Matthew Roszak

In The Press Blog

Funtactix creates a game world for the launch of Rango animated film

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| Dean Takahashi

Movies games have been duds since time immemorial. They come out too late to cash in on a film’s popularity, or they just don’t look good compared to the movie experience.

But Funtactix hopes to change that with a new game world built around the animated film Rango, featuring a lizard voiced by actor Johnny Depp. If it succeeds, it could break the mold for movie games.

Partnering with Paramount Digital Entertainment, Funtactix is launching Rango: The World on March 1, the same day the movie debuts. (Update: the game world debuts March 4). It hopes to cash in on millions of dollars in TV and web marketing in a timely way.

Sam Glassenberg, chief executive of New York-based Funtactix, says the company will also succeed because of its unique approach to making games based movies or other entertainment properties. First, the company built its “The World” platform, which makes it easier to launch a bunch of different virtual worlds. Then it figured out a way to take high-end 3D assets from a film and directly translate them into Flash-based, two-dimensional assets that can be used in a game.

The last piece of the puzzle is that the company can make the games at low cost and get them to run in browsers, without any downloads. Glassenberg said his company only has about 30 employees. In the past, console movie games often took a couple of years and more than 100 people to make a game, which often came out six months after a movie debuted.

This formula has been tried before by companies such as Multiverse, which made casual Facebook games based on the film Avatar. It doesn’t necessarily have a much bigger chance of success than other movie games, as it all comes down to the actual quality of the game. But Glassenberg said his company has worked closely with Paramount to ensure success. He also said the company would foster the community for the online game and regularly launch new content. The quality of the game animations will be good, with fully animated cartoon-style characters.

Funtactix had to pivot into this strategy because its first one failed. In 2008, the company debuted Moondo, a cross-platform game universe where players could keep the same characters across multiple games. While the game got hundreds of thousands of players, Funtactix discovered that mass market users didn’t want to download big files in order to play games. Glassenberg said the company shut down the beta and shifted into its current strategy.

The Moondo game world did accomplish one thing, however; it showed that Funtactix could make a decent game. So it started talking to Paramount about making multiple game worlds based on Paramount properties. Rango is the first of these worlds to debut. More are in the works. After the big upfront investment in the platform, Glassenberg said future projects will be easier.

Glassenberg said the company tapped inexpensive developers in Eastern Europe to make a lot of the assets for the game. The title will be free-to-play, but users can pay for a premium subscription if they wish. Users will socialize with each other and play via a variety of platforms.

In the Rango: The World game, users will create their own character, or avatar, and live out the environment of the film. They can complete missions and rise through the ranks as they complete each stage of the story. There are a variety of rivals out there, from Multiverse to Entropia Universe.

Investors include Jerusalem Venture Partners and Benchmark Capital. Funtactix has raised $8 million.

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