A short teaser for the first World of Warcraft movie was released earlier this week, offering a glimpse of what the video game will look like when it's translated to film. The World of Warcraft universe has earned billions for Activision Blizzard as a game, and the hope is that it can follow the lead of Marvel, using the characters it already has to make billions more by adapting them for film, television, and toys.
But World of Warcraft is being made by Legendary Pictures, which licensed the rights to the game, meaning Activision Blizzard doesn't have full control, and doesn't reap the full rewards. Today, on an investor call, Activision Blizzard announced that it's launching its own film and TV studio, and that going forward it plans to have full control of the entertainment produced around its characters.
The first production from the new studio will be a television show based around Skylanders, a massively popular mashup of video game and collectible toys, featuring the voices of Justin Long, Ashley Tisdale, Jonathan Banks, and Norm Macdonald. The second will be a series of films based around Call of Duty, one of the best selling console video games of all time, grossing over $11 billion to date.
"Activision Blizzard Studios has the unique advantage of starting with a library of world-class intellectual property that includes some of the largest franchises which have not yet been developed in film and television," said Nick van Dyk, a former Disney senior executive who will serve as the co-president of the new studio. "Our library spans more than 30 years of global entertainment culture and, in the last 12 months alone, fans of Activision Blizzard properties have played and watched our games online for more than 13 billion hours."
A big chunk of that massive viewing time comes from the burgeoning world of e-sports. Activision Blizzard titles like Starcraft, HearthStone, and Call of Duty have some of the biggest professional leagues and largest fan followings. Millions began tuning in today as the competitive finals for several of these titles kicked off at the annual BlizzCon conference in Anaheim, California, and the company recently hired the former CEO of ESPN to help build out its e-sports business.
Activision Blizzard is likely hoping that it can replicate the success Marvel has had in recent years, tapping into a deep well of fan support and decades of intellectual property to build a sprawling universe which stretches across a wide variety of media and collectibles. It now has a tried and true formula to follow, but its cultural history is significantly shorter than Marvel's, and in the world of television and film, it lacks the experience and marketing muscle of Disney, two elements critical to the success of the Marvel cinematic universe so far.
Of course, that is why it hired a Disney veteran to co-run the new studio, the same way it hired from ESPN to run a sports network. And while the comic book industry is arguably past its prime, video games are a fast growing global business. Activision Blizzard will now have the chance to tie the release of film and TV properties into the release of new games or large e-sports tournaments, events which already generate massive amounts of attention and hype.