Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Eidos look to the big screen
Where Marvel and Hasbro have led the charge for movies made from comicbooks and toys at the megaplex, Electronic Arts now hopes to do the same for films based on videogames.A year after the second-largest gamemaker announced plans to use films as a way to grow its top franchises, it has set up six projects at studios around town or with high-profile producers, proving that despite a string of creative and financial blunders in the past, Hollywood still believes that a popular game franchise can turn into a successful series of tentpoles for studios. One reason is the considerable coin the games biz rakes in: While overall sales are down 13% this year, videogames are still expected to generate approximately $20 billion in 2009. EA already knows a thing or two about franchises, having produced over the years major moneymakers such as “The Sims,” racer “Need for Speed” and the annual “Madden” football game. Yet when the company realized it was focusing too much on sports games or pumping out sequels and expansion packs for aging franchises, and licensed games based on movies and TV shows, EA ponied up millions in development dollars to launch new titles to excite gamers, and possibly turn into new franchises — titles including “Spore,” “Dead Space,” “Army of Two,” “Mirror’s Age,” “Dragon’s Age” and the upcoming “Dante’s Inferno.” EA hopes those games don’t just play on videogame consoles but also perform as lucrative sources of revenue from the sale of comicbooks and novels, toys, apparel and collectibles, as well as TV shows and movies. For example, for last year’s release of its sci-fi horror actioner “Dead Space,” EA paired up with Image Comics to produce a comicbook whose plot served as a prequel to the storyline of “Dead Space: Downfall,” an animated direct-to-DVD feature that ends where the game begins. As part of a multipic deal, Starz Media’s Film Roman produced the DVD toon, and aired the feature on its own cabler Encore. It’s producing another animated feature that will bow around the release of “Dante’s Inferno” early next year that has various Japanese and Korean anime artists conceiving their vision of the nine levels of hell. EA shunned the idea of a multiplatform entertainment strategy in the past, thinking it distracted developers from making quality games. But after leaving EA for three years, John Riccitiello changed that corporate decree when he returned to the company as CEO in 2007, pushing the idea that if a game can appeal to more than the hardcore gamer, it could sell more copies in the long run. “Our goal is to get really good movies made that our discerning fan base will want to see, and reflect really well on EA and our titles to the millions of people who don’t play our games,” says Patrick O’Brien, VP of EA Entertainment, the division tasked with shepherding the game maker’s nontraditional entertainment efforts. “We want to hit consumers where they are. They watch movies, spend a lot of time on the Internet, watch TV.” O’Brien has much bigger pictures in mind than DVD movies, however, eager to erase the stigma of bad videogame movies by placing its adaptations into the hands of notable screenwriters, directors and producers, through the help of United Talent Agency, which reps the gamemaker in Hollywood.
- This month, “Ice Age” creator Chris Wedge signed on to direct “Spore” as an animated creature feature for Fox that Greg Erb and Jason Oremland, who penned Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” and the Ben Stiller pic “The Return of King Doug” at Paramount, will script. EA and Fox are especially high on Wedge after “Ice Age” turned into a major franchise for the studio, generating $1.9 billion from three pics since 2002.
- EA and Fox are also developing a live action take on “The Sims” that John Davis is producing, while Film Roman is also developing an animated TV series based on the “MySims” games.
- “Bourne Ultimatum” scribe Scott Z. Burns is penning “Army of Two” at Universal; Peter Berg is attached to direct.
- Strike Entertainment (“Dawn of the Dead,” “Children of Men”) and U are behind a version of “Dante’s Inferno” with Dan Harris (“Superman Returns,” “X2: X-Men United”) scripting.
- DJ Caruso is aboard to helm “Dead Space,” with Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey producing through their Temple Hill (“Twilight”) shingle. It’s not yet at a studio.
- And Avi Arad, who helped Marvel launch “Spider-Man” and its other superhero film franchises, is now behind a number of videogame pics, including EA’s alien invasion actioner “Mass Effect.” The project, too, has no studio home yet.