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Emerson gets Fox into videogames

Former Vivendi exec takes on VP role

Twentieth Century Fox, which has lagged behind other studios in embracing the vidgame world, is ready to become a player: It’s tapped Andre Emerson to become VP of videogame production for its licensing division, the company announced Wednesday.

Emerson is a gaming industry veteran who recently served as prexy-CEO of Bad Butterz Prods., an independent vidgame consulting firm represented by Creative Artists Agency. Prior to that he was a VP and exec producer at Vivendi Games, overseeing titles featuring 50 Cent and the recently released “Wet.”

At Fox, he will oversee the production of game projects based on the company’s significant TV and film library.

“Andre has a phenomenal background in videogame production with a fair balance of licensing experience,” Gary Rosenfeld, senior VP of new media at Fox Licensing, said in a statement. “We’re looking forward to Andre contributing his development expertise as we expand our presence in this space.”

Fox is the latest of several studios to show increasing interest in the vidgame world. The growth trajectory of the medium, as well as the cross-marketing potential of games and film or TV projects, represents a potentially significant addition to earnings.

For the better part of the last year, Wall Street has been ripe with rumors about a major studio planning to acquire a major game publisher. Many analysts and investors expected Disney to buy Electronic Arts, though that chatter went away after the Mouse House purchased Marvel instead.

In fact, though, most studios have opted to focus on building their own development and publishing arms, cherry-picking big-name talent from traditional videogame publishers and buying small but acclaimed development studios.

Warner Bros. has been the most successful to date. Its Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment launched in 1995 as a licensing arm — and was basically an afterthought for the company. In 2004, however, Warner got a lot more serious about vidgames.

That’s when it acquired acclaimed developer Monolith Entertainment and began getting much more involved in the games that used its intellectual property. Warner has since bought several other gamemakers as well as the core assets of now-defunct Midway Games, giving it the rights to franchises such as “Mortal Kombat,” “Spy Hunter” and “Joust.”

In recent years the studio has had its hands in several successful titles, including many Lego-themed games, but has really hit its stride in 2009.

“Batman: Arkham Asylum,” published by Eidos, sold more than 2 million copies in just a month. And its “Scribblenauts” for the Nintendo DS is one of the year’s most anticipated (and critically acclaimed) handheld games.

Disney, meanwhile, is in the midst of tripling its investment in vidgames. Disney Interactive Studios employs more than 1,200 people — a number notably bigger than the internal gamemaking team at Microsoft.

That expansion has attracted some of the sector’s superstars. Two years ago, Warren Spector — one of the industry’s most respected gamemakers — joined Disney. A month ago, he was joined by Alex Seropian, the founder of Bungie Software and co-creator of the “Halo” franchise.

Spector is working on a new title for the company that will be announced in the coming months. Seropian will oversee creative development across Disney’s inhouse videogame development teams.

Disney expects to see the first tangible results of its labor recruitment efforts in the 2010-11 time frame. Graham Hopper, exec VP-general manager of Disney Interactive Studios, says the company will offer titles covering a broader array of genres than it traditionally has.

“We want to be bigger,” he said. “We want to be a lot bigger. … In the same way that this company strives to make great movies and great television shows, we want to do the same thing (with games) — make great content that will resonate with people.”

For developers, the appeal of making the jump from traditional game publishers to studios is twofold. It puts them on the ground floor of a company that’s just beginning to learn how to succeed in games. That gives them the chance to right some of the mistakes gaming has made during its rapid evolution.

It also officially marks the design and creation of videogames as an activity on par with filmmaking — acknowledgement of which game designers have craved for years.

“You can totally feel the culture that reflects the history here,” Disney’s Seropian said. “It’s a very compelling place to want to aspire to. There’s also a lot of work to be done here to make the game (division) reach its potential.”

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