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DC Heroesentering world of online games.

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - A literal battle of the superheroes is shaping up in the highly volatile world of online games.

Sony Online Entertainment Inc. and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment are set to announce Friday an exclusive long-term licensing agreement that will let gamers share a universe with DC Comics' Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, the Sandman and other action immortals.

The companies also disclosed that Sony Online had acquired Warner's "The Matrix Online" game. All 25 staff members currently operating the subscription-based massively multiplayer online game have been offered their existing position under the new ownership.

"We see DC as a very valuable brand," said Jason Hall, senior vp at Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment which, like DC Comics, is owned by Time Warner Inc. "There's a lot of opportunity sitting in the DC universe, and we're looking at those gems and how to present them in a compelling way to the consumer."

Sony Online already has demonstrated expertise in this arena with such significant hits as the "EverQuest" franchise, "PlanetSide" and "Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided." It also brings economies of scale to operating these labor-intensive properties.

"By working with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, we will fuse the knowledge SOE has in the online space with some of Warner Bros.' phenomenal properties," Sony Online Entertainment president John Smedley said. "SOE will work closely with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment to maintain the authenticity consumers demand from the DC Comics franchises and the existing 'The Matrix Online' game."

Sega of America will continue to manage distribution of "The Matrix Online," while Warner will oversee content development and relinquish operational involvement. Ubisoft withdrew from its involvement with the property in early 2004.

"Our goal is to deliver quality content and consistently advance our key properties within the online games space," Hall said. "We've done just that with 'The Matrix Online.' Because of our compelling work in developing and launching that game, we can now move it over to the leaders in the MMO space: SOE."

Sony Online will be creating a DC Comics game for the PC and next-generation gaming platforms, scheduled to be released in late 2007.

"DC has got a very large depth and history to it," Smedley said. "And it isn't a bad thing that 'Batman Begins' just came out, then 'Superman' next year and 'Wonder Woman' after that."

Another advantage of the Sony-Warner pairing is the Station Access Pass, which gives unlimited access to all of Sony's MMO (massively multiplayer online) games for $21.99 a month. Hall said this means all 600,000 existing Station subscribers could minimize the risk and hassle of experiencing "The Matrix Online" or the upcoming DC Comics game because they already are included in the monthly fee.

"We believe strongly that the cable model is the right one," Smedley agreed. "You're bringing a lot of high quality to the consumer at the right price."

DC's won't be the first superhero MMO game. In 2002, Marvel Enterprises Inc. signed a worldwide licensing agreement with Vivendi Universal Publishing to create an MMO based on Marvel's more than 4,700 other characters, including Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk and the X-Men. According to a Vivendi spokeswoman, that project is currently on hold.

DC Comics will, however, be taking on NCsoft's "City of Heroes" MMO. Launched a year ago, it has more than 130,000 registered users, all of whom pay a monthly subscription fee of $14.95 in addition to purchasing the boxed game for about $30.

Smedley said he was unaware of the Marvel MMO status but wasn't concerned. "I will put Super-Man against the X-Men any day," he said. "And 'City of Heroes' was massively successful, but now we're bringing the world's No. 1 comic into the MMO space."

Hall was similarly unfazed by any potential competition. "DC is really where the classic archetype of the superhero lives, and there is nothing else like it," he said. "We're partnered with arguably the leader in this space for the longest period of time, and we're pairing them up with one of our largest properties. It's a great setup for success and for the experience DC fans want to have."

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

Posted by Directory of Games on June 18.

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