Madagascar: Activision

A license for a Dreamworks animated film is assured a certain level of sales success, but Activision

Madagascar was all but a surefire hit as a videogame property almost from the moment the license was acquired. Still, few predicted that it would be one of the titles actually driving the market in June. Activision recognized the revenue potential for the title early on and presented Dreamworks with a value proposition other than strictly being the highest bidder. The game's success was one factor that contributed to the company's recent raise in yearly guidance.

While Madagascar turned out to be a decent children's game, the Madagascar license itself was the primary cause of the game's success. With such a surefire hit, how did Activision end up with the license instead of a bigger publisher like EA? DFC Intelligence President David Cole believes he might have the answer.

"Although I'm sure Activision paid a large amount of money for the license, money isn't everything," he told GameDAILY BIZ. "It's also about how hard the publisher is willing to push that license. With a company like EA that already had licenses like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, something like Madagascar might not have received the level of attention that it got from Activision, and that might have played into Dreamworks' decision. What a publisher does with a property is almost as important as what they'll pay for it."

Although box office revenues for family-oriented titles are still hugely important, DVD and merchandise sales make up a huge part of the revenue pie. Madagascar, like other recent big family films, isn't really a film at all -- it's a multimedia event, with the videogame probably being the most important piece of that pie besides the film itself.

According to June NPD data the game generated $13 million in revenue for Activision, spread out across its six SKUs. It was the top selling GCN title with over 67,000 copies sold. The PS2 and GBA SKUs both sold 122,000 units, and the DS SKU moved 25,000, and Xbox 35,000.

All totaled, based on NPD data 371,000 copies of Madagascar were sold in the month of June. Activision announced in their quarterly results in late July that over a million units had been shipped to retail, and that they were raising their fiscal year earnings estimate to $1.47 billion. If that goal is met it would be the fourteenth consecutive year of growth for the company.

In a recent interview, Madagascar lead designer Toby Schadt explained how the development team took a more thoughtful approach to putting together such a large-scale licensed title.

"We started working on the game pretty early in the development cycle of the film. The director of the film, Eric Darnell, gave us a description of the movie at an early stage and it's been interesting to see the story evolve. DreamWorks did an excellent job of providing us with resources from the film to help us create a game that makes the player feel like he or she has been dropped into the world created in the film. Our animation team had the pleasure of spending a couple weeks at the studio (PDI) where the film was animated which gave them a first-hand look at the techniques used to give the movie its unique look and feel," Schadt explained.

Madagascar received mostly 7s from the enthusiast press, which is about the highest score a younger-oriented title can expect to receive in today's ever-maturing gaming marketplace.

Activision was apparently impressed with the work the development team did as well, absorbing them as a wholly-owned Activision subsidiary just prior to the game's release this May.

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