Activision Blizzard’s strategy for world conquest

6 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Activision Blizzard launches movie and TV studio.

Activision Blizzard (ATVI) is getting into the movie business. The first projects from the newly formed Activision Blizzard Studios will be based on the “Call of Duty” military shooter franchise and “Skylanders” toy-game series. That’s the company’s continuing strategy to dominate gaming and the larger entertainment industry, and it communicated the full depth of that strategy at its investor day today ahead of the Blizzcon event in Anaheim, California.

Activision just released Call of Duty: Black Ops III, which sets the series in the near future, but no plotline or information about whether the movies will pull from the series’ worlds and characters has been announced. The TV and movie studio announcement comes amid an ambitious expansion drive that also includes mobile games and spectator-based video game contests known as eSports.

When current CEO Bobby Kotick took over an ailing Activision in 1991, the company had become known as “lack of vision,” Kotick recalled in a video. Activision promises a “robust cinematic universe” is planned for Call of Duty’s cinematic version (and as the series’ single player narratives play like interactive summer blockbusters, there’s plenty of history to cull from when producing the films). The studio is also working on an animated TV series based on Skylanders, the toys-to-life game that once began as a successor to the Spyro game series.

The push into film and TV content comes days after it unveiled a $5.9 billion deal to acquire “Candy Krush” maker King Digital Entertainment (KING). One of their earliest efforts, Return to Zork, a visual retelling of the Zork text adventure, was a “wild success” and it gave the company the capital to start making new games. Activision Blizzard is counting on its understanding of its fan base, expanding distribution options and leveraging partnerships to make the business work. “Film and TV — they are not simply stand-alone, profitable businesses, but they also amplify and extend the tremendous success of our core business,” Van Dyk told analysts and media Friday morning. That started the company’s focus on a “franchise strategy.” Fast forward to today, and Activision Blizzard has franchises that include Call of Duty, Destiny, Skylanders, Guitar Hero, Warcraft, StarCraft, Diablo, Hearthstone, and Candy Crush Saga, which comes via its $5.9 billion pending acquisition of King.

Nick van Dyk, who previously served as senior vice president of corporate strategy at Disney, will serve as the studio’s co-president with another unannounced executive. Activision Blizzard already has one of its biggest franchises set to hit movie theaters next year with the arrival of Warcraft from Legendary, but these subsequent projects will be produced and handled internally. The animated series will feature the voices of actors Justin Long (“Alvin and the Chipmunks,”), Ashley Tisdale (“Phineas and Ferb), Jonathan Banks (“Breaking Bad”) and Norm Macdonald of “Saturday Night Live” fame. We are expanding our capabilities across platforms, genres, audience demographics, and geographies — but always in the service of our players.” Kotick said the focus will continue to be on providing the best games. And Activision isn’t the only game company bringing film production in-house, as Ubisoft established Ubisoft Pictures several years ago to develop films based on Assassin’s Creed, its Rabbids characters, and more.

The first film could arrive as early as 2018. “As games evolve into true cross-screen and transmedia franchises, we will see more movie and TV-type content appear that are directly or indirectly linked to games,” said Peter Warman, co-founder and chief executive of video game market research firm Newzoo. “The biggest drivers behind this are consumers themselves that stream live game content and create videos or even animation series that are fun to watch.” That said, Warman remains cautious. Thomas Tippl, chief operating officer at Activision Blizzard, said on stage that in the last decade, eight of the top ten titles come from well-known franchises every year in the core console and PC game business. That may matter less and less now that the appetite for video game content has become so large that it can support a digital television platform such as Twitch.

Its priorities include deepening engagement with franchises, and build enduring and beloved franchises with large, engaged social communities with whom the company has a direct connection, Tippl said. “This is the best team we could have joined in 2015,” Zacconi said. “Our vision is to serve everyone’s gaming kingdom” across all platforms. By his count, the more than 14 billion hours that people spent playing or watching Activision Blizzard games over the last year equaled the hours of movie-viewing in theaters worldwide over the same period. Van Dyk’s role at Disney had him involved in the acquisitions of Marvel and Lucasfilm as the entertainment powerhouse built a stockpile of intellectual property that could turn into all forms of media. Together, they’ll have 547 million players and 13 game franchises. “It’s an inexhaustible number of storylines, characters and universes, and every bit as rich as Disney’s,” he said. “Every studio clamors for these hugely impassioned fan bases and not many have it.” And it is creating its own mid-core titles, or those that are hardcore in nature but played for short times, thanks to its own acquisition of Z2Live, for launch in 2016.

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