The retail launch of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 may have been one of the most anticipated events among the hardcore gaming set last year, as fans literally stepped over each other to get their hands on the new video game console. And as the Xbox 360 installed base pushes 2.5 million units with console, game and peripheral sales hovering around US$1.5 billion, the software powerhouse is focusing on inciting a similar reaction in the six to 11 crowd this fall.
Viva Piñata is Microsoft Game Studios first children’s entertainment property and the company will rely on 4Kids Entertainment’s expertise in hatching multi-platform hits à la Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! to get Xbox 360 and TV versions off the ground simultaneously.
‘We were approached by Microsoft to help it get into the kids arena with the Xbox 360,’ Al Kahn, CEO of 4Kids Entertainment, says. The device also serves as a household media center, and Microsoft’s made no secret that it’s aiming to broaden the console’s reach beyond the traditional 18 to 34 gamer demo to the entire family.
4Kids’ CGI, 26 x half hours series is being produced in tandem with the game. They’re both set in the piñatas’ fantastical homeland and take a look at how candy-stuffed creatures are raised. The Xbox edition works a lot like popular adult gaming title The Sims in that kids can create, breed and raise their own piñatas. The TV program will provide a comedic, if not irreverent, take on their adventures and friendships and how the characters feel about the fate that awaits them once they leave their island.
Unlike the actual party favors, these piñatas, which are named after the candy they’re filled with (i.e. Franklin Fizzlebear, Fergie the Fudgehog), get reborn. And because nurturing is an integral part of the play pattern, the property will likely read as gender-neutral – something 4Kids has been angling towards with its intro of more girl-friendly properties such as Mew Mew Power in the last year.
Along with the video game launch, the show will start airing on the 4Kids TV block in the U.S. this fall, accompanied by a full-blown marketing campaign. The company’s broadcast sales team is currently looking to lock down international deals, and on the licensing side, Kahn says he’s aiming to land toy, party goods, social expressions and candy licensees. Digital, including mobile and handheld devices, will also figure into the mix when ancillary products start hitting the market sometime in 2007.