Ironically, E3′s ‘A World of Its Own’ 2002 convention conveyed the exact opposite. Rather than setting itself apart, the rapidly growing gaming sector has entrenched itself alongside, if not actually in, the worlds of film and TV. And while attendance was slightly down from last year, a game boom (1,000 never-before-seen titles compared to last year’s 750) indicates that interest isn’t waning.
As far as what stood out, on-line capability and broadband penetration continued to pepper state-of-the-industry rants, but the concept remains untested at the mass-market level. The next-gen consoles that dominated the buzz around last year’s show have ceased to be news on their own. But their mass-market penetration and high-volume game sales are convincing ‘traditional’ entertainment industry players to go that route with their properties, and the gaming category is increasingly becoming an essential step in brand-building.
Founded in September 2000, relative newcomer Calabasas, California-based TDK Mediactive made its mark in gaming circles right out of the gate by picking up the all-platform rights to start releasing titles based on worldwide cult hit Robotech this fall. The studio broadened its entertainment property portfolio reach with Shrek, for which it’s launching four new next-gen console and GBA titles in Q4. But the franchise frenzy didn’t stop there. TDK’s recent and upcoming licensed roster includes games based on Hallmark’s ABC miniseries Dinotopia (out now), Tonka from Hasbro (shipping now), DC’s Aquaman (fall), Mattel’s Masters of the Universe (fall) and Jim Henson’s The Muppets (2003).
Electronic Arts out of Redwood City, California generated huge crowds with its Hogwarts tower display, where the new Chamber of Secrets game (November 2002, all platforms) was sneak-previewed. The Lord of the Rings, for which EA has the film license only, also drew throngs of geeks eager to try out its fall-debuting first game–The Two Towers. Diversifying its licensed lineup to include TV and toy properties, EA showed a Galidor title for GBA (fall) and consoles/PC (spring 2003), as well as a Bionicles GBA game (fall).
Capitalizing on its book-based Tolkien rights, Vivendi Universal stole some of EA’s thunder with a preview of The Hobbit, which will be ready for GameCube sometime in 2003.
Jimmy Neutron (for GameCube this summer, and for GBA and PC in the fall) and The Fairly OddParents (for GBA this November) were big draws under the recently announced THQ/Nickelodeon partnership, which also offers some proof that industry migration goes both ways. Tak and the Power of Juju, the first original video game/TV title announced under the deal, will be ready for PS2 and GameCube in 2003, with plans for TV development in the works.
Cartoon Network also got hip to the vid game collaboration jive, signing an E3 deal with New Jersey-based Majesco to further develop the gaming potential of its TV properties. Specifics on time frame and targeted properties were unavailable at press time.
No stranger to entertainment crossover, Nintendo recently signed New York-based 4Kids Entertainment as its licensing agent for consoles and select properties. The deal also gives 4Kids the live-action and animated TV, film and video rights to Nintendo characters. Just prior to the market, Nintendo announced TV plans for long-standing gaming property Kirby, and the little pink extraterrestrial will hit U.S. airwaves this fall on the 4Kids’ Fox Box. (For more info on the new block, turn to ‘Thinking inside the Fox Box’ on page 28.)
Once the dark horse of the media world, the burgeoning gaming sector may be in danger of losing the equity that came with its position as an emerging tier. Now that it has hit the mass-market running, the industry must work to ensure that it doesn’t lose steam just as quickly.