Ubisoft Lands Heroic Licensing Deal With NBC

Thursday was a busy day for French video game maker Ubisoft. The company announced a licensing deal with NBC/Universal to create a game based on the sci-fi hit TV series “Heroes.”

As a TV show, “Heroes” draws an average of 14 million viewers. It also enjoys a growing list of brand extensions, including a spin-off, “Heroes: Origin,” to air during the 2007-’08 season, graphic novels, a mobile phone game, and NBC’s “Heroes 360” Web site. A video game seems like the next logical step.

“With a gripping storyline and rich characters, ‘Heroes’ lends itself naturally to a video game format,” said Christian Salomon, vice president of worldwide licensing at Ubisoft. “By offering people the chance to interact directly with the show’s captivating universe, there is no doubt that the game will appeal to both fans of the series and avid gamers.”

Already Got ‘Lost’

Meanwhile in San Diego at Comic-Con International, Ubisoft unveiled the trailer for a game based on ABC’s popular “Lost” television show.

“Ubisoft is thrilled to be collaborating with ABC to develop this phenomenal television series into an interactive experience,” said Helene Juguet, senior director of marketing at Ubisoft. “Ubisoft has worked closely with ABC Studios and the show’s producers to create a compelling storyline that has the same mystery, adventure and intensity fans of the show have come to expect from the ‘Lost’ brand.”

“Lost” will hit store shelves during the first quarter of 2008, though it has not given a release date for “Heroes.”

Earlier this week, kicking off Ubisoft’s spate of announcements, the company also announced that it had teamed with “Titanic” director James Cameron to create a video game based on his ground-breaking sci-fi thriller, “Avatar.”

Game Shows

In “Lost,” gamers assume the role of a stranded passenger on the island after the crash of Oceanic Flight 815. During the course of the game, they must confront their dark past, seek redemption and in the end find their way home.

The game, according to Ubisoft, provides an “authentic ‘Lost’ experience” with players able to explore familiar locations, unravel mysteries and interact with main characters, including Jack, Sawyer, Kate and Locke. To survive, gamers will have to solve puzzles, outsmart enemies such as the “Others,” fight the mysterious smoke monster and survive a host of other challenges to make it off the island alive.

Anything Good on TV?

Ubisoft is an old hand at turning TV and movie gold into video games, with a lineup of games including “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “Dukes of Hazzard: Return of the General Lee,” and “Peter Jackson’s King Kong.”

Instead of a coup for Ubisoft, producing two video games based on hit television series could prove hazardous for the company. The uphill challenge facing the French game maker, industry analysts said, is not just to make games out of TV shows, but to make good games.

“Games made from movies and TV shows typically suck and don’t sell well,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld. “For visibility it’s good, but they’ll need to break through the expectation that what results won’t be worth buying.

“I don’t consider this a coup. TV shows have not historically done well, with the single exception of ‘The Simpsons.’ All of the big publishers have worked with licensed intellectual property, with varying levels of success,” Michael Pachter, a Wedbush Morgan analyst, told TechNewsWorld. “Ubisoft is not any better or worse than the other majors.”

Translating television programs and movies into video games is no simple matter, Enderle pointed out.

“This has been a really painful thing to try to do for the developers,” he explained. “Making games about shows and movies is an easy path to a game idea but it isn’t any easier to create a great game. In fact, it may be harder because the plot may not lend itself to a game. Given the subject matter, a good game is more likely than those based [on] more traditional movies and shows.”

Overcoming Perceptions

Both analysts noted that the huge popularity of the two shows was no guarantee that either game would become a top seller, and that only a quality game will lead to good sales.

“If the game sucks, it will tank regardless,” Enderle said. “But, if the game is good and gets good reviews, then the branding should accelerate sales. [Ubisoft has] to overcome the set perceptions of the reviewers and buyers that, as a class, games like this generally suck.”

Neither analyst is optimistic about the potential success of either game. “I actually don’t expect this to be successful because history would suggest the games won’t be very good,” Enderle stated.

“Neither game will be a particularly good seller,” Pachter opined. “‘Family Guy,’ ‘The Sopranos,’ ’24’ all flopped as video games, so no, popularity does not ensure success.”

Neither game will likely contain any innovative features, he added. “It’s merely a way for Ubisoft to make a bit of money.”

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