|Children will first become involved with the 'Viva Piñata' characters and environment as a TV show on Fox. Then they will be targets for the Xbox 360 game release, following by marketing campaigns for 'Viva'-themed toys, apparel, party goods and other products. Click to see larger photo.
The timing is coincidental, according to the partners in the deal, but it couldn’t be more beneficial for Microsoft Game Studios as it reaches out to a new demographic.
“The awareness and excitement that the TV show is going to create for the property will be great,” said Shane Kim, general manager, Microsoft Game Studios.
“Kids will have become invested in the game and characters before the game comes out,” echoed Al Kahn, CEO, 4Kids Entertainment, the production company that created the TV series and future merchandising deals.
Taking spotlight off Xbox shortage
Microsoft, which has a 25% market share in the U.S. console market behind Sony's Playstation, needs to find new brand loyalists beyond the 18- to 34-year-olds who are its core customers given the rising cost of developing games and console technology. The show and game also arrive in the midst of the software giant’s struggles to manage the public relations around the ongoing shortage of Xbox 360 consoles.
“‘Viva Piñata’ is the most important game we’ll be releasing this year,” Mr. Kim said. “In order for us to reach our long-term strategic goals, we need to win over the next generation.”
It’s a generation that responds to convergent properties, the two executives said.
Animal-like piñatas come to life
The show, which will air Saturday mornings during the Fox Network's 4Kids TV block, is set on Pinata Island. It includes animal-like piñatas that come to life, with names like Franklyn Fizzly Bear and Fergie Fudgehog. Embedded in the story line will be hints and tips about how to play the game, but it won’t explicitly promote the game.
Like the popular “Sims” series, the video game focuses on relationship-building, presenting children with a bare garden plot. Players plant seeds and nourish the land in preparation for piñatas. When conditions are right, piñatas appear, get along or fight, experience the ups and downs of life on the island, while the player tries to maintain the proper ecosystem. When all is right, the piñatas actually find mates, indicated by a bubble with a heart appearing over piñatas’ heads. Then, a stork drops off an egg and the player can raise baby piñatas. The idea is to build and produce as many piñatas as possible.
Piñata merchandise in 2007
A merchandising licensing deal will come to fruition in 2007 for toys, apparel and party goods among 13 other categories.
Advertising opportunities will be built into both the TV show and the game, but no participating marketers have been announced so far.
“The future of our business is interactivity,” Mr. Kahn said. “With the collision of the Internet and TV, at some point kids are not going to know whether they are on the Internet or TV.”