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Movies Based on Video Games Typically Suck. Can Activision Do Better?

Activision said it will develop films and TV shows based on its popular game franchises like Call of Duty and Skylanders.

Activision Blizzard

If Hollywood has one axiom, it’s this: Movies adapted from video games suck. Can an established game publisher like Activision Blizzard buck the trend?

Activision announced Friday the launch of a new film and television studio devoted to creating original content based on the company’s library of intellectual property. The Santa Monica-based game publisher has plenty of successful franchises, Call of Duty, Skylanders and StarCraft among them.

But will these interactive experiences translate well to the big screen — or even the screen in the living room?

Plenty of established Hollywood players have tried and failed. There is no shortage of examples of studios that sought to reach young viewers by bringing their favorite video game characters to the big screen — often with disappointing results. Remember “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”? “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” or “Max Payne”? Even marquee actors such as Jake Gyllenhaal, Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg, respectively, couldn’t rescue those projects.

“The problem in adapting games to films is games typically don’t have immersive stories,” said Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter. “Over the history of time, 1,600 games have been made and there are fewer than probably 10 that have what you would call an immersive plot and story line. And even some of those turned into first-class shitty movies.”

Activision will begin by adapting its successful Skylanders franchise into an animated television series, “Skylanders Academy.” The executive overseeing the project, Eric Rogers, has experience writing for TV (his credits include “Futurama” and “Brickleberry”), and the series will feature the recognizable voice talent of Justin Long (the Mac in the Mac vs. PC Apple commercials) and Ashley Tisdale (“Phineas and Ferb” and “High School Musical”).

Pachter said Activision has decent prospects for success in children’s TV, where a narrative story arc is less important than characters kids find engaging. This was the case with such popular shows as “Pokemon,” “Dragon Ball Z” and “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.”

As television reinforces the Skylander characters, Activision would stand to reap the rewards of stimulating merchandise and game sales. The game franchise is already wildly lucrative, yielding $3 billion in sales.

But film requires a higher bar, with an immersive story line that’s not always found in interactive entertainment.

If successful, Activision could do for game characters what Disney’s Marvel Entertainment did with its roster of comic book heroes — create lucrative film franchises. It will begin by initiating development around the military Call of Duty franchise, as it evaluates the potential for feature films and television.

The game publisher drafted a Disney executive, Nick van Dyk, to serve as co-president of the studio, overseeing distribution, physical production and other aspects of the business. He previously worked for Disney in corporate strategy, where he played a role in its most significant acquisitions: Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm.

Investors appear to be skeptical. Activision’s stock is down more than 6 percent to $34.92 in trading Friday.

Activision did not respond to a request for comment.

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