The Hunger Games movie, which just had one of the biggest-ever box office opening days ever, has an important Israeli connection: The official online game, The Hunger Games Adventures, was designed and developed by Israel-based Funtactix.
The Jerusalem company has become a “go to” company for Hollywood studios looking to develop companion social games for their films. Over the past several years, the company, led by CEO Sam Glassenberg, has developed games for two other major Hollywood productions, Rango and Mission Impossible. “Like with The Hunger Games Adventures, these were the official social games for those movies,” Glassenberg told the Times of Israel. “We are the only company in the world building social games like these tied to movies.”
Production of The Hunger Games Adventures is likely to be followed by the development of other games, said Fiona Darmon, VP of Investor Relations for Jerusalem Venture Partners, a major investor in Funtactix. “Israeli tech is moving beyond the infrastructure, the deeply embedded chip or network device that powers the internet. We’ve been very successful in that space, but we also have a large creative community that wants to make its voice heard, and we at JVP are committed to making those voices heard.”
Glassenberg and Darmon spoke to the Times of Israel at an event celebrating the premier of The Hunger Games Adventures. Held in Cinema City in Ramat Hasharon on Friday afternoon, it gave audience members a preview of the game. The game was formally premiered on Facebook to coincide with the movie’s Friday midnight opening in the US. Currently available by invitation only, the game follows a plot that expands on the themes of the movie and the trilogy of wildly popular books by Suzanne Collins.
The movie, based on the first book in the trilogy, describes a bleak post-apocalyptic America in which a decimated population is enslaved to produce goods and services for a decadent Capitol. As punishment for an insurrection years earlier, the 13 districts of the country, now called Panem, must send a teenage boy and girl to fight to the death in The Hunger Games. The heroine, Katniss Everdeen, finds solace from her difficult life in the forest beyond the electrified fence surrounding her home in District 12, and the online game lets players follow adventures that she, along with the story’s other heroes and villains, experience in the forest.
It’s a moving story, one that Glassenberg realized would be a great online experience for fans. “When we propose a project, we look for great properties with interesting characters that have lots of fans, and The Hunger Games certainly fits that description.”
Even more important was the fact that Lionsgate, the studio behind The Hunger Games, “decided to work with a company based in Israel, instead of in New York or Hollywood,” Glassenberg said, adding that the studio was impressed by Funtactix’s ability to bring in projects quickly, and at a reasonable price. It helped that Glassenberg has a strong background in game development, as well as connections in Hollywood – he was Lead Program Manager for DirectX Graphics at Microsoft, and worked at LucasArts as well.
What’s worked at Funtactix will work at other Israeli companies, said Darmon. “Even before the emergence of the tablet, it was clear that content was going to be the major growth area of the future,” she said. JVP concluded years ago that it needed to get more involved in content development, and now includes in its portfolio companies like Animation Lab, which develops animated films, and AnyClip, which lets users search in a database for their favorite movie clips.
So far, this merger of gaming technology with major Hollywood productions is unique to Funtactix. “This is the first official on-line game associated with a film that is being marketed through Facebook,” said Darmon. “The game is a way of taking film, which had been advertised and marketed until now through the traditional outlets of billboards and newspaper ads, and monetizing it in a new way.”
The Hunger Games was an ideal film for this initial dip by Hollywood into social gaming; a recent article in the New York Times documented the movie’s use of Facebook and Twitter as promotional tools, describing how “by carefully lighting online kindling,” Lionsgate was able to “create a box office inferno.”
Players of the game are in for a major treat, as well, said Glassenberg. “Until now there has been no published map of Panem, the land where the adventure takes place. Many fans have tried to guess, but there was no official map, until now. Fans who play the game will be able to get the full map.”
The fact that Israelis have the creativity to create products like The Hunger Games Adventures and the other social games that Funtactix has produced shouldn’t surprise anyone, Erel Margalit, JVP Founder and chairman, told attendees at this weekend’s event.
“We want people to hear our story, the new direction we have here in Israel,” he said. “Israeli technology is not just about networking and security. There is a lot of creativity here, and we have lots of stories to tell. We are an ancient tribe, one that has already told many stories to the world in the form of the Bible – the very stories that are the spiritual legacy of the world, that still reverberate with billions of people.”