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More ‘Walking Dead’ and other Skybound games in the works

Skybound Entertainment is best known for founder Robert Kirkman’s comic book series The Walking Dead, which has successfully been adapted into a critically acclaimed hit AMC TV series, turned into a traveling Walking Dead Escape live action experience in which participants can play as Walkers or human survivors, and made into a bestselling episodically-delivered video game series from developer Telltale Games, as well as mobile game The Walking Dead: Assault from Gamagio and The Walking Dead pinball video game from Zen Studios. Now the entertainment company, which is home to dozens of other comic book writers, is focusing more efforts in the burgeoning video game space with Skybound Interactive.

Skybound has partnered with developer Overkill, a Starbreeze Studio, to create a completely new nonlinear cooperative gameplay experience set in The Walking Dead universe. The first-person shooter game, which will be released in 2016, will be developed with Kirkman and his team, including Skybound Interactive president Dan Murray.

“This game is meant to be a complement and not a replacement to Telltale’s game series,” said Murray. “We looked at what Starbreeze has done in the past with IP like Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay as well as Payday 2, and we felt that there’s another game in there for this universe that the fans have been asking for. Our new approach to gaming is to find the right developer for the property and then make a long-term commitment to create something fresh and new collaboratively with them.”

With both seasons of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead heading to Xbox One (MSFT) and PlayStation 4 (SNE) this fall and a third season already announced, fans will have plenty of new Walking Dead games to keep them busy until 2016. It’s worth noting that Activision and developer Terminal Reality’s single-player first-person shooter, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, which featured actors Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker, was licensed by AMC and served as a prequel to the TV series. It wasn’t developed through Skybound.

“In general, you have to treat games as a medium and not as a packaged good,” said Murray. “I believe publishers always try to create something good, but the reality is when you’re working alongside a known IP, and the developer doesn’t have the ability to work as a partner you’re set up for failure.”

Murray knows first-hand how complicated Hollywood game development can be with its limited budgets and strict timelines. Before joining Skybound this January, he was an executive at Foundation 9 Entertainment for nine years. That company, which was comprised of nine development studios and 1,100 people, was responsible for creating approximately 70% of all Hollywood licensed games.

Foundation 9 was built to be like a United Artists for game makers, allowing independent developers like Amaze Entertainment, The Collective, Cryptonite Games, Backbone Entertainment and Pipeworks Software to retain their indie identity while focusing on the genres they made best. In May 2005, it entered a strategic partnership with Circle of Confusion to develop cross-media IP. Death Jr., which was written by The Walking Dead game writer Gary Whitta, launched a game franchise, comic book and toy line. It was this partnership that introduced Murray to Circle of Confusion partner David Alpert, who is also a partner now in Skybound Entertainment.

The Walking Dead is such a great franchise with an ever-expanding story, but at Skybound we have a lot of stuff we’re teeing up,” said Murray.

Murray would also love to see what Skybound might be able to do with Air in the video game space, although he’s not talking about specifics for any IP just yet. The sci-fi movie, which stars Reedus and Djimon Hounsou, takes place after a nuclear apocalypse has wiped out life on Earth save for the last remnants of humanity, which have been cryogenically saved.

Moving forward, Murray said Skybound hopes to become a player in the video game space. The company has already grabbed the attention of game publishers. Murray said a lot of game publishers are looking at Skybound and trying to set up a similar model within their organization. Murray said the company will likely work with established publishers on some projects because of the specific role they have today to connect games across platforms. But because there are a lot of different ways to distribute games, including the digital route Telltale Games has taken with its games before releasing disc-based collections later.

“Skybound leads with the creative first and lets the business model follow,” said Murray. “I’m not having typical licensing discussions with developers. My goal is to reach out to developers and figure out where the creative matches what we might want to do with something different around all our IPs, and also potentially bringing in new IP from the games space into the fold. We’re looking for true partners and not just hired guns.”

With AMC turning Nick Spencer’s and Kirkman’s Thief of Thieves heist comic into a TV series and Kirkman’s exorcism comic Outcast being optioned by Cinemax for a series pilot, Skybound is already a cross-platform entertainment company. Syfy is turning Skybound comic book creator David Schulner’s Clone into a TV series, as well.

“Every medium is its own,” said Murray. “If it deserves to be graphic novel, which are great as a lead to flesh out a world, that’s great. Skybound’s core has always been a publishing label in the comic book space with Robert Kirkman leading that space.”

It’s game on, and not just for zombies.