Hollywood and games haven’t always gotten along. Consider the fact that Disney just pulled the plug on its toy-game Infinity series. Getting a movie-based game right isn’t easy, and that’s why movie studio Lionsgate is trying to partner closely with a new mobile game startup called Fifth Journey.
Hong Kong-based Fifth Journey has won backing from film studios Universal Pictures, Lionsgate, and MGM Studios to create movie-based mobile games for Asian markets such as China. Eric Tan, a former Gameloft executive, cofounded Fifth Journey with Craig Derrick, a LucasArts veteran and the company’s chief creative officer. We talked with both Lionsgate and Fifth Journey about this partnership and how the two companies hope to make the movie-game marriage work. So far, Fifth Journey is working on a mobile game based on The Expendables, an action franchise starring Sylvester Stallone that has grossed more than $800 million in worldwide box office, and another game based on comedian Kevin Hart.
The Chinese connection with Fifth Journey is important, as China has an estimated $5.5 billion mobile game market, with more than 420 million mobile-game players, according to market researcher Niko Partners. Moreover, China is embracing global movies, and an estimated 15 movie theaters a day are opening in China.
“These titles are wildly different from one another — The Expendables and the Kevin Hart project — and that speaks to the diversity of the Fifth Journey team, their ability to execute on a portfolio of intellectual property of different genres, and our ambition within the gaming space,” said Peter Levin, president of interactive ventures and games, in an interview with GamesBeat. “They’re an ideal partner for us on several different levels, not the least of which is the global nature of their team and their experience in China.”
Levin (who will be a speaker at our upcoming GamesBeat 2016 event in Los Angeles) said Lionsgate is collaborating deeply on the projects with Fifth Journey, but they aren’t driven by superficial strategies such as making a game that serves as a companion piece for a movie or making a game that helps publicize a movie. Levin said that the goal is to make quality games that are lasting. Under this model, Fifth Journey will keep a relatively small publishing team and farm out the development of the games to different studios. It will provide creative direction to those studios in a hands-on way, said Craig Derrick, cofounder and chief creative officer of Fifth Journey, in an interview with GamesBeat.
“Our model isn’t just licensing,” Levin said. “It’s more of a partner model. We have skin in the game. It’s not just a licensee-licensor dynamic. We’ve invested millions of dollars and sometimes tens of millions of dollars in these intellectual properties.”
The Expendables game will have a lot action in it, with a wide variety of characters, locations, and weapons, Levin said.
“We see these as triple-A [blockbuster] titles,” Levin said. “We are not just taking a lot of shots on goal. We are putting a lot of time and energy behind them.”
And he noted that both The Expendables and Kevin Hart have generated huge audiences in Asia, particularly in China. Tan knows that market well, as he ran the team that helped turn Despicable Me: Minion Rush, based on the Despicable Me animated movie franchise, into a big hit in China.
“Would we publish the same exact title in the West and the East? No,” Levin said. “We would customize it for each market, and that should lead to more success.”
Derrick said that Levin understands the interactive gaming market.
“He is keen on making really high-quality games based on films,” Derrick said. “Our specialty is Hollywood intellectual property. That means storytelling.”
Levin, meanwhile, said it was important that Lionsgate found game developers who are fans of its properties.
With The Expendables, Derrick said, “There’s an opportunity to take a rich world from the films and the large cast of characters. The ideas include something based on the origins of The Expendables, how it all came to be, over-the top action, big personalities, and big set pieces. It could be really exceptional.”
The Hart project takes into account the rising popularity of celebrity games ever since Kim Kardashian: Hollywood debuted in 2014 and generated an estimated $80 million for Kardashian herself.
“We had a lot of opportunities for celebrity games, but nothing really resonated until we sat with Kevin and his team,” Levin said. “He’s such a dynamic personality. He’s very competitive and hard working. He’s very actively involved, and he’s very collaborative.”
The Hart game was actually inspired by classic LucasArts adventure games such as Full Throttle.
“That is very much the inspiration for this, since they had so much humor in their games,” Derrick said. “Kevin’s team knows games and they want to expand their storytelling into them.”
“Kevin Hart is a global entertainer and he has a fan base that transcends geography,” Derrick said. “His game is really a social adventure game with a sense of humor. It’s about going from stand-up comedy to superstardom. We believe his title, as well as The Expendables title, can be a hit in Asia.”
So far, Fifth Journey is working with developers in Australia, Ukraine, and China. Fifth Journey has an office in Hong Kong and another in San Francisco. Derrick is based in San Francisco, with other team members who handle game design, narrative design, and other high-level roles. Fifth Journey is working with other studios too, and Derrick said that the company will announce new games based on work with those other studios soon.