EXCLUSIVE: Nexon, an Asian video game developer specializing in immersive virtual worlds, is setting up an LA-based film and TV division to be run by Disney and Activision Blizzard veteran Nick van Dyk.
In addition to being president of Nexon Film and Television, van Dyk will also be the parent company’s EVP and Chief Strategy Officer. In that role, he will steer strategic planning, M&A, corporate development, franchise management and partnerships.
Nexon, founded in 1994 in South Korea, is now based in Tokyo. It is publicly traded on the Tokyo Stock Exchange and has a market capitalization north of $18 billion.
The film and TV unit will look to leverage existing IP at the company. Its titles include long-running games like Dungeon Fighter, The Kingdom of the Winds, MapleStory and KartRider. Others are in development at Nexon’s Embark Studios in Stockholm, Sweden.
In an interview with Deadline, van Dyk and Nexon CEO Owen Mahoney said the initial approach to the film and TV effort will be gradual, with a few dozen hires. The strategy will not to be to come out of the gate with massive capital commitments, and the duo declined to get specific with budgets or targets. The long game, they said, is strategic. They want to position live-action and animated projects as a way to extend the company’s revenue horizons, an exceedingly rare feat in the industry.
“Game companies as they think about IP, they sort of try something, maybe they’ll make a Netflix show, but they sort of do it as a sideshow,” Mahoney said. Before joining Nexon in 2010, the exec spent eight years in a key strategic role for Electronic Arts.
“The film and TV business is a challenged business,” van Dyk said. “We’re not in that business. … Our role is to be custodians of the IP.”
Despite the massive popularity and growth of video games, reconciling the gaming world with film and TV has never been a smooth process. Start-and-stop initiatives over the years at Microsoft and Sony, owners of major gaming platforms and potential beneficiaries of synergy, have never borne much fruit. Other gaming properties transferred to the screen have mostly been “one-offs,” in the view of van Dyk. Therein lies the opportunity, Nexon believes.
“As an industry we are continuing to learn the power of this IP,” van Dyk told Deadline. The key to making a successful game adaptation is “being very true to the game. You have to strike a balance between broadening out and serving the core audience.”
Ubiquitous in Asia but is little-known in the west, Nexon is keen to gain a broader profile. Kevin Mayer, who spearheaded Disney’s entry into direct-to-consumer streaming and before that led its strategic planning and dealmaking efforts, is on Nexon’s board of directors. Van Dyk was one of Mayer’s key lieutenants during a decade-long exec run at Disney, helping set the company’s digital direction and engineer the acquisitions of Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm.
Nexon was among the M&A targets that van Dyk and Mayer identified in the latter part of the 2000s, he recalled. “In hindsight, we should have pushed even harder to make that investment,” he said.
Fidelity to source material will be a core principle, van Dyk said, citing JJ Abrams’ reboot of the Star Trek franchise as one inspiring example. “Fans of games are even more invested than fans of Star Trek,” he said. “What makes the game special? You can’t replicate that on every platform.”
The virtual worlds inhabited by hundreds of millions of regular players of Nexon games are also what’s known as the “metaverse.” Fortnite maker Epic Games has gained attention in the past couple of years for promoting events inside of Fortnite and touting the metaverse as the next arena for entertainment. Even a traditional studio like Warner Bros, as it has built toward tomorrow’s release of Space Jam: A New Legacy, has sought to embrace the concept.
“A lot of the talk of the metaverse has me a bit baffled,” Mahoney said, while giving credit to Epic for its success. “You have to define what that is so you can deliver
Where the rubber hits the road is building an experience that can be as immersive and satisfying as the game itself.”
Quality, van Dyk said, “is going to be the most important objective. We’re going to be very cost-effective, and we will look at a variety of business models.”