Midway: Ready for its close-up

Streak of quarterly losses doesn't faze CEO; company is beefing up with star power for battle in next-gen, expects great things in 2007.

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LOS ANGELES--Throughout the early portion of the year, most third-party game publishers like to flaunt their upcoming wares for the year and give a basic overview of the company's strategy for the future. These details are usually shown to the press and invited guests in events that range from button-down affairs to lavish spectacles.

Midway Games is no exception to the rule, and held its press event last night at The House of Blues in Los Angeles, on the famous Sunset Strip. Attendees were herded into a rectangular room with a bar on one of the long sides. The buzz built as people literally rubbed elbows, and after nearly 15 minutes, the bar began to move.

Splitting down the middle, the libation station swung outwards like a slow-motion saloon door in the Old West. The "room" attendees were standing in wasn't a room at all--it was a balcony. Looking down onto the club's main floor were several chairs laid out for guests, and a giant screen showing a Midway Games logo on a stage where musical acts such as B.B. King, X, and The Cult have played.

The extravagant presentation wasn't just for show--it's indicative of Midway's future plans to become a big player in the industry through the next-generation--or so company execs surely hoped. The decision to host the event in Hollywood, the Mecca of celeb power, fit perfectly into the company's strategy.

Once the guests settled in, the presentation began with a brief introduction. Then it was on to one of the publisher's most anticipated games. Mark Rein, vice president of Epic Games, showed off some never-before-seen footage of Unreal Tournament 2007. The game is one of the key ingredients to Midway's recent PC efforts, which Midway CEO David Zucker marks as a key ingredient to fuel the company's future success.

UT 2007 is being accompanied in the PC market by another major name, The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game set in the universe created by J.R.R. Tolkien. With those two big licenses leading the way, and the real-time strategy game Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War, Midway isn't just jumping into the pool with two feet, it's bouncing off the diving board and soaking onlookers with a giant cannonball.

Another area Midway is plunging into is children's games. Ed, Edd n Eddy: The Mis-Edventures was Midway's first release under its deal to develop games based on some of Cartoon Network's brands (it was one of Midway's top sellers from 2005). Young gamers can expect more of the same from Midway in 2006 and beyond, as the company hyped games based on The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, and adaptations of two forthcoming Warner Brother animated films, Happy Feet and Ant Bully.

Midway will also be relying on its stable of established franchises in 2006, shipping out new NBA Ballers and Mortal Kombat titles. NBA Ballers: Phenom brings two-on-two matches and an open-world environment replete with rhythm-based minigames, and NBA Ballers: Rebound brings the action of the million-plus-unit-selling NBA Ballers to the PSP.

Also presented were Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, a title that is promised to be the biggest MK game ever, with almost every single Mortal Kombat character being called back for one last hurrah, and Mortal Kombat: Unchained, a PSP game based on Mortal Kombat: Deception.

Furthering its concentration on attracting big-name stars and movie licenses to games, Midway showed off Spy Hunter: Nowhere to Run, starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, which is scheduled for release on current-generation consoles this year. Also mentioned, but not shown, was another property starring a beefy leading man and a fast car, Vin Diesel in the Wheelman, slated for the next generation in 2007. The game is being developed simultaneously with the action flick The Wheelman, which will also star Deisel and be released alongside the game.

It's properties such as The Wheelman that gets Midway execs particularly excited. "We're very focused on gaining market share in the next generation. 2005 and 2006 were all about making sure we're putting the right building blocks in place to be a major player for the next generation of consoles," Zucker told GameSpot News.

As outlined in the company's earnings call last week, Midway's first next-gen project is a prime example of its strategy heading into the next few years.

Zucker said, "Over the past year and a half we've also become more active in licensing external properties as well as pursuing innovative licensing arrangements such as attaching popular stars, well-known directors, and other cultural iconography to our new titles to improve their reach, but also reduce the risk associated with making new intellectual property attractive to mass-market gamers."

To that point, Stranglehold will be released later this year on next-gen consoles and is a sequel to the 1992 John Woo film Hard-Boiled. Woo has been overseeing the project, adding his cinematic action sense and flair to the game. Chow Yun-Fat, who starred as Inspector Tequila in the movie, has lent his likeness to the film as well.

As the night raged on and attendees were wined and dined, it was uncanny how the event and the company's strategy were so similar. Midway wants its consumers to feel like they are A-list celebrities...or can at least control them in a game.

For more on the company's 2006 lineup, check out GameSpot's coverage of Midway's press event.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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