Tokyo Slot King Gambles on Hollywood Play

By MICHAEL THURESSON
Staff Reporter

A large Japanese gaming company is ready to throw some yen around Hollywood.

After years of dominating Japan's lucrative slot machine market, Tokyo-based Sammy Corp. created Sammy Studios Inc. last year as part of a $25 million effort to establish itself in the growing interactive entertainment market.

The new company is headquartered in Carlsbad and has a nearly empty 22,000-square-foot studio in the Sherman Oaks Galleria that opened late last year. By this time next year, Sammy Studios expects to have 80 employees in the L.A. studio serving as a pipeline into Hollywood.

The company's financial strength Sammy reported about $1.4 billion in revenue in the year ended March 31 and its aggressive pursuit of content already has made waves locally.

"They really bought into video games being the next big thing and are sniffing around Vivendi Universal's video game assets," said a source familiar with Vivendi Universal's entertainment auction. "Sammy wants to make a big splash in the U.S. based on original intellectual properties."

John Rowe, president of Sammy Studios, wouldn't confirm the company's interest but he noted, "As we grow and diversify, we are looking for opportunities. If there are companies in play, we will take a look."

Vivendi Universal declined comment.

The game unit is not likely to be included in any sale of Vivendi Universal's entertainment assets to NBC; if a Bronfman bid goes through, it is expected to include Vivendi Universal Games.

Marketing tie-ins between blockbuster movies and video games have become big business in the entertainment world as both sides are drawn to opportunities that extend the life of original properties. "The Matrix: Reloaded," "Hulk" and "James Bond 007: GoldenEye" are among the recent string of big-budget movies that game companies have made into market-leading games.

But making games out of movies can be prohibitively expensive. "Enter the Matrix" reportedly cost $21 million. To date, Sammy Studios has been known as a publisher of games from other developers, though it has been doing more joint development as its internal development team has grown.

Sammy Corp. made news in May when it nearly merged with Sega Corp. The deal would have created a video game giant on the level of Electronic Arts Inc. but it never happened.

Sammy Studios' best-known title is "Seven Samurai 20XX," a game based on the famous Japanese movie, and the studio plans on releasing several games within the next year.

In addition to making games out of movies, Sammy Studios is interested in selling the movie rights to its games, just as Japan's Tecmo Inc. has done. In May, Tecmo sold the movie rights for its horror fantasy game "Fatal Frame" to Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks SKG. Last year, it sold its "Dead or Alive" action game to Mindfire Entertainment and now it's in talks with studios about two other games.

Sammy Studios wants to bring the production in-house so it can supply its programmers with a constant stream of Hollywood-like graphics, music and animation that can be woven into games. Among the talent it's looking for is voice actors, screenwriters and music composers with experience working on movies.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.