E3 06: Activision acquires James Bond license

[UPDATE] Number-two publisher takes over spy-film-inspired game license after archrival Electronic Arts ends agreement; now holds PC, handheld, and console rights until 2014.

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Since the late 1990s, Electronic Arts has held the license to publish games based on the James Bond film franchise. The results have been mixed on the current generation of consoles. One effort, 2004's James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing, garnered high praise and sold more than 1.3 million units in the US, according to the NPD group. However, EA's four other Bond games--James Bond 007 in Agent Under Fire (2002), James Bond 007: NightFire (2003), GoldenEye: Rogue Agent (2004), and From Russia With Love (2005)--have seen middling sales and reviews.

In 2003, Electronic Arts announced a deal with film distributor MGM to make James Bond-based games until 2009. The following year, MGM was bought by Sony, which now co-owns the James Bond license with the production company EON.

Now, three years later, EA no longer holds the once-coveted James Bond license. Today, Activision shocked the game industry by announcing that it had struck a deal with MGM and EON to publish James Bond games through 2014. "The James Bond franchise creates tremendous global expansion opportunities for Activision as it is one of the few video game licenses that appeals equally to domestic and international consumers," said Mike Griffith, president and CEO of Activision Publishing.

The deal is extensive and gives Activision "worldwide rights to create video games for all current- and next-generation consoles, PC and handheld platforms" based on the James Bond character. It includes both original games set in the Bond universe and games based on new films, such as the forthcoming Casino Royale. Royale will be the first film to feature Daniel Craig (Layer Cake, Munich) in the role of Agent 007.

[UPDATE] But while the deal is potentially lucrative, it does raise a number of questions. Namely, how did Activision get the license to publisher 007 titles? As it turns out, EA decided it didn't want to make them anymore. "EA has decided to conclude our agreement for the James Bond license," a rep told GameSpot. "The current contract was set to expire in 2009. This was a good relationship with MGM and it produced a lot of great games."

According to EA, the end of the 007 deal is part of the publisher's larger strategy to refocus on all-new games. "While movie games will always be in our portfolio, EA is moving away from licensed properties and committing our resources to wholly-owned IP, created in our own studios," said the rep. "Wholly owned properties allow better financial margins and more creative control to develop the type of games that consumers want."

Requests for comment sent to Activision were not returned as of press time.

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