According to Rob Hutter, CEO and president of Gazillion Entertainment, the best way to combat Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft, the Goliath of the massively multiplayer online (MMO) game business, is to think bigger. The new privately-held MMO game publisher, based in San Mateo, CA, is focusing on the large untapped mainstream audience that Nintendo has captured with its now-ubiquitous Wii console. Although Gazillion is developing a trio of original mass market MMOs, none of which have been revealed yet, its first two big licensing deals are with Marvel Entertainment and LEGO.
"We've been working quietly over the past three years in stealth mode putting together studios and a team to go after what we see as a key opportunity over the next decade -- bringing the MMO format to the mainstream audience," said Hutter. "To accomplish this we think you need to do two things -- create really high quality titles running on rock solid operations and execution capabilities and partner with household brands or worldwide global brands that have hundreds of millions of touch points with fan bases and provide a terrific installed base of enthusiasts to come in and participate in an MMO game."
Gamers are already familiar with Gazillion's first MMO game, LEGO Universe, which has been in development at Gazillion-owned studio NetDevil in Louisville, CO for a few years. That subscription-based MMO game is aimed at a wide audience. Cutter said gamers can expect the same quality of gameplay that UK developer TT Games has brought to consoles over the past few years with hit games like LEGO Star Wars, LEGO Indiana Jones and LEGO Batman. The plan is for the game to debut on the PC but migrate to console platforms down the line.
"NetDevil's LEGO Universe is a great example of the high quality games we're focusing on," said Hutter. "There's the adventuring component of the MMO, the ability to build things and share them with other online and the community aspect of this virtual world. LEGO is a brand that's beloved by millions. The stats in LEGO are incredible. They sell 65 million boxes of toys a year and they say that 400 million people at some point in their life play with LEGO toys. We think if you think of great entertainment brands, that type of reach is an incredible asset to have."
After a pair of failed MMO game attempts with Vivendi Games and Microsoft, Marvel Entertainment has entered into a 10-year worldwide licensing deal with Gazillion to develop and publish MMO games featuring Marvel's iconic universe of more than 5,000 super heroes, including elements of its films and animated series. Gazillion began working on its first Marvel MMO game last year at its Amazing Society development studio in Issaquah, WA. The first title is a browser-based game aimed at kids that focuses on Marvel's new "Super Hero Squad" property, which debuts on Cartoon Network later this year.
"It's a brand new property that presents their entire roster of characters like Iron Man, Hulk, Wolverine, Thor, Fantastic Four, and Captain America in a stylized, exciting way that's appealing to young audiences as well as fans of all ages," said Hutter. "Marvel thought this would be a great casual MMO to enter the market place and focus on the mass market before thinking hard about bringing the big Marvel Universe MMO to PC and consoles over the next few years. As we started working with them, we started attacking the casual MMO audience, the conversations quickly broadened and this deal came about."