INTERVIEW: BBC Worldwide

Ben Parfitt
INTERVIEW: BBC Worldwide

It was in January when BBC Worldwide told MCV that it was returning to games.

Back then it was little more than an ambition, a plan to make a British institution relevant in a sector it had previously turned away from.

The problem was it didn’t have anyone in-house that knew how to do it. BBC Worldwide needed a games specialist, one that not only knows consoles, but PC, online, casual, mobile, they needed someone with years of experience working with global brands. It needed someone like EA Casual’s Robert Nashak.

“BBC Worldwide has this global remit to drive awareness and revenue around the world but was ignoring games,” says BBC Worldwide’s vice president for digital entertainment Robert Nashak.

“I think one of the things they liked about me was that I had a lot of experience on console, but I had mobile and online experience, as well.

“If you think about our big brands, Top Gear, Doctor Who and the kids IP, they don’t always fit on the same platform. It is not a one-stop shop. We’re not just looking at consoles, we’re looking at iPad, iPhone, Android and casual games.”

Nashak was the ideal candidate for the BBC. As well as EA, he held roles at Glu, Acclaim, Disney, Yahoo and Vivendi. But before he could begin taking Top Gear to consoles he had to build a team to build out the BBC Worldwide games offer.

Nashak says he needed a team “that understood brands,” so he hired former THQ and Disney exec Paul Joffe. At THQ Joffe worked on multiple brands but it was at Disney where he made the biggest impact, taking the popular Club Penguin and putting it on DS to spectacular results.

Next on Nashak’s list was creative director Ben Badgett, who has lived his life around brands having been gaming director at Cartoon Network.

“One of the things that impressed me about BBC was that I’ve never seen such strong brand management,” adds Nashak

“These people are all about quality and the fans. I’ve seen it elsewhere, but never at this level. The amount of guardianship they feel towards their brands is extraordinary. I had to try and gather a team that can work with these guys and gain their trust.”

BBC EYES PLAYERS

With a team in place it has been full steam ahead for BBC Worldwide. Their first announcement was that they would be taking Doctor Who: The Adventure Games – the episodic series developed but its public sector parent – and releasing it worldwide – initially digitally and eventually through retail.

And the BBC Worldwide team has already learnt a lot from The Adventure Games. The company took the title to Comic-Con in the US and the fan reaction, Nashak says, was inspiring. 

“The guys at Comi-Con responded to the episodic nature of the game,” he says.

“In this day and age we can think about putting Doctor Who on a box on a shelf. But it is almost more interesting to think about giving the fan incremental bits of Doctor Who. The power of the TV format can become more relevant in the gaming space.”

The idea of TV-style video games is proving popular this year. In May Microsoft released Alan Wake, a game that was also split up into TV-esque episodes.

 “It is interesting you mention Alan Wake,” begins Nashak.

“Recently the TV people came to me and said ‘We love Alan Wake, we would love to do something like this with you.’ There’s a spirit of collaboration right now that I have never seen in any company I’ve worked for. People who are doing TV shows are inspired by the fact BBC Worldwide are taking gaming seriously. They want to be part of it.”

Nashak talks so enthusiastically of iPad, mobile and browser games that it is easy to forget that the firm has announced two boxed Doctor Who titles from Asylum Entertainment – Evacuation Earth on DS and Return to Earth on Wii. So how important is retail in BBC Worldwide’s games vision?

“Retail is a priority, but it’s hard to say what a top priority is right now,” admits Nashak.

“One of our properties is Strictly Come Dancing. It is the largest entertainment property in the world. There are 30 different formats of that in 73 different territories. Is retail a priority for something like that? You bet it is. But online seems like such an untapped opportunity for a property like that because it is so ubiquitous.

“We are thinking long and hard about where our properties belong. A good example would be In The Night Garden. It is a beautiful show designed to help your child get sleepy for bed time. All of these new emerging platforms are really relevant for that pre-school age.”

DIGITAL GENERATION GAME

As well as developing games for the likes of Top Gear, Nashak’s business unit is also tasked with creating games for BBC Worldwide’s collection of websites – which draws in tens of millions of people each month.

The team is also being challenged to work with the TV teams – such as those working on the upcoming US edition of Torchwood – to develop “360 degree digital strategies.” But why is BBC being so aggressive in digital games all of a sudden?

“BBC thinks gaming can be a significant part of what they are doing,” continues Nashak. “They have a very robust licensing programme, they have a very big DVD business, but they know the future is in digital. And gaming infiltrates everything you do in digital. I think the impact of our group is not just to create a great Doctor Who game online, but also help inform all digital efforts to make them more engaging.”

So what’s next? Will there be any development acquisitions? And when will we finally hear some proper details of these “exciting” digital plans?

Nashak concludes: “Towards the end of the year you will start to see stuff in mobile and iPad.

“It will be a mixture of external and internal development, and also licensing. Down the road I can see us acquiring developers, but it is certainly not a chief priority. I think we have got a lot of initial things to get right first. And one of those things is how do we present our brands to consumers online appropriately?

“Look at the things coming down the pipe, all of it could give rise to gaming. If we work with production teams early on, we can work out how to build a TV show and integrate a digital strategy into it. These guys are working well for us on that front. It’s a new frontier and it is exciting.”

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