Issue #
Anime deserves better from video games

A monthly look at the best examples of IP licensing in video games and the latest news on collaborations, brand partnerships and in-game events. 

Is anime underutilized in gaming? Certainly not in Asia, where there’s no shortage of anime in LiveOps events, but could Western game developers be doing more to bring iconic characters and scenarios from the multi-billion dollar anime market into their games? 

We examine some of the most recent anime IP integrations and explore whether restrictive licensing agreements are holding back anime's potential in the gaming space. We also explain why anime needs to grow beyond the genres it’s typically associated with, such as fighters and RPGs. Not only would this help licensors reach new audiences, but it could also give game developers new ways to experiment. 

Speaking of experimenting, we didn’t expect to see the iconic anime Cowboy Bebop land in Blizzard’s hero-based shooter, Overwatch 2. The limited-time event gave Overwatch characters a bounty hunter reskin, but did this collaboration go far enough to please both Overwatch players and anime fans? 

You can find both of these stories below, along with the biggest news stories from licensing and video games. 

Anime lessons for licensors and LiveOps teams

Back in February, an article from Konvoy Ventures stated, ‘anime IP is underutilized and underdelivered in video games’. We mostly agree. As Konvoy highlights, the anime market is worth $31b and has 600 million fans worldwide, with much of its growth in recent years coming from outside Asia in areas such as North America. That said, the sector’s growing popularity in the West isn’t reflected in its representation across Western video games (except your major titles like Fortnite and the typical Bandai anime titles).  

Newzoo’s IP-based Mobile Games Report, which provides a comprehensive overview of IP-based mobile games and their popularity across the US, Japan and China, finds IP-based games have a bigger presence in Asia’s top-grossing mobile game charts, with 12 IP-based games appearing in the top-20 grossing charts (2022) for Japan and China, compared to just four for America. Similarly, eight of those 12 IPs came from non-gaming properties and included various anime. 

That leaves us wondering: if anime films are gaining huge popularity in America and overseas anime sales took over domestic sales in 2021, why isn’t this reflected in the video game market?

Sensor Tower’s IP in the Games Landscape Report 

It’s complicated, but we can look to Sensor Tower’s IP in the Games Landscape Report for some of the answers. According to Sensor Tower, anime and manga contribute $2b to the $16b generated by IP-based mobile games, meaning mobile games based on anime IP generate more revenue than those based on Sports, Comics, and Television IP combined (we’ll ignore board games here given the astronomical success of Scopely’s Monopoly Go!).

That said, none of the top-selling console and PC video games of 2023 were based on anime IP, and none of the 20 most downloaded mobile games from 2023 were based on anime, either. When Sensor Tower analyzed IP downloads by media type, anime/manga only accounted for 4% in the USA and 3% in Europe, compared to 6% in Asia. 

Surprising? Here’s where things get interesting: as soon as you move away from downloads and look at which IP types generate the most revenue in these same markets, anime/manga drives more mobile game revenue in Europe than most other IP types. In France, 31% of IP-based game revenue comes from anime adaptations, the highest of all IP types. 

So, we know that anime has a successful track record of generating revenue, especially when coupled with the monetization potential of RPGs, which account for 36% of all revenue generated by licensed IP games. But if anime IP is so good at generating revenue, why aren’t we seeing it integrated more into live events? And why aren’t we seeing more new video games based on anime IP in the market? 

For one, the regionality of anime and manga is a big factor. Sure, there are plenty of anime that cater to Western audiences (such as Dragon Ball), but there’s a long list of anime and manga that’s heavily regionalized and would require heavy localization to find success outside of Asia, no matter how much revenue these franchises are generating there already. 

Second, licensors in Japan are very selective about who they work with. They want to ensure their IP is presented in the right way and handled by the right video game studios. This is why many of the most popular anime game adaptations are handled in-house, such as Bandai’s video game adaptations of Dragon Ball, Naruto and One Piece. 

This can lead to many anime game adaptations following the same formula. Most of Bandai’s anime adaptations fall into the fighter category, which means they cater to the same audiences over and over rather than being handed to a new studio that might try something different with the IP. 

It’s important to remember that anime has a huge audience, which naturally overlaps with gaming. The character-driven nature of anime, combined with its strong narrative elements and iconic locations, makes anime IP a fantastic choice for partnering on live events due to the various ways IP can be integrated into existing gameplay experiences. 

At the other end, licensors would do well to activate in markets with proven gaming audiences. It’s telling that Roblox, one of the largest video games in the world with more than 70 million daily active users, only has a handful of officially licensed anime games. In fact, the most popular ‘anime style’ games on Roblox are all unofficial, with the most popular, Blox Fruits, boasting more than 21 billion visits. 

Cowboy Bebop in Overwatch 2: Licensing Triumph or Missed Opportunity?

When Blizzard launched Overwatch 2 in October 2022, it was hit by a myriad of server issues and negative player feedback regarding character skins and pricing decisions. This sequel launched as a free-to-play game, meaning Blizzard would have to encourage a constant stream of in-game purchases to generate revenue for the game. Enter: character skins! 

When we first reported on Overwatch 2 in Issue 4 of Licensing in Games, we predicted it would follow a similar model to Fortnite where IP integrations as part of limited-time live events become a regular occurrence in its LiveOps roadmap. No announcements had been made by Blizzard when we wrote that piece, but our predictions turned out to be true. 

To date, Overwatch 2 has collaborated with the K-pop girl group Le Sserafim, car manufacturer Porsche, the anime One Punch Man, and, most recently, the neo-noir Space Western anime, Cowboy Bebop

Unlike other games such as Fortnite and PUBG Mobile where the integration possibilities are endless until the licensor says ‘no’, Overwatch 2 has certain limitations on the way it can integrate IP due to its gameplay mechanics. 

As a team-based shooter, Overwatch 2’s gameplay mechanics are built around ‘heroes’, characters with their own skills and unique sets of offensive, defensive and recovery capabilities. Success in an Overwatch 2 game requires the right combination of characters to offset the enemy team - go full-blown offensive, and you’ll fail to break through the defences of tank characters. 

With so much focus on unique character traits and abilities, introducing new characters into the mix is difficult. To avoid balancing issues, careful consideration would have to be given to that character’s unique weapons and abilities. Failure to do so would risk upsetting Overwatch 2 players. 

We’ve seen this happen in other games, such as Call of Duty, when the addition of superhero Homelander from the comic book/TV series The Boys resulted in negative backlash. Players complained superpowers were out of place in Call of Duty, while others complained his special abilities were overpowered. 

This means Overwatch 2 is limited (at least for now) to purely cosmetic updates, such as new skins for existing characters which give them a makeover in the style of the IP it's integrating. In the case of the Cowboy Bebop collaboration, the game introduced legendary skins based on the Cowboy Bebop characters Spike Cassidy, Faye Ashe, Ed Sombra, and Jet Mauga. New emotes and highlight intros were also included alongside other minor cosmetic items. 

Players could purchase the following bundles: 

  • Cowboy Bebop mega bundle (16 items) — 5,600 Overwatch Coins
  • Faye Valentine Ashe bundle (5 items) — 2,500 Overwatch Coins
  • Spike Spiegel Cassidy bundle (5 items) — 2,500 Overwatch Coins
  • Ed Sombra bundle (3 items) — 2,500 Overwatch Coins
  • Jet Black Mauga bundle (3 items) — 2,500 Overwatch Coins

If you wanted to buy the Cowboy Bebop mega bundle which includes all of the IP items, you can buy 5000 Overwatch Coins (which includes a 700 Coin bonus) for $49.99. All of that data in the previous story about anime IP being associated with higher revenues makes sense now… 

As Overwatch 2 is only available on PC and Console, there’s no easy way of analyzing how much revenue the event generated. However, we used Steam Charts to see if there was a spike in new players coming to the game on Steam because of the event. After looking at the dates of the event, it looks like on Steam, at least, this collaboration failed to capture the attention of new players (but this could be a different picture for financial performance). 

The Overwatch 2 and Cowboy Bebop collaboration should give you a decent understanding of how to price limited-time event skins based on characters, especially when these skins have a ‘luxurious’ feel like those in Overwatch 2. 

But as we mentioned, this collaboration was purely cosmetic in nature with no new gameplay mechanics or scenarios being introduced (with the exception of some special missions). For wider inspiration, we’d recommend looking at what PUBG Mobile does with its IP integrations. The Dragon Ball collaboration gave the battle royale map a Dragon Ball makeover complete with new characters, vehicles and locations from the anime. 

The Overwatch 2 x Cowboy Bebop event took place March 12-25 but failed to capture the attention of new players (Steam Charts) 

In brief 

Here are some of our other favorite brand collaborations, licensing deals and partnerships from the last month. 

And in other news…