Marvel flips vid lid

Comics giant apes WB, pushes game prod'n

Seduced by the success of its best-selling “Spider-Man” videogame, Gotham-based comics publisher Marvel Enterprises on Thursday announced the formation of a videogame group to push growth in what is becoming the fastest-growing part of the entertainment industry.

Ames Kirshen was named to the new position of manager of game development. He will oversee the full Marvel vidgame development slate, including the upcoming Spider-Man II and Fantastic Four games, both published by Activision. Kirshen, who held a similar position at DC Comics, is also charged with expanding Marvel’s vidgame slate beyond super-hero titles.

Marvel’s efforts come just one day after Time Warner announced plans to step up its game development activities with a new interactive division within the Warner Bros. studio. Like Warner, Marvel is looking to generate additional revenue from vidgames by getting more actively involved in their production.

It’s not the first move by Marvel to step up involvement in vidgame production. Last summer, Stan Lee, who created many of the publisher’s most popular characters, joined Activision as a consultant to oversee production of its Marvel-licensed titles.

Six Marvel character-branded games are due to be released between now and 2005 through existing videogame license deals with Activision, VU Games and THQ. Marvel said its licensees have sold more than 6 million Marvel-based videogames in both 2002 and 2003.

A game to accompany the upcoming release of a live-action version of “The Punisher” is slated for release in Fall 2004, along with another “X-Men” branded game and a sequel to “The Hulk.”

Marvel prexy of worldwide consumer products Tim Rothwell said the goal is to become more proactive in the game development process. “We will be more actively involved in the creative side … how the game will look and feel and how it’s scripted,” Rothwell told Daily Variety.

“It’s a huge business,” Rothwell said of the videogame arena, which he noted will include expansion into the wireless space, an “explosive new tier” of business.

Kirshen will report to Marvel publishing prexy Gui Karyo. Revenues from videogame licensing will be reported within the licensing division.

The multibillion-dollar videogame industry is attracting attention from the film industry again, given the huge cross-promotion possibilities and the prospect that original content from one industry can be adapted to the other.

In fact, publishers like Electronic Arts and Activision were the stock market darlings of 2003 as vidgame sales easily exceeded movie box office grosses.

Marvel shares rallied on the news, gaining nearly 10% to close at $32.65, breaking its 52-week high-water mark.

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