The road to XBOX ONE. Follow the journey

In the Nick of time

In the Nick of time
What makes a Nickelodeon television show have the potential to come to video games?
It’s all the about emotional involvement of the audience. It’s the interactivity that makes Nickelodeon stories become big news in kindergarten, in schools and in homes. Whenever Nickelodeon is developing a new show, interactivity is a key element that must be considered.

It’s something that has to be thought about at every stage of its lifecycle. It’s all about the strong emotional bond of consumers to our brand. In the games category we can do that fantastically, how our licensees – particularly THQ with Avatar at the moment – can translate these into fantastic gameplay.

What are the challenges of producing a game like Avatar with THQ, which appeals to both a family audience and a more hardcore set of gamers?
The big challenge is to translate the great story and concept of this fantastic Nickelodeon brand into a game environment. To me, the expectations of the teen and the family are put into this brand. The DNA of Avatar must translate into some gameplay.

If you go to the basics of Avatar, the story is about mastering the art of the world and the environment of Aang, the main character. Manipulating air, wind, earth and fire is a very important key element of this brand – and this can be perfected translated into gameplay, especially on the Wii. It’s amazing to see how THQ Australia has funnelled this great franchise into a gameplay mechanic that really makes a difference.

What level of success are you seeing with THQ – and what do they bring to your business?
Generally speaking, THQ is the number one global publisher for kids’ entertainment software. We are very proud that we have a global deal for many years in place. In their latest annual report, they said they had taken $1 billion on net sales from licensed Nickelodeon titles, since we signed our global partnership.

They have a fantastic track record – and we have great relationship on a US level, a regional level here in Europe and in Asia-Pacific. They clearly know how to live and breathe a Nickelodeon brand in terms of product development, marketing and execution.

Is THQ every bit as beneficial to you as you are to it?
Absolutely. It’s a great win-win partnership for both parties. From my perspective, they are doing a tremendous job in translating the brand exposure in all key markets into solid sales, on both new releases and catalogue business.

In key markets like UK, Germany, France, Australia and Canada, any publisher we work with has to generate a business on the strong install base on Wii and DS, PS2. In all those key markets, we have a very strong presence and distribution because of THQ. Spongebob is the No.1 consumer product outside US, the THQ sales reflects that. Interestingly, there is a big upside on back catalogue sales. The key message is definitely they are in tune it our brands performance.

Why does Nickelodeon IP work so well on DS, Wii and PS2 – and how far into the future before Nick games coming to Xbox 360 or PS3?
If we take the target audience of Nick brands, it’s pre-school. All in all we are reaching kids up to 12 years-old.
Due to the strong growth of Wii and DS we can reach out to the families – the mums and the dads – and for us, the Nintendo platforms are the No.1 for that purpose.

As we speak, global installed base of DS is approximately 81 million. Take the example of Spongebob: Drawn To Life – a release by THQ and a perfect example how a brand can be translated into a DS game. The Nintendo DS platform offers so many opportunities to lift the brand statement and the brand story. Even though PS2 offers technically a great kind of gameplay, it can’t compare to Nintendo Wii.

Looking at PS3 and 360, we are in conversations with our partners when it makes sense to develop games for these platforms. If you see what’s happening on Xbox 360, long term the install base will grow and grow and it will tap more into the causal gamer audience. I think we’ll see the shift from hardcore to family gamers and let’s say those ‘sleepers’ who are not actively playing, but who will play.

Even in the mid-term, Xbox 360 can really have a totally different relevance for us – and for the premium publishers we work with.

How quickly will that transformation take place?
It could happen. We are in a discussion with THQ on the strategy. But on this subject, Nickelodeon’s statement is clearly about our commitment to the Nintendo DS platform.

Is PlayStation 2 becoming less relevant for you?
Within the upcoming year, the PlayStation 2 format will fade out. The industry is starting to acknowledge that now. In key markets, where Nintendo installed base with Wii and DS is dominating, PS2 is shrinking.

But we shouldn’t forget it has a huge installed base for catalogue products. And in Asia-Pacific and other markets where Nintendo doesn’t have the same presence, the platform remains attractive. Because of that, PlayStation 2 is a format that still makes sense for some of our properties – for now, at least.

Do Nickelodeon’s licences give you access to audiences other companies cannot reach?
In any kind of licensed partnership, the Nickelodeon role is to build up the brand across all platforms, and the role of the licensee is to develop a game in their studios that is a unique, innovate and great title on console. It’s a win-win situation for both, and for us it works perfectly.

Why did you pick THQ, 2K and Capcom – and what do they offer you haven’t found elsewhere?
All of the companies we work with really do handle game development of our brand very carefully and incredibly well. Their studios made unique, innovative products.

We don’t have a studio that develops console games, so we work with those companies who have great teams in the studio. That’s a priority for us. But these companies are also excellent at marketing to our audience – they seem to know them like we do.

Would you ever want to work with more partners?

We have very solid and loyal partnerships to THQ, 2K and Capcom, but we’re also looking for others in order to identify the best distributor for certain Nickelodeon properties.

The most important criteria for any company we work with is understanding how to translate a Nickelodeon brand into a unique video game. We work with people who live and breathe the brands like we do – and we’d be looking for that level of passion.

As well as that brand marketing-related aspect of this business, we’d also need someone with a financial commitment, and the understanding that longevity is needed in order to grow a brand.

Will Nickelodeon have a presence at E3, Gamescom etc.?
Basically, we are leaving the discussion about what gets shown to our licensees. However, I can say that we are definitely attending all of those shows: E3, Games Convention and TGS. We will meet all of our business friends at these places, but when it comes to displaying our products, we follow the advice of our partners.

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