Call of Duty firm launches studio

The firm behind popular video game Call of Duty, Activision Blizzard, has launched a television and film production studio.

Former Walt Disney Company senior VP Nick van Dyk will lead Activision Blizzard Studios as co-president on the distribution side, with a currently unnamed creative chief to be unveiled shortly.

Activision Blizzard Studios’ first production will be an animated TV series based on its Skylanders franchise.

Games developers and console companies have a mixed record when transitioning to television, with Microsoft’s Xbox Entertainment Studios closing down last year after just two years in business as one example of when things go wrong.

French studio Ubisoft, however, saw its Rayman Raving Rabbids game turned into a successful animated series for France Télévisions and Nickelodeon, Rabbids Invasion.

Skylanders Academy will feature the voices of Justin Long (Alvin and the Chipmunks), Ashley Tisdale (High School Musical) and Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad), with Eric Rogers (Futurama) signed on as showrunner.

The fantasy action-themed Skylanders franchise began as a toy line, with a series of games following.

Perhaps more interesting for the gaming-focused audience are plans for a “robust cinema universe based on the Call of Duty franchise”, with the studio saying it “envisions a series of Call of Duty feature films as well as the possibility of television adaptations”.

Call of Duty is one of the biggest-selling video games franchises in history, and on Friday got its latest entry into the canon, Call of Duty: Black Ops III.

“Activision Blizzard is home to some of the most successful entertainment franchises in history, across any medium,” said Bobby Kotick, CEO of the gaming giant. “With the launch of Activision Blizzard Studios, our engaged fans can now watch the games they love come to life across film and television.”

Van Dyk, who will lead distribution, physical production, strategy, finance and operations at Activision Blizzard Studios, worked at Disney for nine years before moving last year.

As senior VP, corporate strategy at the Mouse House, he played significant roles in the acquisition of animation studio Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars studio Lucasfilm. Before Disney, he was part of a Artisan Entertainment’s senior management.

“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,” he said.

“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. This gives us a huge, passionate and deeply-engaged audience that is hungry for more great content built from the universes they already know and love – and which are extremely broad in their appeal.”

He added that a TV and film production division was” a synergistic complement to our core business”, creating “awareness of, engagement with and passion for our franchises”.

The news comes soon after Activision Blizzard hired former ESPN CEO Steve Bornstein and Major League Gaming co-founder Mike Sepso to run a new e-sports division, and in the same month the firm paid nearly US$6 billion to acquire King Digital, the company behind mobile app Candy Crush.

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