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MTA Seeking to Expand Service — Into the Lucrative Metaverse

The cash-strapped agency hopes to protect and make money from its iconic brand in video games and virtual reality.

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Three friends created “MTA Country,” a 2018 video game that featured former Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, along with an unlicensed MTA logo.

Screenshot/Everyday Arcade

The next stop on this train could be the metaverse

The MTA is looking at ways to expand the city’s subway system into the virtual world — and onto gaming platforms, agency records reveal.

As part of a push to increase revenues from its iconic brand, the MTA last month put out a call for companies to help identify a licensing agent who can “greatly enhance” a 30-year-old licensing program with new products that could include video games and virtual reality. 

Mark Heavey, the MTA’s director of business development, told THE CITY in a statement that the effort is also about protecting the transit system’s distinctive look and logo by “putting a stake in the ground that conveys the message that MTA assets are not in the public domain.”

“The public enjoys the experience and interactivity of virtual environments, such as operating a simulated subway train, and embraces new technologies in this niche and growing market, especially New York City’s youth — the next generation of riders,” Heavey said.

Subway riders who spoke to THE CITY at stations in Manhattan, The Bronx and Brooklyn said an authentic MTA gaming experience could include delays, reroutes, rats and even missed love connections as features.

“You already got GTA [Grand Theft Auto], a game that literally promotes violence,” subway rider Darin Gilgeours, 27, said at the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center station in Brooklyn. “So if MTA comes out with a game, it can’t be worse than having war as a game.”

MTA spokesperson Joana Flores said the licensing program currently has more than 60 licensees whose products include official MTA apparel and accessories, along with replica station signs, toys and household goods. Revenues help support educational programs at the New York Transit Museum and efforts to preserve MTA history.

The potential entry into gaming is also a pushback against infringement of MTA intellectual property, which Flores said has become more prevalent through the growth of print-on-demand technology.

In 2006, a Brooklyn bagel store across from the Smith-Ninth Streets station in Brooklyn had to cover its F line logo and other MTA symbols after being hit with a cease-and-desist order from MTA lawyers. 

And in 2018, lawyers at the agency took issue with the developers of “MTA Country,” an 8-bit video game which features Andrew Cuomo, Bill de Blasio and Gregg T. — the unlikely star of a transit public safety campaign — riding through graffiti-coated tunnels while dodging track fires and pizza rats. 

The goal of the game, which features an MTA logo, is to collect enough subway tokens and letters that combine to spell “Privatize” in order to be transported to a hyperloop-like transit system.

One of the “MTA Country” creators, Chris Baker, told THE CITY that MTA lawyers were not amused, but he could not recall any penalty. He added that the daily commute is rich with possibilities for video game developers.

“There’s just like a lot of interesting moments going on the subways,” said Baker, a former Brooklyn resident who now lives in California. “I could probably make a year’s worth of tiny video games about the subway.” 

He likened potential transit-themed games to “RollerCoaster Tycoon,” a series of simulation games in which players build roller coasters and other rides.

“An ‘MTA Tycoon’ type of game could be a blockbuster,” said Baker, 40.

In the recently released. movie “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” MTA-like trains and station signs appear in a scene in which the Harrison Ford character barely stays ahead of a No. 5 subway train on the tracks before escaping onto a platform at the 51st Street stop.

A spokesperson said the MTA did not receive any money from filmmakers and that logos were added in post-production. The scene was actually shot on a soundstage that included a full-scale replica of a subway station.

Lisa Daglian, executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA, called the transit agency’s potential entry into gaming “a clever way to monetize” its assets.

“Clearly, there is money to be had from gaming and the metaverse,” she said. “Why shouldn’t the MTA have it?”

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