Starz Throws 'Spartacus' Game Into Facebook Arena

Starz Entertainment is hoping to stir some bloodlust with the launch of its first social-media game, as part of promoting the Jan. 21 premiere of original series Spartacus: Gods of the Arena.

The game, to be available on Facebook, puts users in charge of their own gladiator school to assemble and train a team of up to nine gladiators. The ultimate goal is to have the fighters battle in the top arenas of the Roman Empire.

"We went out to build a kick-ass gladiator game that would also build our brand," said Marc DeBevoise, Starz Media's senior vice president of digital media, business development and strategy.

Starz will open the beta of the Gods of the Arena game Jan. 6 to the first 10,000 Spartacus fans who register on Facebook, with the public launch expected Jan. 20. Starz's Spartacus page on the site currently has about 750,000 fans.

"It's a game we think can last not only for the run of the show but longer," DeBevoise said. "I call it ‘marketing that pays us.'"

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena -- the six-episode prequel to Starz's original series Spartacus: Blood and Sand -- will debut Jan. 21 on the linear TV service.

Starz also plans to launch an iPad app for Spartacus Jan. 17 that provides access to the screenplays from Blood and Sand and Gods of the Arena along with multimedia video segments, director's notes and other info. Scripts for the first episodes will be free, but Starz is charging for subsequent episodes and the full series.

"We felt putting a bunch of video [in an iPad app] would be a waste -- we wanted something different," DeBevoise said.

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena was produced by Rob Tapert, Sam Raimi, Joshua Donen and Steven DeKnight, which was the same team behind Spartacus: Blood and Sand. That series averaged more than 7 million viewers across all platforms during its run that began in January 2010.

Gods of the Arena centers on the story of Gannicus, a charismatic gladiator played by Australian actor Dustin Clare, and his master, Quintus Batiatus, played again by John Hannah.

Starz is determining how to proceed for the second season of Blood and Sand, after lead actor Andy Whitfield left the production following a recurrence of cancer.

The Gods of the Arena social media game was co-developed with Large Animal Games.

Users can purchase and use Facebook credits to speed up their fighters' training or purchase premium weapons or additional gladiators. DeBevoise noted that players also can earn "influence" points with experience, as well as bribe politicians or poison rival gladiators, to influence the outcome of a fight.

Starz plans to host special events and add game content tied to Gods of the Arena every week during the series' run. "We have story about how you get to the Colosseum -- but the show has to happen first," DeBevoise said.

To promote the game, Starz Digital Media has partnered with social media gaming publisher 6waves, which with more than 75 million monthly active users is one of the largest social gaming publishers worldwide. Its published games include Mall World, Kingdoms of Camelot and Ravenwood Fair.

The Spartacus iPad script application will be a free download for iPad users, with the first episode of Spartacus: Blood and Sand ("The Red Serpent") included as part of the app download. Additional episode scripts will be available for individual purchase for 99 cents each, with the entire 13-part Blood and Sand series of multimedia iPad scripts available for $4.99.

The first iPad electronic script for Spartacus: Gods of the Arena ("Past Transgressions") will be pushed out as a free update to app users on Jan. 22. Each additional multimedia episode script from the series will be available individually for 99 cents the day after debuting on Starz. The entire six-part Gods of the Arena multimedia series script set will be available for $2.99.

Starz launched its first multimedia iPad app with Penguin Group USA for The Pillars of the Earth in July 2010, which combined content from the series with an e-book.