IP opportunity: why turning fictional worlds and big brands into compelling games and play experiences can be so rewarding for IP holders and developers
It’s fair to say that working with IPs and brands has been part of the fabric of Auroch Digital since the company was founded in 2010. I write this post after the studio launched Ogre on October 5th, which is our digital adaptation of the classic tabletop game from Steve Jackson Games. Coincidentally it’s also around this time that we’ve been celebrating the four year anniversary of our first major IP game release, Chainsaw Warrior, which we worked on with Games Workshop.
The main question we get asked by companies we speak with who are thinking about leveraging their IP into a game or digital experience of some kind is very simple: “what do we, the owners of the brand, get out of this?”
Which is a perfectly reasonable, pretty standard question to ask, of course. What regularly surprises us though is how taken aback those companies are when we rattle off reason after reason for why they should be working with a developer within the medium of digital games, interactive entertainment, and other play experiences.
I wanted to share just a few of those with you today, partly to crystalise why it can be so beneficial for an IP owner to let developers make games with their IP, and partly to encourage developers to start thinking about whether they should make their next title an IP-based one.
1) There’s money to be made
I mean... obviously. No deal’s getting done without at least some money changing hands in some way.
But don’t mistake this to mean “a developer pays to use a licence and hopes gamers buy it based on that licence”, because that doesn’t have to be the case and it’s often far from the deal that works best for either party.
First, talented developers might not be prepared to pay to use an IP, and with good reason. If they’re helping to build a brand (more on this later) by making a quality game, why should they be paying for the privilege of doing so?
Second, paying to use a licence removes an IP owner’s stake in the project being a success. If a brand is taking a percentage of the sales, or paying for the game outright, they’re much more invested in ensuring that game is a commercial and / or critical hit, which can only help brand awareness in the long-term.
Third, paying a developer to make the game (even in-part) can elevate a small, talented and inexpensive team’s capacity to make the game even better, sell more, and in turn increase the chance of success (however that’s defined) in the project.
Fourth, if the IP owner has faith the project is going to be a success, why wouldn’t the owner want a continuing taste of the profits? If designed to do so, video games can have very long tails, board games even more-so, and there are more options for selling and making money from games than ever before.
Fifth, don’t forget that there are the untrackable or indirect sales to account for too! I dread to think about the number of board games I’ve personally bought after checking out the digital adaptation first without clicking through to purchase through the app.
2) There is a game or digital experience to fit every brand
As members of the games industry, it’s easy to forget that not everyone in the world knows just how big games have become or how flexible a medium it is. There’s still the perception amongst many that games are for children, specifically that they are for boys, that they are a niche hobby rather than a flourishing form, and that they can achieve little more in that hobby than disturbingly realistic murder simulators.
When Auroch was showing its experimental Jack the Ripper: Shadow Over Whitechapel project at London Book Fair, most book publishers and authors I spoke with absolutely hadn’t thought about how VR might allow their readers to explore their literary worlds in greater detail, and this is simply because they weren’t games designers themselves.
Of course, this is to be expected. Not everyone knows that the UK video games market alone is worth £4.33bn, or that games represent the most popular Kickstarter category havingraised over $699 million to-date, or that board games are experiencing a massive revival, or that the average board gamer is female, intelligent and liberal, or that the age demographic for video gamers is much less “late teens” and more like “mid-twenties”.
At the studio we often find we’re approached by members of companies who have a particular passion for video games and physical games, specifically because they already know what these mediums are capable of and how lucrative they can be.
And sure, there are some IPs that lend themselves to being made into games and digital experiences more readily than others, but when there are games about sentient bread, dating pigeons, making quilts, and terraforming planets, it’s safe to say that you can make a game with any IP and any brand, and it’s also true to say that many IPs can greatly enhance the game it’s part of.
3) The gaming audience is full of a brand’s existing customers and its future customers
Data doesn’t lie: almost everyone is playing games in 2017 and there’s a great article by Krista Lofgren from Big Fish that gathers a lot of this data together that is well worth a read.
Even those that don’t class themselves as “gamers” have watched the Angry Birds movie, or crushed some candies in one of King’s games, or helped their friends catch a Pikachu in Pokémon GO.
Gaming isn’t just big, it’s beginning to eclipse other, much older mediums, both in terms of relevance and in size. Digi-Capital believes that in 2021 the video games business will be worth 200billion dollars.
So as with any other significant medium there are big crossovers of demographics who both play games and are interested in Brand X or would be interested in Brand X, or the products that Brand X is making. Thinking “we’ll only reach gamers” is like thinking “we’ll only reach people who watch movies”.
And making IP-based games (and games with brands attached) reaches those existing customers, as well as introducing new customers to it. We’ve found that many people who have been finding our titles Ogre and Dark Future: Blood Red States throughout our marketing campaigns tell us that they’d not heard about the original game before they found ours, but that the video game has interested them enough to go back and discover the games that inspired them. You can see how this might easily translate to a movie IP or literary brand. Heck, I think my first exposure to Chupa Chups was through a video game.
4) If users engaging with your brand is a priority, interactive entertainment is perfect
Unlike television, website browsing, or newspaper reading, games are a “lean forward” medium in which a user cannot help but be actively engaged with the content they are presented, because games are an interactive form of entertainment. This ensures that they more actively consume the messaging and ideas present in games than one of the “lean back” forms.
This isn’t new information; a study in 2008 found that 52% of young people who consider themselves “gamers” reported thinking about moral or ethical issues while playing games. The survey also noted that these people were more likely than non-gamers to then go and seek out additional information about current events.
If you’re a brand owner and you’re looking for engagement, then games offer a good space to meet your goals.
Again, while this engagement might be useful for direct sales, it’s more useful for brand awareness, creating brand loyalty, and keeping a brand in people’s hearts and minds outside of where that brand usually resides.
Even if we were to just focus on car-themed video games, we can find lots of great examples of studios working with licences to great effect to achieve this kind of engagement, whether that be the movie industry targeting racing game fans to watch their film, or the automotive industry targeting parents with largedisposable incomes, or the toy industry targeting kids who play eSports everysingle day.
I hope this top-level overview of the positives of working with IP and brands in games has been useful and that you consider working with (or utilising your own) IP on a future game project.
Peter Willington, Auroch Digital
- gameslab leeds
- Auroch Digital