Nobody buys licenced kids and casual games anymore, right?
Particularly for ageing platforms like Nintendo DS. But Avanquest has built a business out of it, and surprised many last year by performing admirably in the publisher rankings. MCV speaks to MD Steve Powell...
What drove your sales in 2012?
The start of 2012 was challenging but in Q4 we saw an increase in sales of our DS kids' titles. Unit sales were up six per cent versus the same quarter in 2011, which is pretty remarkable given the downturn in the general DS software market; and some positive news in these tough trading conditions.
Overall, our general DS market position and share has also grown, thanks to some hugely successful brands and licences. Stand-out performers have been Fireman Sam, Junior Brain Trainer, Merlin and Hotel Transylvania.
So how have you managed to withstand harsh market conditions?
Our survival is really attributable to a combination of factors.
We work with our retail partners to ensure we offer products that suit both their needs and their customers' needs. It's about releasing the right genres of products at the right price, forecasting sensible stock levels, and a promotional program to keep titles selling consistently throughout the year. We work with retail rather than against it and have built long-term relationships based on trust.
We've invested in DS and 3DS, signing new brands such as Merlin and Hotel Transylvania and continue to develop titles for both handhelds.
Have you benefitted from the resurgence of PC gaming?
From a casual games perspective yes, absolutely. We've outperformed the market again this year and this has helped not only our retail sales, but also online sales. The kids market on PC is not in such a healthy state though and only the big brands like Peppa Pig are getting shelf space. It's a real shame as we genuinely see a market from one or two retailers outside of Chart-Track, who do stock a children's range.
What sort of success have you had with your licenced IP on DS? Other publishers, such as THQ, have struggled in this area.
We've had huge success with titles such as Fireman Sam, Merlin, Little Charley Bear and have recently added hot new brands like Everything's Rosie and Raa Raa the Noisy Lion.
Retailers trust our judgment and we don't set unrealistic expectations on numbers. Take Hotel Transylvania: many said film franchises were dead as far as DS goes, but we proved you can make them work if you're sensible in your approach. Many have fallen into the trap of over-hyping a brand, piling it high and then having to figure out an exit strategy when the stock doesn't sell.
We've also had success in carrying brands such as Noddy and The Hive across to iOS and are talking to other licencors about how we can help.
We're very selective in the brands we licence, making sure they are established and popular in the UK. In our experience, licence owners want a partner who cares about their property like they do and are able to maximise sales potential whilst maintaining the values and integrity of the brand.
With the biggest children's range in the market we can help retail drive sales through regular range promotions. We did this very successfully last year with some of our partners and they saw their sales increase year on year.
What are you currently working on?
We have just signed an exclusive agreement with MSL, which will see us launch some of the UK's best-known game franchises such as Mystery Case Files; Ravenhearst and Jewel Quest on Nintendo DS. We're also working with Easy Interactive to provide them with a strong UK retail presence for a collection of their DS casual games.
With new kids' titles also in development and some exciting new licences on their way, 2013 looks to be an exciting year.
What's your goal for the next few years? Will you be bringing your games to new platforms?
Our aim is to continue to deliver great titles across multiple formats that genuinely appeal to the mass market. Primarily, we want to offer children and casual gamers with a range of great value, high quality products, and also help our licence partners leverage their brand in the games and entertainment sector.
We have some exciting new format announcements to make later in the year which should put us in a great position.