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Disney hires Halo studio founder, buys company, to beef up video game operation

September 8, 2009 | 12:31 pm

Seropian The Walt Disney Co. is continuing to bring in creative talent from the outside, hiring the co-founder of the company behind the hit video game series Halo as the new head of creative for its video game division.

Along with tapping Alex Seropian, Disney is also buying the game development studio he currently runs, Wideload Games.

The deal comes just a week after Disney bought Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion. While the Wideload acquisition is substantially smaller -- so much so that the value isn't being disclosed -- it further illustrates how the media conglomerate is making strategic purchases to expand its creative capabilities.

Seropian was a founder and the first chief executive of Bungie Studios, which created and produced Halo. Bungie was acquired by Microsoft, which published the Halo games, in 2000. In 2003, he left to head up Chicago-based Wideload.

In his new role of vice president of creative at Disney Interactive Studios, Seropian will coordinate production at all of Disney's eight internally owned video game development studios.

"Currently our creative team doesn't have central leadership," said Graham Hopper, general manager for Disney Interactive. "He'll be working with our studios to make their work better outside of the normal review process. There are a whole suite of things we want Alex to do for us."

Wideload, meanwhile, will continue work on an original Disney-branded game property it is producing that is set for release next year.

Disney has acquired several game development studios in the last few years, including one run by well-respected industry veteran Warren Spector. Some are producing games based on the company's movie and TV properties, while others are creating original characters and worlds.

Hopper said he first met Seropian several years ago at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. The two began an ongoing discussion that led to today's moves.

"Out of that conversation we started working hard to find something to do together," recalled Hopper. "As we went on, it became clear that the way Alex thinks about game development and design and the approach that has made him successful in the past was something that would do very well for us at Disney."

HailChimp Although Bungie is one of the most respected development studios in the video game industry, Wideload has a much weaker track record. Its last game, a 2008 release titled Hail to the Chimp, was poorly received critically and commercially.

Hopper, however, said he's pleased with the new game Wideload is doing for Disney and that he's confident the developer can prosper with the right "publishing muscle."

Wideload has only 25 employees and uses contract employees for much of its production work. Hopper said he doesn't plan to change that strategy, one that has been discussed more frequently in the video game industry recently as a way to reduce fixed costs.

-- Ben Fritz

Photos: Alex Seropian, left, with Bungie co-founder Jason Jones. Credit: Microsoft Corp. A scene from Hail to the Chimp. Credit: GameCock Media Group.