'A Knight's Tale' Game Jousts for E-Mails

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Sony Pictures Entertainment is releasing an interactive e-mail game in early April to precede the May 11 theatrical release of its medieval action film "A Knight's Tale."

To play, users must register their names, passwords, e-mail addresses and the e-mail addresses of friends at www.aknightstale.com. After the user customizes his knight with armor and fighting style, an e-mail challenge is sent to the user's friend, containing a URL linking to aknightstale.com, where the friend creates his own knight and can opt in to receive Sony Pictures e-mails. If the user being challenged already created a knight character, a predetermined battle unfolds. Users receive e-mails with fight results that can be viewed on aknightstale.com.

"We're making people come to the Web site in order to enjoy this diversion we've created for them," said Dwight Caines, vice president of Internet marketing at Columbia Pictures, a Sony subsidiary. "The hope is that people will pass it along."

Caines plans to track the volume of game sessions and unique users.

"We're hoping it becomes an easy thing for people to do and it becomes habit-forming," he said. "I think what we are going to find is that we have also found a way to drive repeat visitations."

To promote the game, Sony e-mailed several hundred thousand opt-in users with the message, "A Knight's Tale audio visualizer will rock you! Fight to the beat at www.aknightstale.com." The audio visualizer gives users a taste of the game by bringing dueling knights to life on their computer screens through music played on Winamp, Sonique or Ultraplayer. Users download the appropriate audio player from aknightstale.com in order to see knights battle to the music, which determines the knight's movements, camera angles and lighting within a three-dimensional environment.

Caines said tapping into the vast audio player audience could translate into hundreds of thousands of downloads of the audio visualizer.

"We built this strategy from identifying this base of available users first," Caines said. "We know there's this great technology, and we wanted to leverage that technology to take advantage of that base. I'm hoping we get the kind of numbers this Valentine Dancer got."

The Valentine Dancer plug-in, available at Winamp.com, has been downloaded more than 900,000 times. WildTangent, an interactive media provider, developed the Valentine Dancer and the audio visualizer for "A Knight's Tale."

"Originally we were talking about developing the usual screensaver," said Phil Shenk, director of product development at WildTangent, Redmond, WA.

"Out of those initial conversations came the idea of an e-mail game," he said. "Then we figured out that it wouldn't be that much more work to make that into an audio visualizer as well, which would expand the market and open up new channels to promote the movie."

In-game billboards offer sponsorship possibilities to offset the game's production cost.

"If we land a sponsor, the great news for us is that we're generating revenue and the Web site starts to pay for itself," Caines said. "If it's our own movie branding, then it's additional advertising."

The game will be promoted on AOL and Moviefone.com.

Sony Pictures Entertainment, Culver City, CA, spans motion picture production and distribution, television programming and syndication, and home video acquisition and distribution in 67 countries.

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