Mark Harris

The Lord Of The Rings : The Two TowersHarry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Many of the hottest games this winter started life on the big screen. Mark Harris unravels the secrets of their success

If we were to tell you your biggest earners this winter could be The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers and Harry Potter: The Chamber of Secrets, you'd either think we were barking or that all our anti-piracy talk is just a cunning cover for that bank of DVD-Rs in the corner. But think interactive and all becomes clear - dozens of new releases in the games market are either inspired by movies or direct tie-ins, and they're not limited to just the latest blockbusters.

The concept of a movie tie-in began just after our distant ancestors stopped scraping their knuckles along the ground and invented the Atari 2600. E.T. - The Extra-terrestrial was a monster hit for Atari and ensured that subsequent Spectrum owners had to suffer the likes of Ghostbusters, Robocop and even Back To The Future. In recent years, tie-in fever has swept consoles and PCs alike, with a solid raft of Star Wars and Star Trek titles being joined by everything from Rugrats to The Italian Job games.

But we know what you're thinking - publishers have a patchy record of designing games based on movies. Too many times, unconvincing graphics have been slapped over some dated code and the magic of the silver screen translates into dusty boxes lingering on the shelf. But times change and in the modern world of cross-channel ownership you're dealing with horizontally-integrated businesses like Sony, Vivendi Universal and LucasFilm that control entire entertainment brands. These global giants are taking gaming very seriously, especially now that retail game revenues are exceeding box office receipts in the UK and around the world.

Studio Games
It's no accident, then, that the Scorpion King game (Rise Of The Akkadian for the PlayStation 2) was released within a fortnight of the DVD in November. Emily Stoten, Product Manager at Universal Pictures Video, explains. "Having the game and DVD hitting shelves simultaneously makes the brand so much more visible - and ultimately raises the profiles of both products. The fact that we share a single parent company makes working to a cross-format marketing plan much less stressful - we work with Vivendi Games whenever possible. For this release, the website we set up for the DVD release has links to the games site, and vice versa. We also did some joint PR in promoting the DVD and game releases."

"And our partnership isn't limited to just direct movie tie-ins - UPV's Monster Collection [a series of classic horror DVDs] is a perfect brand fit for Monster Force (GameBoy Advance). We don't always see direct sales uplifts with some of these links, but it all helps to keep Universal in customers' minds."

George Georgiou, Marking Director for Vivendi Universal Games UK, agrees. "There really is no downside in creating the Scorpion King tie-in. Working with close release dates has allowed us to leverage our marketing spend - running DVD competitions in the gaming mags and including demo levels on the DVD increases awareness in two different audiences."

There's no doubt which movies tend to make the most successful games, says Emily, it's action-adventure straight down the line. In which case Vivendi should be on to a winner with their Lord Of The Rings : The Fellowship Of The Ring game, for GameBoy Advance, PC, XBox and PlayStation 2. In one of the vagaries of licensing that's typical of tie-ins, the Fellowship game is actually based on Tolkien's original novel rather than the movie blockbuster, a fact that's unlikely to deter the legion of fans hungry for all things Middle Earth. "We're happy to have a release date at the same time as the new film," says Georgiou. "We're the only studio offering a Lord Of The Rings game on all four major platforms and because the style of the game is so different from the Two Towers tie-in we think it complements the movie franchise."

The official tie-in, Lord Of The Rings : The Two Towers (for GameBoy Advance and PlayStation 2), comes from rival house Electronic Arts and hit the streets a couple of weeks before the movie opened. In the past, gamers have had to wait for anything up to a year to be able to play new movies on their consoles, by which time much of the buzz surrounding the theatrical release had died down. Pulling the release date back to even before the premiere makes it much easier for games suppliers and retailers to capitalise on the huge marketing spends that blockbusters receive.

The Two Towers is also leading the pack in creating a seamless cross-format experience for gamers. Not only do the plot and characters closely follow the movie, but the game also features sound effects from the films and voice-overs from actors Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies and Ian McKellen. To add to the cinematic experience, the game features over five hours of Howard Shore's Academy Award-winning musical score. Further blurring the line between movie and game, the PS2 version also includes never-before-seen footage from the second instalment of New Line's epic adventure, as well as exclusive interviews with the actors.

High Speed Gaming
The games market moves a lot faster than Hollywood, and a Bond or Star Wars movie every three years simply isn't enough to satisfy hard-core fans. This has given rise to games based on popular franchises but not linked to a particular film. Star Wars is the most prolific example of this, with major releases this winter including: The Clone Wars for GameCube, Bounty Hunter for PS2; Jedi Knight II Outcast for GameCube and XBox; Knights Of The Old Republic for PC and XBox; and Galaxies for the PC. Expect all of these to fly off the shelves, and keep an eye on Galaxies especially. This game is designed to immerse literally thousands of players simultaneously into an online Star Wars universe. The series features dynamic role-playing adventures across multiple planets during the classic Star Wars timeframe.

Other massive titles should be the latest Die Hard instalment, Vendetta, for the GameCube, Indiana Jones And The Emperor's Tomb for PC, PS2 and XBox and yet another well-timed release, James Bond 007 - Nightfire, for GameCube, PC, PS2 and XBox. Nightfire, a first person shooter with multi-player mode, is more strategic than EA's previous effort, Agent Under Fire, and promises a return to form for the label that brought us one of the most popular tie-ins ever, GoldenEye for the N64. Although the story is a pick 'n' mix of Bond plots past, Brosnan's digitised mug and clips from Die Another Die should see Nightfire flying up the charts on the tails of the blockbuster's theatrical release.

Blast From The Past
In fact, the games market is so fast-paced that it's run out of new movies completely, and has turned to plundering the celluloid vaults for inspiration. The recent PS2 Rocky slug fest from Rage has been well received - as any game that lets you wander round the screen bellowing 'Adrian! Adrian!' was bound to be - and games based on Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Robocop are also due before Christmas, giving an excellent opportunity to drag out some of those catalogue DVDs to sit alongside them.

As Gennaro Castaldo of HMV notes, "Suppliers have finally noticed this cinematic heritage and are using it to develop games on two levels. Younger games can enjoy these games in their own right while older gamers are reminded of movies from their youth. In stores, we no longer think of games and DVDs as separate products - we cross reference and cross promote them, even rack them together. A customer who's interested in a franchise is likely to be interested in it across the board - from the movie to the game to the soundtrack - and that creates fantastic opportunities for retailers."

As suppliers are increasingly trying to turn their products into long-term franchises, movies are now being produced with the DVD and game firmly in mind. Theatrical and retail dates are planned to be mutually supportive, with games playing an integral part in maintaining momentum and extending a property's life-span. The lesson seems to be that retailers can no longer afford to think of themselves as merely video or games specialists, and need to think about feeding their customers' enthusiasms across all formats.

Child's Play
With the rise of the 'boys toys' culture and ever increasing retail price tags, it's easy to overlook that the typical games customer is still a schoolkid in shorts. One franchise that hasn't forgotten its roots features just one of those kids - Harry Potter. Sharing its release date with the latest movie, Harry Potter and The Chamber Of Secrets blitzed all formats in double whammy in November and is an absolute must-have stocking-filler this Christmas. Although the DVD and VHS of the original movie have been out since Easter, it's fair to say that they'll receive a second lease of life while the sequel's in cinemas.

There's bound to be more kids cross-format action with the Spider-Man DVD following the summer's hit PS2, PC and X-Box game in November, and a brace of Shrek games for PlayStation and X-Box should maintain interest in September's Special Edition DVD release. If your customers tend to the greyer end of the spectrum, Spielberg's mature sci-fi spectacular Minority Report comes to DVD, GBA, PS2, GameCube and X-Box at the start of December and should appeal to the more adult gamer.

2003 and beyond…
The current craze for licensed games shows no signs of dying down. As George Georgiou, Marking Director for Vivendi Universal Games UK, says, "We've only been developing for consoles for a year and already a large part of our business is cross-format. Next year will see more synergy between parts of the group as we capitalise on the properties that the movie side has built up. Q1 2003 will see the release of brand-new Jurassic Park games and we hope to tie in those releases with product on the video side, a DVD box set or special edition perhaps." Also slated for early '03 releases (though bear in mind that games release dates are slipperier than greased eels) are intriguing titles such as Jimmy Neutron vs. Jimmy Negatron, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, another X-Men spin-off, Tron 2.0, and even a Charlie's Angels game (the second movie is currently in production). The game that has tongues hanging out, though, has to be Enter The Matrix from Infogrames. This should enter cyberspace in May, within a week of The Matrix Reloaded sequel from the Wachowski brothers. Coincidence? We don't think so.

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