Acclaim: back from the dead

Former Activision exec will launch new company with old name; business model to focus on bringing Asian MMOs to North America and Europe.

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Although the official announcement isn't scheduled for weeks, a clear picture of Howard Marks' new company has formed. Ironically, the new company will have an old name--that of Acclaim Games.

Marks picked up the Acclaim name shortly after the company filed for bankruptcy in September 2004. Marks secured the rights to the name for a reported $100,000.

According to a job listing for the new company, Acclaim Games will "be the first US major brand to bring some of the most successful online games in the world, specifically designed to meet the community and multiplayer experience that the 36 million U.S. tweens and the 41 million European tweens want." (Tweens are typically defined as children aged 9 to 13.)

Marks is no stranger to the game business. While a student at the University of Michigan, Marks and roommate Bobby Kotick started Arktronics, a software development company that created business-application technology for the Apple II platform.

Then, in 1991, the two bought a 30 percent interest in an ailing game publisher, Activision. The company was in a precarious financial state and the two investors took the company through bankruptcy proceedings and then rebuilt it from the ground up. Now, the game maker is considered the second-biggest third-party publisher in America, after Electronic Arts.

Of course, Bobby Kotick is now Activision's CEO. Marks remained with the company in an executive role until late 1997. Marks founded business-application software company eMinds in February 1998.

Today, Marks hopes to introduce casual MMO PC games, a genre that is wildly popular in Asia, to stateside gamers.

Acclaim's products will be based on the microtransaction-based business model made popular by Korean titles like Go Pets, Kart Racer, and Hangame. Marks has said "these small content transactions are a proven model for millions of gamers in Asia and is directly analogous to the explosive $4 billion worldwide ring tone and wallpaper mobile phone market mainly consumed by the 8-16 group [in the US and Europe]."

The company will license game content from Korea, then localize and support it for Western markets. Its launch title will be B.O.U.T., a "robot fighting game" for PCs with "an incredibly easy interface," according to Acclaim. The title is currently owned and operated (in Korea) by Seoul-based publisher NHN Corporation. NHN is widely credited with pioneering the micropayment strategy almost four years ago.

B.O.U.T. will be a free game that will entice gamers to buy from among 15,000-plus in-game robot parts using real-world cash. Parts can then be used and combined by gamers to make their robots better fighters.

At the recent G-Star game summit in Korea, NHN president Whee-Young Choi said that B.O.U.T. will mark the "starting line" of collaboration between Korean and US companies. He also alluded to B.O.U.T. having an anime component, though he offered no specifics.

Expect Marks and Acclaim Games to launch its lineup of casual, item-based games sometime next year.

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