with EA. The EA creative team also meshed with Strike partners Newman and Abraham.

Deal was brokered by EA rep UTA and attorney David Fox.

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