Join us for this latest episode of the Licensing in Games podcast.
In this episode, we sat down with Jen Donahoe, Head of Publishing & Marketing at HiDef and co-host of gaming industry podcast Deconstructor of Fun. An expert in licensing and game development, Jen shared her thoughts on how she'd license out Subway Surfers, the rise of gaming IP in film & TV and how to find the right IP for your game.
Mitch: 0:04 Hello and welcome to Layer’s Licensing and Games podcast. My name is Mitch and I am joined once again by our CEO and co-founder Rachit. Hello, Rachit!
Rachit: 0:13 Hey, Mitch. How are you doing?
Mitch: 0:15 Good. You want to try and do your joke again?
Rachit: 0:18 Well, though this is I know that we started this again, so we will just have to keep it moving.
Mitch: 0:24 Yeah, exactly. We did have a full stop and added outtakes. So anyway, we are very pleased to be talking today to Jen Donahoe. And Jen has a really interesting background. We are really excited to speak to her today not just about licensing into games, but also about licensing out. So currently, Jen is the head of publishing and marketing at HiDef, which was founded in 2021, a new gaming studio, but previously has worked in growth and marketing at some of the industry’s biggest studios like EA, Zynga and Riot. And for the purposes of today’s chat, Jen has also worked at one of the biggest licensor, Mattel and one of the biggest licensees in gaming in Scopely. And of course, Jen, you are the new co-host of Layer’s favorite gaming podcast, “Deconstructor of Fun.”
Jen: 1:16 Thank you guys. Thank you so much. I also worked at Disney, one of the other biggest licensors on the planet. So I will be dropping a lot of Disney Pixar knowledge today as well. Thank you. “Deconstructor of Fun” is a great podcast, this weekend games dropped today, actually. And I just joined the cast full-time in the last couple of weeks. And so I never thought I would be at a place in my career where what I have to say is actually interesting to people. Usually people are paid to have to listen to me. Now, people listen to me for fun. So hopefully, I will drop some truth nuggets and some data insights. And please reach out to me if you want to know more. I am happy to help people in the industry, especially if you are a woman or a diverse person, I try to give extra attention to those people who are trying to make it in the game industry or in licensing.
Mitch: 2:08 Awesome. Yeah, I think I am having a look at some of the data you have prepared today. Definitely attention to detail is obviously a strong suit of yours. So really excited to kind of get some of those nuggets. But firstly, I guess, can you just give us a bit of background about your time in the industry? The work you have done? Tell us a little bit about yourself?
Jen: 2:30 Yeah, let me start at the beginning. I am a total geek. I grew up loving games and toys. And I was the only girl on the block. So I grew up with the 80s cartoons, GI Joe Transformers, Thundercats. Everything you can imagine was an 80s cartoon, I was invested, obviously Star Wars. And so, I brother and I played games together. And so what I was looking for what I wanted to be when I grew up, it was, “Hey, I want to work on the toy industry or the video game industry.” And lo and behold, I got to do both. So when I was in university, I look through my alumni directory. I am like, “Can I find anyone that works in any of these industries?” So I did, I found someone whose name was Rick, I called him up and I said, “Hey, how did you get to where you are today, I would love to work in the toy industry.” And he was so lovely. And he did a pay it forward, which is he took my call and said, “Here’s some ideas for you. Call me when you get out of school, and maybe we will have an internship.” And he did. And that very first job that I had because I reached out and was proactive was a marketing intern, making Star Wars toys at Hasbro as my very, very first job. And my career has been completely downhill since then. Nothing good has come out. I am just kidding. But having my dream job is my very first job, just really set the tone for, how do you go out and really make sure that you go after what you want, you chase your passion, and you work at it. And so many of the younger generations today, my best advice is to you really got to take the bull by the horns, you really have to figure out how you can go get what you want to do, chase your passions and ask for help and ask, hopefully nice people will be out there who will give you some of that advice like Rick did for me. So I was in the toy industry for the first half of my career. So I was at Hasbro for about five years. They shut down our location in Cincinnati. And so I went to Disney in Los Angeles. And so I did Toy Licensing and Consumer Products Licensing for all of the Disney Pixar movies from 2000 to 2006-ish. So I have great, really fun Nemo story I wanted to tell a little bit later as you talk about the important story, so remind me to tell the Nemo story. So after Disney, I went to Cranium, which was a board game company. And after that I really wanted to get into games. We were really seeing that the kids were starting to get into games much younger or get out of toys much younger. And so finally, because I had worked at Hasbro and worked on monopoly and trivial pursuit, and all of those great board games, EA had just done a deal with Hasbro. And so I was introduced to Chip Lang, who ironically is the CEO of HiDef. So we came back together all these years later, but Chip was my origin story into video games. And so he said, “Hey, if you teach me kids and family game marketing, I will teach you video games, deal.” And then I spent six, seven years at EA, creating the kids and family business at EA, at a place where it’s about shooters and madden and sports. We had our own kind of startup inside of the company, where we were allowed to do whatever we wanted. We hired our own agencies, we went directly to retail, we did everything really completely unique, and set up what is basically the casual business, back into 2007, we actually did the first cross platform game with Scrabble, people don’t realize the first cross platform game ever was Scrabble across Facebook, Android in your phones. So from EA - Sorry, this is a long story. Hang with me for a few more minutes - I was really into video games for a long time. And so after EA was Zynga, Scopely for a few years, all of the mid-core titles, Walking Dead, WWE, Looney Tunes, Star Track, even a Breaking Bad game that didn’t make it which was kind of an interesting one, and then Riot for almost three years. And then at Riot, Chip called me and said, “Hey, do you want to do a startup?” So after all these big companies are working for quote the man, I am finally at a gaming startup trying to make a dance game, something that we are working on and then my new superpower is podcast host, I guess. So there we go.
Mitch: 6:53 That’s such a cool background. I can’t wait to see the dance game as like... I am one of those guys who like stand in the arcade playing, like just dance games with my niece and nephew for a long time. So that’s super cool. I am looking forward to that. Also a piece of history, the Scrabble game, the first cross platform game, it’s so wild to think that like you were doing that back in 2007. So that’s really cool. And I wish we had time to talk about Breaking Bad, but unfortunately we weren’t. I have read some interesting case studies about that. So anyway, I digress. So I guess our invitation to you to come on to the podcast that came about because one of our co-founders, Chris, [unclear 7:39] over your, I think it was your first appearance on The Duff podcast, where you were talking about the Subway Surfers IP. So I wanted to start there. And given your experience at Mattel, if you were running Cyber Games, the first thing I want to know is what would you do with the Subway Surfers IP.
Jen: 8:03 Got it. Okay, so let me do a little bit of homework because I want you to see in a sense how I approach these things. Because a lot of it is the data and insights behind the performance of the brand, the audience of the brand, for you to figure out what to do with the brand because it isn’t very easy. So let’s give these guys some serious credit. First of all, this is an 11 year plus mobile franchise. And so from a unity case study, they gave out a bunch of facts. It was the first game ever to surpass 1 billion downloads on the Google Play Store. It’s been installed a million times daily after 10 years, maintains 100 million meus. That’s a huge number. Downloaded over 3 billion times in its lifetime. And it’s one of the top mobile games of all time. It also still tops the charts, I think, if you guys are into the game industry, mobilegamer.biz, I think, Neil does this great blog where he talks about like the top games I think Subway Surfers, this past week is still the top downloaded game, still! And it’s beating Roblox, which is the other kid-targeted game that is just absolutely massive. And then last summer, they even did a Subway Surfers tag version on Apple arcade. So there’s even an extension, I didn’t even realize was on an arcade. So just a little bit more about the audience. So I use DataAI, which is one of the leading app analytics platforms I have been using them forever, I call them App Annie. Apologies, that’s their old name and I still do it all the time. So, it isn’t perfect when you look at demographics especially because on iPhone, with IDFA going away, there’s a little bit less data but I was a little surprised to see on iOS, it was 60/40 female, a little more female but it doesn’t over index. So index is about on average for typical mobile game. On Android, it was about 50/50 gender split. Definitely, it’s a younger IP. So 55% of players are 16 to 24, which does incredibly over-index versus the population. So it is an absolute young oriented game, which we all kind of know intrinsically, I just like to have data to back that up. And we see that similarly on Google Play, obviously, we don’t get data for under 16. Anything and kids marketing is incredibly difficult with COPPA. COPPA is one of the US-based kind of Child Online Protection Act. So tracking data for under 13 is a no-no. But you can make a lot of assumptions when you see the data, especially, to be careful when you notice that there are a lot of older people playing a game. It’s because parents are handing their phones to the kids. So on Google Play, when you look in there, you will see like all of these 45+ numbers coming in, that just means mom or dad is handing the phone to the kid. So watch out for those kind of sneaky data points. One of the thing that I love to see is this thing called Cross App Data Usage. So you can see what other apps, the user of that game was playing. And so obviously, there’s a 41% crossover with Roblox. So kids are playing both of those games, which is, really obvious. But at that higher level, you are really seeing that the creative play in that creative open world is also super appealing to that audience, everything else, all of the other games are 12% or below, you are gonna see like the big guys in their so-called Duty Magic Tiles, it’s not a dance game, but it’s a music game. So that was kind of interesting. And then there’s also a huge uptick in Toca Life. If you are not familiar with Toca Life, you should get familiar in the category, because it is what’s called Creative World. Back in my day, we called it Color Forms. So it was these vinyl stickers that you could take and stick and move around. So it’s digital color forms. And the art style is very cartoony and unique. This is a licensing opportunity, by the way, if you are out there, and you want to do consumer products, Toca Life or Gotcha Club or Gotcha Life. These art styles are perfect for consumer product applications. So I know it’s not Subway Surfers, but if you are not already looking out for those that you should be. So for consumer products, what was interesting, I did a little internet sleuthing. And in 2020, SIBO actually set up a consumer products division, and they do lifestyle merchandise, and they do a brick and mortar retail program exclusively with Walmart. And so this is super, super smart. Retail exclusives are an amazing way to reduce risk, and to get your inventory placed and to get shelf space. The hardest thing to do with consumer products. So when I say consumer products, let me just take a step back and just explain my language in case you guys aren’t familiar with, like physical licensing. So consumer products consist of three kinds of lines of business or business units. So what you have there is hard lines, hard lines would be cups and mugs. And, you know, hard base product, plastic base products. Soft lines, so t-shirts, bedding, everything that you could wear, and then the toy category. So within toys, which is a massive, massive category, you have got action figures, plush, and even have things like bikes. So I used to actually license X-Games at Disney. And so we used to do X-Games bikes and skateboards and helmets, which is a big play, ironically, for Subway Surfers, because they do skateboarding. So that is a segment of the business that they do. So when I talk about lines of business or LBS and those three categories. That’s kind of how you think about consumer products. And so for these guys, what they did is they went after Walmart specifically, it sounds like they launched two years ago, I checked on Walmart’s website, they are still up and selling. So it looks like they are finding some success with this idea of a retail exclusive. So they didn’t go with a big guy for toy licensing, right? They went with a smaller guy. And here’s why? If I was at Mattel, I would not do this IP. And you might be saying, “Jen, you just spent 10 minutes telling me why this is an amazing IP. Why would I not do want to do toys for this [unclear 14:42]?” Here’s why. The IP isn’t aspirational from a story and a product perspective. So I worked on Power Rangers. I worked on like every action figure line you could possibly imagine. DC comics, all of them and the key is, for someone to want to buy a toy or have something, for a little boy or girl to want to buy a toy of something, that character has to be incredibly aspirational, they have to be powerful, they have to have a really cool costume, they have to be something that you cannot be. The challenge with the characters in Subway Surfers is that they are just teenagers. There’s nothing special about them. Sure, you play the game, and you can do the things. But there is nothing magical or special about the characters. So there’s really no reason for me to buy the character and then engage in fantasy and role-play. Because the fantasy and role-play I get to do in the game. And so my guess is the toy category is not going to be that big of an option. It’s not gonna be that big of a seller. Sure, maybe there’s a t-shirt or something like that. But I don’t think action figures are going to be a big deal for them. Now, an opportunity could be that they start to add special powers, they start to add cool costumes, they start to age it up and have an aspirational play. They create some stories, they did webisodes a couple years ago, actually, I think four or five years ago, and it’s the same thing like, sure, I would watch that. It’s funny, it’s cute. But it’s not an aspirational, superhero-ish kind of play, that’s going to allow for the toy category to really dominate. I will pause there, that was a lot of information.
Rachit: 16:26 It was really, really cool. I think as someone that grew up with toys and games, it’s really fascinating. Seeing the magic behind it. All right. So there’s a science, there’s a lot of thought into what business decision do we make? And I think it’s quite a strong opinion, which I agree with in that, like, there is a Subway Surfers IP, which is strong, it’s recognizable as a game, especially within the mobile market. But it’s interesting that you say, as a toy, it doesn’t necessarily maybe stand out, because it’s not a character driven IP. I guess my question off the back of that is, if you are a game developer or publisher, and you have got a game IP that you are interested in extending, how do you think about, what should you do next? Is it more games? Is it more physical tabletop games? Is the plush? Is it odd lines, like you mentioned? How do you go through that initial process of thinking, “Well, this is what we should do?” And outside of that, maybe as an extension or a follow up, do you think it is really important to find an exclusive partner to launch with, like a Walmart? And is that kind of what helps you get started up? Any thoughts?
Jen: 17:43 Yeah, so the way that I would, so this is one of my roles at Disney, actually, I was a Franchise Leader. So the idea of a franchise is you are responsible for the IP overall. And so I was actually responsible for Toy Story and Power Rangers. And so what I would do is Dynegy... This is really funny. So Disney has a term called Synergy, which is why I just combined the two. And so synergy is the idea that you get all of the different silos around Disney. So parks, radio, Disney channel, consumer products, you get everyone aligned to a specific strategy for the AIP and how you are going to roll that out over the course of the year, what is the overall kind of marketing plan. And so this idea of a franchise leader is incredibly important, and should be someone that exists at SIBO, who, on Subway Surfers to help kind of lay out this map, because it’s not only just the games and the toys, it’s the content, and it’s the IP and the story that goes behind it. And so someone has to really kind of, take charge and think about what that might be. So in this case, what I would probably do is look at some of the lower hanging fruit, I think they are a smaller company, I think they only have 200, folks, and that they are probably very focused on the game itself. So just thinking right off the bat on like, lower hanging fruit, I would probably license out the IP to Roblox and to stumble guys, and just say, “Hey, here’s our IP, why don’t we do a collaboration, pay us a little bit of money, you can have our characters, and it will be a great acquisition opportunity for you, Roblox, for us to look guys to bring people in, leveraging our brand because the audience fit is absolutely perfect.” And so that would be very low resources for the Subway Surfer for team. It would be a great acquisition for the partners and a little bit of money coming in right off the top of the bat. For lines of business, for other consumer products, I think you would really double down on the retail exclusive that they have with Walmart and investigate some of the new categories. So Walmart, the benefit of going to a retailer as well as they can do what’s called Private Label, which is Walmart has the capabilities to go source products directly from, typically China, you know, almost always, but in some cases, for soft lines, it can be Pakistan or some of the Middle Eastern countries who can supply products at a very low cost. That model is probably the best possible model for them until they see success or some sort of breakout hit in one of the categories, I think that the challenge they are going to see is it’s probably doesn’t have like a wide appeal across all of the different categories are probably gonna have a few hits here and there. The challenge too, is you have with an older IP, you have kids aging out of the brand. And when you age out, then when they leave it, it’s for babies, right, like so after they age out, they are like, “Oh, well, that’s what I used to do when I was eight. And, I am 11 now and so I would never think of wearing a Subway Surfers t-shirt.” So the age group of when something is cool, when something is not cool, is like a six month to a year window these days. It’s really crazy how quickly... When we were kids, we used to be into something for years. Now they are interested in things for six months to a year, and then it’s not cool anymore, and they don’t ever want to see it again. And it has to be gone from the house. So that’s the danger of IP with younger audience these days, is the how quickly they churn out of it.
Mitch: 21:20 Yeah, I mean, I am still into Pokemon like 20 years later at, but I mean, Pokemon is the exception, not the rule. But I was going to ask that was going to be one of my follow up questions to your first response about like, what you would do with Subway Surfers, so if not toys, if not Crossmedia, do you see an opportunity then within games? And, you know, you kind of you highlighted Roblox, [unclear 21:46] guys. What other categories, what other genres do you think would work well with that IP? Or do you think there’s a limitation within games in terms of like, its broad appeal and the types of games that it could work in?
Jen: 22:05 I do think there’s a little bit of a limitation. I probably would, if I were them explore some sort of content with like a Netflix or a Disney Plus and try to do some sort of extension to the IP that would allow me to go into a different genre, because right now they are very stuck in the runner category. They have games in the match and the merge categories, which I talked about on the podcast, I think it was like the dumbest thing I have ever seen, like those genres are for 60-year-old women in Iowa, I have no idea why they thought that, that an IP that appeals to an eight-year-old would make sense. I just like literally want to sit down with them and be like, “Can you explain to me your logic there?”
Mitch: 22:49 You got to start early. That’s what they are trying to do. They are trying to get eight-year-olds into merge games.
Jen: 22:56 Yeah, okay, maybe as a mini-game, but it’s just not the play pattern, right? Like, I worked on Farmville at Zynga. And so I become an expert in, what two six-year-old women from the middle of the country in the US and by the way, it’s a global IP. But that happened to be some of the focus groups that we did was like, the reason why and this goes to game refinery, does this great thing around player motivation and many companies do this. Why do you play a certain game, so when you play Farmville, or you play these match and merge games, these gains fulfill a motivation that is completely different than what a little kid is looking for? So match and merge are about escapism. It is about, “Calgon take me away,” which is a very old reference, but it was like a bubble bath commercial. When I was a kid, it was, “I want to escape from my life, I want to just get away from it all. And I just want to flow into this matching and merging play pattern.” Runners, endless runners, like you see with Subway Surfers are all about skill and thrill. It is the dopamine hit that I am getting by playing this game and being very, very good at these platformer type experiences. For us, it was like Super Mario, was side scrolling platformers. Nowadays, like these endless runners give like this first person, kind of dopamine hit that you get in the skill and thrill. And so the problem is they have a complete mismatch of motivations, and how they are looking at what you get from the brand today, they are trying to give you something completely different that nobody wants. And so that’s why those game genres aren’t really that successful. I took a peek at did AI again, and of course, I think because of the IP that probably gets some people to try it. But it’s just an audience mismatch. Now, if you can have a new like, let’s say, you do new IP, you really set up a skateboarding theme. I think that’s a little bit of what the apple arcade game is, it’s tag or skateboarding. Maybe there’s some other types of genre is your play patterns that you could get into, that still delivers on some of those motivations, while extending the IP and adding some different things. But yeah, so hopefully that helps give a little bit of context on how to do.
Mitch: 25:15 It definitely does! So just quickly, and then I want to move on to kind of, I think, a good segue into transmedia. And kind of some of the success we are seeing with different franchises there at the moment. I am sure there’s plenty of studios out there that think they have a massive IP and take those licensing out opportunities, right. So, if you want one of these studios, is there any signals that you can look for, that kind of tells you that something is a hit IP and that there are opportunities to license it into other categories?
Jen: 25:54 Yeah, definitely. So one is the evaluation that I just did, hopefully, people will kind of take that roadmap and be like, “Oh, this is how you kind of dig into and think about approaching an IP?” Or you could just obviously, give me a call and hire me. And I will do that for you as well. Just kidding. So there’s four things that I kind of look at when I am looking at hit signals, so to speak. So one, is the game itself killing it? Are you at the top of your genre? Are your numbers really good? Are you unique and differentiated in the space? Like, don’t come to me if you are the 500th merge game with a garden theme? Like I don’t know, like, that doesn’t allow me to do anything with you, because you are not new and unique and differentiated. So that’s number one is, are you killing it as a game? Number two is, is your community really taking off and are they creating their own content? So when I was on League of Legends, one of the things that we were able to do from a marketing standpoint is hire our community to make content for us to make ads. So this guy called Never Cake was a Creator, who made these really funny animated videos, we just hired him for very low money and said, “Can you create, for us, an onboarding video for League of Legends?” Because it’s very difficult to figure out what is League of Legends? And how do I play League of Legends? For very cheap money, we created an ad that ad still runs today, like five years later, because it’s so good, and it was a community creator. So that’s another signal is, is your community created their own content and then can you actually engage them to work for you? The third one is PR, like, I know, many times we kind of laugh at PR, but if you are going out and you are pitching stories, and the press is actually picking up your stories, because you have got all of these different kinds of backgrounds, that’s how you know you are kind of on to something because you will have had to come up with a way to position yourself as new unique and different. And they are saying, “Yes, I believe what you are selling me. And now I am gonna write a story about it.” And then the last one is a little bit obvious, but people are calling you, you start to get people reaching out to you saying, “Hey, I have seen your IP, are you open to partnerships? Are you open to doing something?” Usually, that’s an awesome sign, when you get unsolicited, requests you to do something, so don’t take the first person to reach out to you. Usually that first person is opportunistic, it means that you might be able to get a better deal, but also don’t get too egotistical and think that the next thing you know, you are gonna work with the Disney or Mattel or Hasbro and you are gonna have $100 million toy line, either. You have to really understand the opportunity and find the right partner.
Rachit: 28:41 It would be tough to weigh those things up if you have never been in this space as well, I guess. And it’s a space that’s heating up in terms of I guess what Mitch mentioned earlier. And I guess, transmedia is something that’s been around for a little while, but I think it’s picking up more and more. I am keen to get your thoughts on that, in general, we have seen it to various commercial and critical reception here from Mario movie, Uncharted series, through to recently, Last of Us, I mean, I think this year, we have got a Gran Turismo movie, which is interesting, because like you said, not necessarily character driven. So, I am interested to get your thoughts on like, do you think that’s here to stay? Has it been long overdue? Like your thoughts on kind of transmedia, in general, especially stemming from video games and do you think that will continue?
Jen: 29:32 It’s about time, I am so thrilled and excited that we are finally seeing the entertainment industry, respect what we are seeing from the game industry and vice versa. When especially when you think about how people have to create works of art together. It starts with empathy and a shared appreciation for what each medium brings to the table. And so I think what you see especially from Last of Us is huge, huge fan, for many reasons, is the creator of the Chernobyl TV show was a fan of the game and the creator of the games a fan of true mobile. And they both added aspects to the story that each other didn’t have in their field division because they come from different genres and different mediums. And what you get as a one plus one equals three, because they agreed to work together and to make it and take it to the next level. So Last of Us is like just one of those examples and... Actually I want to add Arcane to the list. So if you haven’t watched Arcane, it’s League of Legends made a high quality, super expensive, the behind the scenes that, I won’t share too much, but is right actually created that without a studio partner to a distribution partner, because Riot is all about the highest quality entertainment. No one would have ever paid as much money for that TV series had it actually been birthed at a studio, but because Riot believe in the quality, that’s what you are getting it, it won a freakin’ Emmy. Arcane won an Emmy was the first streaming show to win Best Animated Program. And again, it’s because of the control. So Riot went and found Fortyish, this French animation company, who just knocked it out of the park with visual style, with storytelling, and worked with the creators of Riot who knew their characters and knew the IP, and figured out a way to bring that medium forward. So I think we are well past the idea of [unclear 31:35], we are now in the world of respect for each other’s medium respect for one plus one equals three. And when you think about Last of Us, one of the things that I wanted to call out, as somebody in the LGBTQ community, episode three, which is just a work of art, like it might be the best episode of television for sure of the year, if not of the last five years to take a gay love story in the Apocalypse, not even have your main characters really show up in the episode. And to have... Just the guts to take the bet that the storytelling was going to help the overall meta of the story. Those are the things that I, as a fan of just great storytelling, think is just absolutely amazing. So here’s my Nemo story. So let me pop it in here. So I worked on, hopefully everyone remembers Finding Nemo, the little clownfish. So, the fun part of working on movies or TV shows, especially with Pixar is you are brought in at the very beginning. And so it takes about two or three years to actually make the entire movie and all the time we are making the toy line. And so we go to Pixar, and we sit in one of the theaters, and Andrew Stanton, who is the Creator of Director of the movie stands up, and for 30 minutes tells us the story of Nemo with only a few pencil drawings on the screen. It was like storytime, where you sit down and just listen to someone like read from a book. And by the end of that story, we were all bawling in our seats with no visuals, no amazing, great barrier, CGI animation, the story is what moved us and almost all of the components of the story were there from the beginning. Usually, the third act kind of undergoes all these changes. But what everyone needs to realize and that kind of goes back to what I was saying with Subway Surfers, if you can nail the story, the emotional connection to the characters, and take a player or a viewer on the journey, you will attach to that IP in a way that is absolutely magical, because it starts with what connects all of us, which is the idea of story and character. So that’s why transmedia is on fire right now because people are really nailing this and respecting this and understanding that good stories can come from the game industry.
Mitch: 34:04 That was [unclear 34:07]. The Nemo story was just [unclear 34:11] off, chief kiss. Obviously, these aren’t flukes anymore. Because we are seeing, there’s a number of these kind of transmedia hits now. Do you see any other IP that has the potential of Lost of Us, the Mario movie and then what factors are or what criteria do those IP have to have to be successful?
Jen: 34:43 Yeah, so thank you for giving me this power. I appreciate it. With great power comes great responsibility. So I have worked on almost all of the great IP in the world. And so I am digging in to think of what would be a good one and looking back, one of my favorite games of all time is called BioShock, the original BioShock. And so BioShock has exactly what you just ask, it has a combination of things that I think would make for an amazing story that would absolutely, draw everyone in. So number one, it had really unique gameplay mechanics. So if you remember, BioShock, you had a gun in one hand, and in your other hand, you had like special powers, and you could zap people and you could lift people up. So it was a really innovative at the time to have those two different mechanics. The art style was really unique. It was this art deco, underwater art style that was just absolutely captivating, something not seen before. And then it had this worldly challenging story, as a fan of The Walking Dead, do I really kill a child? I think if you don’t know the story, I think that the child was like, kind of possessed. And you had to decide like, “Oh my God, do I need to kill her not?” And Walking Dead was an IP that for the first time really brought these morally gray decisions into media in a way that really challenged your thinking, like Last of Us. With Last of Us, people approach the story of Last of Us in two different ways. And if you are a parent, or if you are not a parent, if you are a parent, and you say, “Hey,” at the end of... Okay, I am going to spoil, try not to spoil it too much. But let me probably spoil Last of Us. If you are a parent, you absolutely agree with Joel’s choice at the end of the show. And you are like, “Of course, I would do that I would do anything for love, I would kill everybody to save my child.” If you are not a parent, you think that Joel is an idiot, and he just wrecks the entire human race. No, literally, that is the decision and that is the whole soul. And purpose of that story is, what would you do for love? And so when you have these types of really complex questions in media, that insight this type of conversation, and I think BioShock kind of have that even back in the day. So that’s why I would love to see somebody revive that IP and tell that kind of overall story.
Mitch: 37:12 Do you think there’s... Sorry to interrupt? Do you think there’s limitations on like, what...? Like, obviously, there’s limitations, like you have to be a big enough IP to be able to have this kind of success, but like, I don’t know, it just something like Grand Theft Auto have the same potential to you as something like BioShock.
Jen: 37:37 So what GTA doesn’t have for me is uniqueness. That’s every crime movie you have ever seen. There’s no unique characters. Because it’s open world and because you can be anything and you can do anything. The playground from a media standpoint and a show standpoint, I don’t think, is there as much. So it’s difficult to bring open world IP into life because there’s not one thing that you want. It actually closes the world off, as opposed to opens it up, in that particular example.
Mitch: 38:17 Because I have heard a lot of people say, “Oh, I would love a GTA movie or TV series, or I would love a like a Red Dead Redemption TV series or movie,” but I guess what you are saying makes sense, right? There needs to be some sort of, like, uniqueness to the story or the characters or the kind of, the world to have potential. Make sense.
Rachit: 38:37 I think for GTA, so you have got like, through the series, you have got 70 different characters and it’s like a loosely associated... Something like Red Dead, maybe it’s a bit closer like, the settings and open system that, anything, but I am actually really glad you said BioShock, I think, when I look back at all the games I have played, BioShock is definitely like, top five for me or at least in terms of memorable and also, I think when it came out it, it was so far ahead maybe or like I hadn’t played anything like that, the narrative, the storytelling, the choice making, as you said, but also just the world they had created, at that time, and how it holds up now, I think they got remaster, the HD collection or something, a couple years ago, and it was so fun to play it again. So I would definitely be there, if there’s a BioShock movie coming out. I haven’t looked it up. I don’t know if it is, if it’s in the works, but I don’t know.
Jen: 39:32 I don’t think so. I just made that up because I would love to see it. [unclear 39:36]. I forgot, who owns BioShock?
Mitch: 39:41 I actually just googled it and Netflix confirmed that there is a film currently in the works.
Jen: 39:48 Oh really!?
Mitch: 39:49 Yeah, there you go.
Rachit: 39:50 Perfect.
Jen: 39:51 So maybe, I should not. Can you edit that part out maybe? Oh, if I knew it was coming and I am super smart.
Mitch: 39:59 Now you look even smarter because you didn’t know it. And then your prediction...
Rachit: 40:04 Oh, and there’s a cancelled Universal film that was in production, and went on for a few years, and then nothing happened. So maybe, now it’s time. I am excited. That’s really cool. I would love to flip us a little bit and go more into finding the right IP for a game, licensing into games, as is the name of this podcast. I am curious, what do you think of the things that matter the most there? Is it the size of the audience or the audience bit? Or is it a narrative content and theme? If you are in-charge of a game, and you are thinking about content integrations, where do you start?
Jen: 40:46 Yeah, so I like to think of when you are thinking about a license for a game, you need to think about it at the beginning. So think about Marvel snap, when you listen to Ben Brode. And he does a great GDC conference, if you haven’t like gone on and watch that. He talks about the idea for Marvel snap, Marvel was always at the forefront because he wanted to deliver superheroes as part of the cards. And at Scopely, Scopely entire strategy is based off of leveraging IP, and then making a great game to bring the IP to life. Because IP can help you with acquisition. So just think about Monopoly Go, everyone knows what monopoly is. They actually do teach you to play it because it’s social casino, you are actually not playing Monopoly at all. But it helps with acquisition. It has a familiarity to the audience of like, “Oh, I can align it leads to a general idea of what I am going to get by seeing this IP,” and so it is the meld of audience and theme together from the very beginning. So when I think about this, let me tell you a Jurassic Park example. So I had a chance to work on Jurassic Park or Jurassic World, many times in my career. So first, when I was a little baby Marketing Manager at Hasbro was on Jurassic park three. And then later on, when I went to Mattel, and I was leading the action figure marketing and design, we had a chance to pitch to get the license for Jurassic Park at Mattel and take it away from Hasbro where it had been all of those different years. And so it’s something that I am really, actually kind of proud of, because we actually won that pitch. And when anytime Universal announces a new Jurassic Park movie, what you see is that companies out in the world will all of a sudden start to create generic dinosaur content and products to really capitalize on dino-hype. So dinosaurs appeal to a very young audience, ironically, very young, typically, boys go into it. And so retailers would do things like private label, like we talked about earlier. And they would make really cheap dinos. And we would have to find a way to kind of justify the existence of why are we paying a license to get Jurassic Park. And so in this particular example, we came up with the idea of dino-damage. So if you ever played with Jurassic Park, you can like rip the height off of a dinosaur and you can see all the blood and bones kind of underneath. And this is really what differentiated this brand versus, all of the other generic stuff that you see out there. So, it kind of goes into, okay, who is your audience? What is the theme in the application? And how do you add something really differentiated and unique to it? And so like Monopoly Go would, they did, there dino-damage was like, “Hey, we are gonna apply social casino to the general idea of you are playing a Monopoly board,” and that’s where they got their one plus one equals three is by combining those different things together. So they did a great job. And by the way, when I was at Scopely, I worked on the first version of Monopoly Go. So this is the third iteration, the very first iteration was kind of like Clash Royale meets Monopoly. And we were trying and trying and trying to get that to work. And where they actually ended up on version three is coin master or social casino meets Monopoly. And so like I said, their dino-damage or their differentiation, has absolutely killed it for it. I mean, they are spending a million dollars a day on that thing, and it’s delivering ROI. So at the top, it’s absolutely crazy how big the thing is, anyway. Hopefully, that Jurassic Park story is...
Rachit: 44:45 And it’s a straw launch from that, right? It’s just like, sweeping through the charts. It’s amazing seeing the strength of that IP and even from an IP perspective, like how long that IP has been around, and how many generations it can stay relevant for and have that reach and understanding and kind of like effect, download the game as well. So that’s really, really, really critical.
Mitch: 45:12 I have learned two new words today, or two new expressions, dino-hype and flip gears. I have never heard anyone say, flip gears.
Rachit: 45:21 Switch gears is what I meant to say.
Mitch: 45:26 Yeah, I thought you were gonna like say, flip the scenario...
Rachit: 45:29 Flip the switch.
Mitch: 45:30 Yeah, flip gears, amazing. So, just to flip gears now. If I am thinking about licensing into games, are there any particular genres or themes that you think work particularly well, when you are looking for a license? So obviously, there’s certain things you should look for, like sci-fi fantasy, these are genres that are pretty tried and true. And looking for big costs and characters. But is there anything beyond that, that you think, you should look for if you are looking for license?
Jen: 46:05 Anything can work? It just depends on what your idea is. For sports, you got Madden and you have NBA 2K. Kim Kardashian has a 10 year plus mobile game. Now, I will say that celebrity, like individual celebrities, and licensing them for a game overall is very challenging. And Kim was kind of one of the only ones to really nail that, mainly for celebrities, you see them as integrating inside of other apps, like all the football stars that are going inside of the shooter games, like Neymar. And Messi and all those guys. I think that’s hilarious. And I would love it. It is what it is. And, it’s kind of just an opportunistic thing to really capitalize on fans of those specific people. But even board games, we talked about with, all of the different Hasbro stuff, I have done little kid games, Littlest Pet Shop we created, I sold 4 million units, Littlest Pet Shop on the DS. Because discount kids and family business like that is a huge opportunity and an underserved market in games that typically happens, even Nerf, back when the Wii existed, we put the Wiimote into a Nerf blaster and you could shoot the Wiimote at the TV, or you could put the Nerf blaster in and shoot darts. So literally, anything can work. I mean, we had multiple 100-million-dollar business at EA with kids and family business. So just to give you that and then obviously, all of the other genres make sense. So it has to be the perfect marriage of like, what’s the gameplay? What’s the IP? And, can you deliver the core fantasy, so if there’s one thing to take away, it would be this. If your game can deliver the core fantasy of the IP, it will resonate. So let me give you a couple of examples. And then by the way, tattoo this on your body somewhere, because it’s like literally, what you just have to go back to, is the core fantasy delivered in your game, it will resonate. So Pokémon GO, why is that a monster hit? Because in the IP, what you do is run around the world and collect Pokemon and level them up and become a trainer. What do you do in the game? Exactly that. Hogwarts Legacy. So at EA, I had other teams that work, I worked alongside that made Harry Potter games every year during all of the movies, right? They did okay, and they were on the Wii and you could actually like move your remote around and be wizard. The problem is you were always playing as Harry Hermione or Ron, for the first time ever, you get to be a student at Hogwarts. And that is why this game is delivering like crazy because now I am in the story. I can participate as me. I am not trying to play through a story that’s already been created. And so this is why that’s like super resonant and super interesting. Because you get to be a wizarding student for the first time ever. So just remember, that’s how you pick your IP is, does your name deliver the core fantasy of the IP, and then you will likely have a resonant option.
Mitch: 49:23 So like we are on an episode of Deconstructor Listing, like the whole fantasy.
Rachit: 49:29 I got called Fantasy tattooed [unclear 49:33]. I will know what it means. But I think you are right. Like as a kid when I was... You would come out of the cinema having watched a product and you didn’t necessarily want to be Harry, you wished you went to Hogwarts, like you wish that you can get that letter in the mail. And I think that is really insightful and I think also we have seen it before. Maybe it’s not exactly the same but like you said with Pokémon GO, like [unclear 50:00] experiences so native to what they are doing like we have seen CCGs sometimes work like Marvel snap makes like so much sense because there’s so many characters that fit that world. But when it was applied to Harry Potter, like, it doesn’t resonate as much like there are characters, but it’s not a wide range. And it’s not as kind of large of a universe when you think about it that way. So, that’s really cool. I guess, I am curious to get the next level on, like figuring out, not only the thematic side of it, is the cool fantasy there? But about, like, from a research perspective around IP or a brand that you might look to work with, like, what do you suggest that developers or publishers doing this, outside of, is this cool fantasy? Like, obviously, that seems kind of the base level, like, does it align? But from there, what’s the next spot in terms of research or metrics or things that you can set up?
Jen: 51:00 Yeah, makes sure, number one is don’t try to shoehorn something in and try to make it work. Typically, your studio can do the first kind of smell test, like, does this feel right? Does this feel fun? And so I always start, there first, internal play testing, first of all, so then, after that point, so say, you have something you think is really resonating. And this really makes sense. And you have even gone to friends and family and said, “Hey, what do you think about this?” You can do all that for free. So then you want to start to work with some amazing research companies, a couple I can recommend. One is called VGM, which are Video Game Marketing. I have worked with these guys for 20 years, they are awesome. Another game industry company called Sulston, they can help with market fit, too. So they can take the idea of what you have, and go out to players and help you kind of like market size, your idea. So, those companies can help with early concept testing, market size fits, and get you the data that you might need to continue to move forward. Because sometimes when you go in to do your licensing deal, and you are finally going into pitch, let’s say, you are going to Disney and you want to get the Star Wars license, they are not going to just take anybody off the street, you are gonna have to come in with a really compelling pitch of why your game idea fits with the IP. And then what’s the business opportunity? What’s the TAM (Total Addressable Market)? How much are you willing to pay? What’s your royalty rate? What’s your MG? And what’s your marketing commitment? And many, many times, you are going to have to spend a lot of money on these things. So the upfront work you do to really understand the business opportunity is pretty crucial.
Mitch: 52:48 Yep, I think that’s a really good lesson and something we see time and time again, I think, it’s really important that the developers, the publishers that do the best, and create the best games are the ones that not only find that alignment of fulfilling the cool fantasy, but also, do the work and make sure they come with a really compelling pitch that makes a ton of sense. I think that’s all we have got time for. We are kind of coming up on time. So wanted to give a big, big thanks to Jen, it was a really awesome episode. Thank you so much for all the, really interesting insights. Thank you for the Nemo story. Getting that in there. And I have to ask now, before we wrap up, what really happened with Breaking Bad? No, I am kidding. But I desperately want to see a Breaking Bad game. And no one has touched that lesson since, I think. I am curious, but maybe it’s an offline discussion.
Jen: 53:54 No, I can tell you, it’s very simple. The KPIs weren’t there. So it was a Forex Strategy game. And it had all of the character, art from the show. And so you would go around and you would build up your cities and your base and your drug operation. And we just couldn’t get the KPIs to get there. It was in soft launch for a couple of years. So if you were actually in Australia back in 2016, you could have played it. And I did play it and we actually had Aaron Paul signed on to do all of the marketing with us. We just couldn’t get the KPIs there. And so Scopely, the reason why Scopely is Scopely and they are so awesome, is they will not launch a game unless the KPIs are there. And this is even back when we still had IDFA, we still have all of the normal tracking. And yeah, so it was no one’s particular fault. Just the game didn’t resonate.
Mitch: 54:55 We could do a whole episode around this. I think I really want to know like what you would change if you were gonna do it again but unfortunately, we don’t have enough time. Thank you so much Jen, really appreciate the time. Yeah thanks for coming.
Rachit: 55:07 Thanks for the chat. Bye, Jen. Appreciate it.
Jen: 55:09 Thank you guys. Appreciate the opportunity.