Oscar Special: Movie Games Roundtable Part 3

Why does the games industry pump money into licensed games instead of creating new IP?

Adam Roberts: Investing in an already successful brand, franchise or licence is a way for publishers to attempt to minimise their risk, but as you know there is no such thing as a guarantee of success.

Licences provide a ready-made target audience, building awareness is sometimes easier and people already want to buy into the brand. We all know how difficult it is with a new IP but that’s a topic for another day.

Ubisoft Spokesperson: The key I think is to have a good balance in your portfolio of in-house created properties and licensed properties. There really is a demand for both, and both types of projects offer interesting opportunities for innovative gameplay. At Ubisoft, we strive to keep 25 per cent of our business coming from strong licenses. This allows us to choose the licenses that we think offer us opportunities for innovation and creativity, and to choose to work with partners that we trust and that trust us and therefore offer opportunities for creative collaboration between our teams and the film’s production teams.

Jonathan Bunney: Obviously because it reduces the odds of failure. But this approach is not just true of games – it’s true of movies and television. Look at the BAFTAs – Slumdog Millionaire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, The Reader and Revolutionary Road are all based on previous works, whether that’s books or plays. I don’t hear anyone saying: yeah Slumdog cleaned up at the BAFTAs but it was a licensed IP”. I understand that many licensed games are not as good as some new IPs. But the licence isn’t the thing that stops the game being good, it’s the game itself. Anyone remember Goldeneye?

David Tyler: New IP can be one of the hardest propositions to turn into a commercial success because there’s no fanbase already in place, and consumer understanding of the game has to be generated from a standing start. Of all the new IP that launched into the marketplace in 2008, only a small handful of titles will go on to become enduring IP. The risks behind bringing new properties to the marketplace are very significant and often require a huge amount of marketing and trade marketing investment to generate awareness. However, household properties such as Call of Duty and Guitar Hero were new IP once upon a time and are great examples of standout properties that have delivered good commercial success. The most successful publishers in the industry strike a good balance between established licenses and new properties to form a well-diversified portfolio.

Keely Brenner: Disney is the number one family entertainment brand so offering an opportunity for consumers to extend their experience from the films and re-visit the locations and characters they know and love through compelling interactive games is a key priority. At Disney Interactive Studios, we have a great balance of licensed games such as High School Musical, Hannah Montana and Bolt. However, we also have our development studios, such as Black Rock, which are hard at work creating exciting new IP’s such as Black Rock’s award-winning game, PURE. We will continue to invest in both licensed and new IP.

Spencer Crossley: There will, without doubt, be new IP due from Warner. But again, our strategy is around brands, and it is very hard to create a gaming IP from scratch. The great thing for us in terms of those licences is that three of our releases – Wanted, Watchmen and Terminator – are truly iconic to the mass market, while F.E.A.R. is iconic to gamers.

Do you think the attitudes in the video games industry towards licensing has changed over the last few years?

Luke Letizia, Vice President Interactive Licensing, Paramount Digital Entertainment: Yes, I believe attitudes have changed for the better – in the past video games based on movie and television content have had a spotty track record, so for the multi-platform triple-A titles, we’ve seen publishers greatly narrow the field of licences and pursue only established, big-franchise intellectual properties, such as The Godfather.

Conversely, another notable change has been the introduction and expansion of new platforms that have broadened what was once a narrow, targeted demographic. This has enabled film studios to offer new releases and catalogue titles that wouldn’t necessarily have resonated prior to this with both consumers and publishers. This has led to greater accuracy in developing and marketing more ‘niche’ games, like our upcoming Mean Girls title, to their proper audience.

We have also seen much greater collaboration between the traditional film studios and video game publishers in the production process. It is no longer a ‘fire and forget’ scenario from the viewpoint of a studio licensing group – Paramount Pictures was forward-thinking in establishing a dedicated video game licensing/production entity under the Paramount Digital Entertainment banner comprised of game industry veterans that are bi-lingual in both industries. This is key to translating a filmed property onto another medium; it must have the mechanics that make for a good game while being consistent with the director or producer’s vision.

With that, the education process has allowed the film and game industries to develop a mutual understanding of what’s really involved in the development of licensed IP for video games. Both sides realise there’s much more at stake these days, and everyone – studios, publishers, developers, filmmakers, and content creators – all play a part in those endeavours.

Paramount Digital Entertainment is readying for the launch of The Godfather 2 by Electronic Arts in April and have released a number of titles that were developed or co-developed for the iPhone and iPod touch including Iron Man: Aerial Assault, Saturday Night Fever: Dance! and Days of Thunder.

Rob Goodchild, Aardman: For years a high scoring video game attached to a strong property has been a rarity, with publishers often viewing the investment in a licence as a reason not to invest heavily in development, particularly when it comes to children and family properties. Parents and hardcore fans generally guaranteed a return on investment without the need for a 90 per cent product.

Now, with consoles skewing younger and appealing to the whole family, the combination of a strong family-focussed licence with a well-executed game has the potential to attract a broader audience than ever before, and achieve significant volumes that justify the overall spend. Publishers are now looking out towards competing industries, particularly the toy market, where licensed property accounts for over 30 per cent of all sales.

Mark Caplan,
Sony Pictures Consumer Products,
Vice President of Licensing
Video game companies are looking at content from the licensing community. Films, game shows, CGI films and sports, are just some of the categories that continue to be of interest to publishers, developers, and of course consumers. If anything, the industry has become more selective as to if a licensed property make sense for a video game.

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