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Microsoft, Marvel Got Game

It seems like once again, Marvel's (NYSE: MVL  ) getting into the game -- this time, by teaming up with Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) in an exclusive deal to put Marvel characters into massively multiplayer online games developed for Microsoft's next-generation Xbox 360 console. Marvel's cast of 5,000 characters includes such well-known names as Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four.

The deal was announced at the San Diego Comic-Con, which bills itself as the world's largest comic book convention. Don't laugh. Even if you think you wouldn't be caught dead at such an event (which has that niche feel, to be sure) today's news underlines powerful pop-culture forces at work.

My first reaction was to wonder what is so exclusive about this deal. One of the soundest investment arguments backing Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick Marvel is its ability to make its intellectual property work in so many channels. Licensing its characters for videogames is no new thing. The company already has deals with Electronic Arts (Nasdaq: ERTS  ) , Activision (Nasdaq: ATVI  ) , and THQ (Nasdaq: THQI  ) -- just to name a few. As it turns out, this is Marvel's first foray into massively multiplayer online games, which is a particularly promising segment of the video game industry.

As far as Microsoft is concerned, gaining a cache of well-known characters is a logical step as it competes with Sony's (NYSE: SNE  ) PlayStation and Nintendo's Gamecube, not to mention the massively multiplayer online games that are available for the ubiquitous home computer without requiring a console. If you've heard the buzz about wildly popular games like World of Warcraft or Battlefield, you know that part of the allure is that a massive number of people are playing all over the globe, setting the stage for virtual worlds that are populated 24 hours a day.

Over the course of recent history, it's fast become clear that video games are no longer a niche pastime reserved for teenage boys and hardcore geeks. In fact, video games are breaking into the realms of leisure-time entertainment, and recent data indicate previously unexpected demographic groups -- including adult women -- are beginning to feel the addictive lure of computer games. Meanwhile, online multiplayer games go beyond sheer competition and entertainment, adding as they do a touch of virtual social life into the mix, despite the fact that one rarely knows exactly who's behind the player avatar.

If there's any concern at all, it might be about how greatly the deal's exclusivity might hamper Marvel, since it won't be able to partner with others for additional multiplayer online games featuring its cast of characters. This aspect of the deal obviously works out well for Microsoft.

Keep in mind that some degree of bearishness has been dogging the video game industry recently. I've read recent commentary in which some have opined that it may be losing its appeal. I can't say I agree with those pundits -- it seems to me that many signs point to video games becoming as important an option in the list of consumers' leisure activities as television, movies, or music. So I say, let the games begin!

Marvel, Activision, and Electronic Arts areMotley Fool Stock Advisorpicks. You can talk about many of the issues addressed in this take in our vibrantdiscussion board community-- we have boards dedicated toMicrosoft,Marvel,computer games, or Foolish favorite,World ofWarcraft--to name just a few.

Alyce Lomaxdoes not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.

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