Video game giant Activision Blizzard is continuing its expansion push with the launch of a production arm to develop film and TV properties based on “Call of Duty” and other game titles.
The unit’s first production is an animated series based on the “Skylander Academy” vidgame property. Activision execs developed the series adaptation in-house before tapping a third-party animation outfit in France to handle production. Justin Long, Ashley Tisdale, Jonathan Banks and Norm Macdonald are on board as voice talent.
Kotick said Activision Blizzard has been planning to launch into film and TV production for more than a year. The focus will be on live-action and animated renditions of existing Activision IP, which stretches back 30 years and more than 1,000 titles. The wildly popular “Call of Duty” franchise is being eyed s a movie series.
The studio operation will be house at Activision Blizzard’s Santa Monica, Calif. headquarters. Kotick said he envisioned the unit scaling up to about 40 staffers in the near future.
Activision is likely to partner with established networks and studios for distribution of its content, even though it has a massive audience through its various gaming channels.
Kotick emphasized the company’s deep pockets — “we have a $28 billion balance sheet” — and track record in taking plenty of time and pouring resources into game development. It intends to do the same with film and TV projects.
“We’ve killed games, we’ve stopped projects after years of development,” Kotick said. “If we don’t think we’re putting out best creative foot forward, we don’t do it.”
Kotick said the company has relationships some Hollywood creative talent who have been recruited to write stories for the “Call of Duty” franchise — a list that includes Mark Boal, David S. Goyer, Stephen Gaghan and Paul Haggis. He also touted its pre-visualization tools for games that the company hopes to extend to film and TV.
“Activision Blizzard Studios is not just an exciting new business for our company, it is a synergistic complement to our core business,” said van Dyk, who spent the past nine years as senior VP of corporate strategy. “Our movies and shows will benefit from the remarkable IP created in our games and will further increase the awareness of, engagement with, and passion for our franchises.”
Activision Blizzard’s move to form an entertainment studio is not unprecedented. In 2011, French game publisher Ubisoft formed a TV and film division. Ubisoft Motion Pictures’ “Assassin’s Creed,” a co-production with several other studios based on the top game of the same name, is slated for December 2016 release by 20th Century Fox. Ubisoft’s “Rabbids Invasion” was picked up in 2013 by Nickelodeon.
The news of Activision Blizzard’s push into film and TV content comes four days after it unveiled a $5.9 billion deal to acquire “Candy Krush” maker King Digital Entertainment. Last month, it set the launch of an e-sports gaming division headed by former ESPN exec Steve Bornstein and Major League Gaming president Mike Sepso.
Todd Spangler contributed to this report.