Sony Movie Marketing to Include Web Games

Sony Corp. is looking toward video games to extend its on-screen franchises, with a plan to develop games for online distribution centered around upcoming titles.

The first title slated for release through the strategy is “Men in Black II: Crossfire” — a game designed to support the sequel to the company’s 1999 Columbia Pictures hit. The game will be formally unveiled during the E3 trade show later this month, while the film debuts July 3.

Culver City, Calif.-based Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment, which oversees the company’s Internet offerings, said it would follow suit with later games for upcoming releases, with about three titles emerging per year.

Initially, the games will be available via Sony’s site for free, with add-on levels available for a fee. Eventually, the plan also entails distribution to Internet-enabled game consoles like Sony’s PlayStation 2.

“This strategy is our next step in both the commercial delivery of games over the Internet, what we’re now calling e-Distribution, as well as the next level in online film marketing,” said Tim Chambers, senior vice president of Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment’s Advanced Platforms unit. “Through these games, we are looking to deepen the engagement and experience for our users while extending the studio’s brands both on- and offline.”

In developing “Crossfire,” SPDE worked with 3D graphics and game firm WildTangent, which has developed promotional online games for Sony Pictures in the past, most notably for “A Knight’s Tale.” WildTangent also produced 3D content for Sony’s “Spider-Man” site.

In addition to developing the “Crossfire” game, WildTangent also created a dancing alien for “Men in Black II,” which is downloadable from the film’s site, and which moves in connection to music playing on users’ PCs.

Advertisers’ use of games to promote offline products is a years-old technique that’s slowly moving into the mainstream. But Sony’s declaration that it would make the concept a routine part of its film franchise marketing plans would seem a loud vindication for the model.

“We work to identify branded properties, find unique ways to expand, promote and commercialize these opportunities and engage consumers in new and compelling ways,” said SPDE Executive Vice President Patrick Kennedy. “The games are designed to extend the life of the studio’s brands beyond the theatrical experience.”

In recent months, advertisers including Siemens Corp., Honda and Ford have launched promotionally-themed games, with the first two companies tapping game developer YaYa, while Ford employed Flipside.

The news also comes on the heels of SPDE’s announcement of an all-computer graphics animated feature unit. Heading the unit are Sandra Rabins and Penney Finkelman Cox, who served as executive producers on DreamWorks’ digitally animated blockbuster “Shrek.” It is unknown whether Sony’s new game strategy includes films developed by the new unit.

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