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Action packed! Startups score superhero licenses for custom creativity

Startup manufacturers Planetwide Games and DigiKidz have taken creative play to a new level of interactivity with recent product introductions that mix high tech with customization. The two companies initially turned to the Marvel Universe to kick-start sales, and are now looking for more licenses to keep the pace.
September 1, 2006

Startup manufacturers Planetwide Games and DigiKidz have taken creative play to a new level of interactivity with recent product introductions that mix high tech with customization. The two companies initially turned to the Marvel Universe to kick-start sales, and are now looking for more licenses to keep the pace.

Since releasing its Comic Book Creator software in November of last year, Orange County, California-based Planetwide has signed a half dozen licensing deals for the publishing app. The gameco built the software from scratch and along with Marvel, counts National Geographic, Sony Online Entertainment, and Virgin Comics as partners.

The software is pretty neat. It was originally created to allow kids to make comic books by pulling screenshots and digital photos from PC-based video games using a simple drag-and-drop interface with 500 page templates to choose from. The books can be saved in several file formats and then published on-line, e-mailed, printed or assembled into flash-based flipbooks. Creator sells for US$29.99, and so far video game retailers like EBgames and Gamestop have been the main distribution channel. However, Planetwide VP Mark Politi says the product is rolling out to mass retail in Q4 and is currently available on-line with a five-day free trial at mycomicbookcreator.com.

The Marvel Heroes version hit shelves in late August and with it kids can create their own Marvel comic books using characters such as X-Men, Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four and Captain America. The different versions of the application are standalone products. Kids can have multiple sets installed on their computers at the same time, but cannot merge characters and artwork from different versions into the same comic book.

To keep the momentum going, Planetwide has also inked a deal with Nickelodeon & Viacom Consumer Products for a version to accompany the DVD release of Jack Black the vehicle Nacho Libre this fall. The company is also planning an edition based on Nick’s recent CGI flick, The Barnyard, and Politi says that there are more to come.

To add to its ever-expanding portfolio, Planetwide is opening up to more licenses, particularly strong animated characters or those culled from other comic books. Politi is handling the deals and says interested licensors can send him an e-mail to get the ball rolling(mark@planetwidegames.com).

Meanwhile, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida-based DigiKidz also snagged a Marvel license to make custom DVDs. The burgeoning company specializes in DVDs that place kids in the action by pasting a photo of the child’s face on their favorite characters.

The new I am Spider-Man custom DVD gives kids the opportunity to become the web-slinger himself; when he removes his mask, the child’s face will be shown on Spidey’s body instead of Peter Parker’s. Based on the MTV Spider-Man animated series, the half-hour DVD, aimed at kids four to 11, features three mini-adventures, centered primarily around the fight scenes. That way, says DigiKidz president Marlo Gold, kids star in the most exciting part of the action.

I am Spider-Man (SRP US$34.95) should hit retail in early October. The DVD will be available for sale on digikidz.com, and Gold is in negotiations with major U.S. retailers, but could not formally announce which ones at press time. She is still on the lookout for other retail partners for I am Spider-Man and is keen on scooping up other kids licenses for future custom DVDs.

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