How to choose the right IP for your game

From live-service games such as Fortnite and PUBG powering their live-ops strategies with brands & IP that players love, to the creation of new video games based that are based on existing franchises, there is no end of video games using well-known franchises & IP to boost their user acquisition, retain their audience and monetise more effectively. 

While the list of IP-based video games and collaborations grows larger every day, game developers and publishers should know that collaborating with a well-known franchise isn't a cheat code, and it relies on getting several things right, the most fundamental of these is that they pick the right IP to suit their game and audience and deliver it in a way that delights new and old fans alike.

If you're a video game studio thinking about incorporating an existing franchise into your game – whether that's for a brand new game, a one-off collaboration or a limited-time event to boost your live ops – there's a few key things you need to consider before you hit the ground running. So let’s break them down and lay out the four core principles you need to keep in mind when choosing the right IP for your game. 

Know your audience and find an IP that fits and expands upon it.

It’s 101 stuff, but as we all know the player is everything, and so it’s no surprise you need to consider the preferences and demographics of your target audience. Your target audience can be simplified down into 2 key groups, your existing player base and the new players you want to bring into the game via the IP collaboration. 

When looking at your existing player base thinking about the following kinds of questions: will this collaboration get your players excited? Does it seem like the right fit for your game's brand? Is there enough awareness of the IP you're collaborating with amongst your current players? If so, how do they feel about it? Break down the characteristics of your existing community and choose an IP that aligns with their interests. A great example of this is when Call of Duty made Messi, Neymar and Pogba playable characters in Modern Warfare 2, it’s by no means a thematic fit, but the audience fit and overlap was perfect.

Utilising an IP is also an important opportunity to bring new players into your game, which is why all of this initial research into audience and demographic is so important. A well-established and beloved franchise can bring a built-in fan base to your game that converts to greater monetization and retention. A Newzoo report into IP-based mobile games found that high spenders on mobile games are 2.84 times more likely to download a game if it's based on an IP/universe that they like. 

On that note, the demographic of your target property's audience – their age, location, and gender – is going to play an important role in shaping the monetisation elements of any IP-based game or collaboration you create, especially on mobile. Monetisation through Gacha mechanics is a great fit for character-collection games, as we saw with the recent Cookie Run Kingdom and Disney collaboration, whereas players of live-service games such as PUBG and Fortnite tend to favour in-game purchases.

Be clear on how you want to collaborate with the IP

Think carefully about what kind of IP based content you want to bring in, as there are hundreds of ways to collaborate. Simpler in-game items, like cosmetics and skins, are often much easier to negotiate with rights holders due to less complicated terms and in most cases, lighter development and creative costs can make them much quicker to approve, too. 

It's also important to be aware of how different markets may react to your collaboration. Players want authenticity and genuine collaborations that fit into their experience. You don’t want the collaboration to be shrugged off by most players as being an in-your-face product placement. That said, there are plenty of collaborations between video game IP and non-gaming IP that wouldn't seem like a natural fit but have been a huge success. Often, this is down to the clever creative execution of merging two franchises together and creating a new gameplay style. Look no further then Virtual concerts in a battle royale game, this was unheard of before Marshmello played a DJ set in Fortnite, but this integration has shown that games can stray from their primary mechanics (in this case, shooting) in favour of a more social and entertainment focused approach. When collaborations are properly thought out and executed effectively, they'll seem like a natural fit and will be a huge hit with players. 

Ensure future potential and longevity

Think beyond the immediate collaboration and consider the long-term potential. Will the chosen IP allow for future expansions, sequels, or additional content? A collaboration with a timeless IP can provide ongoing opportunities for engagement and player excitement. Look for IPs with a rich lore or expansive universe that can be explored in various ways throughout your game's lifecycle.

It’s also important to understand that due to licensing being such an effective strategy for user acquisition and retention, you will more then likely only do more and more of these collaborations into the future, so view your first licensed partnership as just the start of the journey. When your first licensed partnership works well, consider building on it and thinking about how you can work with licensors again as part of your LiveOps strategy, especially if you're aiming to acquire users in specific markets. If collaborations are done on a regular basis, similar to Dead by Daylight, PUBG and Fortnite, your LiveOps strategy can become one of the biggest hits with players, leading to them and even licensors coming up with and reaching out about ideas for future collaborations.

Be realistic, get clear on budget and creative concept 

Finally, be realistic about your target IP. Yes, we would all love to have Iron Man in our game, but let’s be honest he’s a busy guy and will most likely not be your first collaboration. Most IP rights holders will have a “get out of bed number” that they want to hit as quickly as possible to cover their internal admin and legal costs. Going straight for the Disney’s of the world may sound like a good idea, but as such partnerships are never cheap, it pays to ensure the ROI will be worth it in the long run. Great collaborations can be found with all kinds of IP, even with IP’s that traditionally might be seen as smaller or more niche IP’s, a great example is Techand integrating Vampire: The Masquerade into Dying Light 2, which you can check out in more depth in our podcast episode here

It’s also not just a financial consideration, licensors have a lot to consider before they licence out an IP into a video game, from the brand value and reach to the PR implications and more, they'll not only want to ensure that any collaboration is financially worth it but quite often more importantly makes sense creatively and protects the IP and fan base they’ve worked so hard to build.

If a licensor is able to get a comprehensive oversight of how your game works and how it's monetised, not only will it help them de-risk the collaboration and improve the chances of them saying yes, it may even help inspire some creative ideas at their end.

What’s next?

As the gaming industry continues to witness a surge in collaborations, it's crucial for developers to recognize that success doesn't come solely from associating with a well-known franchise. Instead, it hinges on selecting the appropriate IP that resonates with your audience, aligns with your game's identity, and offers long-term potential for expansion. Now with all of this in mind, you might have a clear picture of what that perfect IP looks like, but how do you find it? That’s where Layer comes in, why not register here and get started.