Playboy is getting into the video game business—again.
The publishing company, best known for its iconic men’s magazine, will launch a video game label by the end of the year and is partnering with a German online game publisher to release a free-to-play online game.
Playboy hasn’t announced how much it plans to spend in the gaming space, but says the investment will be significant.
“We’re not hanging out hat in terms of digital strategy on this, but this is one of the most promising areas of growth,” says Paul Lee, Playboy's managing director for new digital ventures.
Its first title will be a browser-based massively multiplayer online (MMO) game called “Poisonville,” which will be ad-supported. While most MMO games follow the formula laid out by category leader “World of Warcraft,” “Poisonvile” will take its cue from Take-Two Interactive Software’s (TTWO) “Grand Theft Auto”.
The game promises to put “gamers into a fictional U.S. city where crime and corruption rule the streets”. Along the way, they’ll encounter “Playboy-caliber women” as they “stimulate gang warfare”.
Lee says the company is also working on a number of other titles with other developers in a variety of genres. The games will be tailored to Playboy’s chief audience – the 18-35 year old male. However, the company does not plan to make titles with a sexual focus.
“We will not be creating FarmVille-type games,” says Lee. “It will be slightly edgy, but one of my main objectives is to bring Playboy Digital back to the mainstream. None of games will be risqué or sexually oriented.”
Rather than focusing on retail products, games put out under the Playboy label will be web and mobile based. Lee declined to say how many the company plans to put out this year, but said Facebook titles are under consideration, as well as games for Apple’s iPhone and iPad.
Rather than working with larger game companies, such as Electronic Arts and Activision , he said the unit is more likely to work with the new breed of game makers, which includes ngmoco and Zynga (though Lee did not say Playboy is working with either of those companies currently).
The game label is an extension of Playboy’s burgeoning interest in the gaming space, which the company has been inching closer to for years.
Previously, it has focused exclusively on licensing deals. In 2005, the company worked with Arush Entertainment and developer Cyberlore to publish “Playboy: The Mansion,” a “Sims”-like game that let people play as Hugh Heffner, building the mogul’s mansion up to the lifestyle it’s known for.
More recently, the company has struck deals with several publishers, including Take-Two. In the just-released “Mafia II,” the magazine is an in-game collectible item. For each classic copy the player finds, the game unlocks a picture of a centerfold. The company has also struck a deal with Capcom for its more recent magazines and imagery to be used in the upcoming “Dead Rising 2”.
Meanwhile, on Playboy.com, the company has enlisted model Jo Garcia, an avid gamer who has posed nude for the site, to do frequent game reviews, dubbing her “the gamer next door”.
Bigpoint, Playboy’s first partner in its new gaming venture, is not currently a well-known company by U.S. gamers, but has a long history of making Web browser-based games. In addition to its work with the men’s magazine, it’s also in the process of creating “Battlestar Galactica Online,” a browser-based game based on the hit SyFy series. It’s partially owned by the Peacock Equity Fund, the venture capital arm of NBC Universal, a division of General Electric, the parent of CNBC.com.
While games and Playboy might seem an odd mix at first, the demographics are remarkably similar. Today’s average gamer is 34 years old, according to a study by the Entertainment Software Association. And the most frequent game purchaser is 40 – old enough to remember the early days of Atari.
Playboy Magazine, meanwhile, lists the average age of its reader as 34.9.