By John Gaudiosi
RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA (Reuters) - Although, technically speaking, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance and William Frawley never left small screens thanks to 60 years of "I Love Lucy," in TV reruns, the gang is back for their first interactive adventure in "Retro World."
"I Love Lucy," from maker Entertainment Games, enters the videogame space in early March as an episodic series available on Facebook and RetroWorld.com with mobile and tablet versions to follow.
The black-and-white game will blend footage from one of the most popular TV comedies of all time with new character interaction, exploration, puzzles and mini-games.
The first installment expands on the classic "Job Switching" episode in which the girls, Lucy Ricardo (Ball) and Ethel Mertz (Vance), go to work while their husbands Ricky (Ricardo) and Fred (Frawley) stay home and take care of the house. In the game, the players control Lucy and Ricky.
"The experience is uniquely designed to feel like you're playing in an actual 'I Love Lucy' episode," said Gene Mauro, President of Entertainment Games.
"In some scenes, players will control Lucy as she struggles comically to stay employed alongside Ethel in the chocolate factory; in other scenes, players become Ricky as he coaches Fred and labors to learn the ropes of basic housekeeping."
Entertainment Games has worked closely with producers Desilu, Too, LLC and CBS Consumer Products Inc., which control rights to products from the classic TV show that first aired from 1951 - 1957, on the game, turning the program's comedy into casual games designed to appeal to the boomer generation.
According to Bruce Bronn, owner of Unforgettable Enterprises, Inc., which represents Desilu/CBS, the show remains popular today with nearly 1 million Facebook likes and mainstream consumer awareness.
"Recent research data obtained by CBS shows 'Lucy' still enjoys an 88 percent awareness factor with 96 percent favorable appeal among the key female 18-54 age group and a 92 percent awareness with 95 percent favorable appeal for females 25-54," said Bronn.
GAMES THAT GO RETRO
Since launching its initial game in November 2011, the company has attracted over 60,000 players to its games like the '60s era spy game "Owl Files" and the '60s era comedy "Kat the Brat." Mauro said "Retro World" gamers are currently attracting mostly women with over 50 percent in the 40-plus age group.
The game makers have been using Facebook to test core gameplay in preparation for the "I Love Lucy" launch, which will mark the initial marketing push for the casual gaming company.
"They have an original idea, and think that iconic branded entertainment will have a lot of appeal, especially among the older Facebook users who remember brands like 'I Love Lucy,'" said Michael Pachter, videogame analyst, Wedbush Morgan Securities. "The unique nature of Entertainment Games' focus on nostalgia could build them a sizeable audience."
New "I Love Lucy" game episodes will be released every few months. Once they finish the first episode, players gain access to a Lucille Ball avatar that they can use to explore the rest of the game world. Ball joins fellow Hollywood icons like Dick Clark, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and John Belushi who already have avatars in the virtual game world.
Mauro said that from "Retro World's" initial inception, the company envisioned working with media companies to bring iconic forms of entertainment already ingrained in people's memories to life through this game platform.
Unlike Zynga, which has 227 million monthly active users across all age groups playing its casual games like "CityVille" and "Hidden Chronicles," Entertainment Games is focusing on the 150 million members of the baby boomer generation who are active on Facebook.
Entertainment Games plans to launch an additional four game franchises this year based on classic CBS TV shows from the '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s. Pachter believes that if Entertainment Games can get other big retro licenses like CBS' "The Brady Bunch" it can build a pretty interesting business.
For now, "I Love Lucy" fans will have more than just re-runs on Netflix or TVLand to enjoy.
(Reporting By John Gaudiosi; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)