Syfy Expanding Video-Game Business

Looking to get a slice of the $20 billion-a-year U.S. video-game market, drive new revenue streams and continue expanding its brand beyond the television set, NBC Universal's Syfy is planning a major expansion of its Syfy Games unit in 2010.

At the heart of the future of Syfy Games is the network's relationship with video-game publisher THQ. The two companies announced their partnership in February, and said they would be bringing THQ's de Blob franchise to TV and the Web via the Syfy Kids banner. Now, the companies are partnering on another of THQ's biggest properties: first-person shooter Red Faction.

Syfy has just closed a deal to bring Red Faction to television via a two-hour movie, which will also serve as a back-door pilot. In addition, the next iteration of the Red Faction video-game series will be produced in conjunction with Syfy Games.

"It is the kind of content that fits our genre," Alan Seiffert, senior VP of Syfy Ventures, told B&C. "It is a great fit for a big Syfy Saturday movie, and if it really works, it is a great back-door pilot."

The two companies are also working to bring Syfy television franchises to consoles and PCs, starting with a game based on the upcoming reality series GhostHunters Academy. In development by THQ for the Nintendo DS, Apple iPhone and iPad platforms, the game will have players trying out to join the Ghost Hunters team. The iPhone version will also utilize the device's camera for an augmented reality feature.

"Both Ghost Hunters and Red Faction are great examples of how we are absolutely committed to [gaming], and it is going to be more than just taking the name, it is going to really be part of the overall experience," Seiffert says.

There is plenty of room to expand that relationship even further. THQ holds the exclusive rights to produce video games based on World Wrestling Entertainment properties, one of which, Smackdown, will be heading to Syfy in the fall.

"As long as we approach it as more than just a licensing proposition, there is a lot of value in taking some properties and just transferring them, if you will, to games," Seiffert says.

The partnership with THQ is just one part of the network's long-term strategy for Syfy Games. The network also has partnerships in place with Bigpoint Interactive and Trion to develop original intellectual properties as well as games based on existing properties.

One of those properties will be Battlestar Galactica, which Bigpoint is developing into an online game. Syfy will have an exclusive 30-day window to feature the BSG title on when it launches this fall.

Syfy is also planning to relaunch the gaming area of under the Syfy Games banner in the next month. The new section will have what Seiffert calls a "curated approach" to games.

The new Syfy Games section of will feature fewer titles, but ones that are more relevant to Syfy's audience. The plan is to diversify the types of games Syfy is involved in, and the revenue streams that come with the different models. "Going forward, it will be a mix of games and properties that are advertiser-supported, those that are based on micro-transactions, subscriptions and virtual currency; there will be a lot of choices," Seiffert says.

To that end, the network plans to feature more Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMOs) on the revamped Syfy Games site. Those games lend themselves well to subscriptions and micro-transactions, but also drive player loyalty. According to Seiffert, the new "curated" site will provide a more focused environment for advertisers.

"When we move toward a more handpicked approach to the online game center, it will be much more compelling [to advertisers]," he says. "We are about saying, ‘We have the right people that you want.'"

While kids networks like Nickelodeon have been in the video-game business for years, many older-skewing channels have been hesitant to enter the arena beyond online Flash games and some licensing deals. But as video games continue to become bigger business, television companies are taking a closer look at the industry, which generated revenues of nearly $20 billion in the U.S. in 2009, according to research firm NPD Group.

The Red Faction movie will also test television viewers' appetite for shows based on games. Most game-to-TV-show successes have been kids titles like Sonic the Hedgehog and Pokémon. Very few adult games have made the jump successfully to TV.