Join us for this latest episode of the Licensing in Games podcast.
In this episode, we sat down with Bob Slinn, VP of Business Development at Funplus. We spoke about FunPlus' collaborations with Daryl Dixon & The Joker in State of Survival, Orlando Bloom in King of Avalon, and how FunPlus' marketing strategy is evolving in the wake of ATT & IDFA.
Mitch: 0:05 Good morning and welcome to another episode of Layers Licensing and
Games podcasts. My name is Mitch and joined once again by our co- founder and CEO Rachit. Hello, Rachit.
Rachit: 0:15 Hey, how you doing?
Mitch: 0:18 Doing well. Back in Europe. Jet lagged. I got off a 25-hour flight on
Monday afternoon and I woke up at 03:00 AM this morning. And I was
wide away come be back a bit, so we’re getting through it.
Rachit: 0:34 I think a lot of people don’t realize how far Australia really is. So yeah,
prepare yourself in case you’re gonna go on holiday there. [Overlapping
0:43] are our flights, right? It’s an epic journey.
Mitch: 0:47 Fourteen and a half hours to Dubai and then eight hours to Lisbon. The
second one feels like just a quick jaunt across Europe compared to the first
one. So it’s not too bad. And pleased to be speaking with you today, Bob.
Thanks for joining us.
Bob: 1:10 No, pleasure to be here. Great, excited to talk about IP and other things
with both of you, and of course, jetlag.
Mitch: 1:15 Well, just for a quick intro, today, we are joined by Bob Slinn, who is the
VP of Bizdev at FunPlus, probably, best known for your [unclear 01:28]
Zombie survival game, State of Survival, among others. You’re based in
FunPlus’ Zurich office, or as we just found out you’re actually based in a
small town outside of Zurich. What’s the name again?
Bob: 1:15 It’s called Zug. So it’s funny. I mean, we say that the greater Zurich area.
So it’s loosely connected, but yeah, it’s close enough.
Bob: 1:49 The greater Zurich area, cool.
Bob: 1:51 Well, Switzerland probably disagree. It’s another can top, where viewers
can tell rivalry. But we’ll call it greater Zurich to make it easy.
Mitch: 1:58 Okay, cool. Well, coming to you from FunPlus’ farmhouse in Zug. Bob is
both responsible for leading the company’s Western market, strategic
Bizdev efforts. Previously, it was in Facebook’s game partnerships team.
Don’t hold that against him. And he was also in EAS publishing team for
www.kroger.com. So really excited to be speaking with you today, Bob.
Bob: 2:28 Great to be here, as mentioned. Excited to chat with you both.
Mitch: 2:32 Cool. Well, first of all, tell us about what you’re doing at FunPlus. I think
you have been there for almost two years now. And it seems like in that
time, on the topic of IP partnerships, you’re doing a lot more in that space.
Bob: 2:45 Yeah, it has been just about two years, which continues to surprise me. It’s
been an old saying, “Time flies.” So essentially, what we’re doing or what
I’m doing this year, we’re based in headquarters here. A big part of our
company success has been building our own original IP in original games
and images to survival. We have two other big Forex Strategy games,
kinds of [unclear], and King Babylon. And again, very much focused
originally on building our own IP, our own worlds, our own universes and
new strategy games tend to be pretty deep with deep storylines, and
character development and heroes and all these other things. But a couple
of years ago, actually, just around the same time, as I was joining, we
wanted to take a slightly different approach and effectively add another
element to the games. And so there was a discussion around how could we
add IP, and what kind of IP would be relevant, and what would the impact
be, and what were the goals around it. So essentially, again, it was
completely new for us. And we started. The first one we did was with The
Walking Dead and had Daryl Dixon join the game as a hero. And then
there was a whole other storyline built around him and his progress
involvement in the game. And then we follow that, not too long after with
integrating the Joker from DC Comics Fame into Status Survival as well.
And again, we really thought a lot about what would the right kind of IP
be, what would the right character be, and then equally importantly, how
would we integrate it into the game. And so it’s been a pretty interesting
learning process, I would say. And it’s so far so good. We’ve learned a lot,
but I think we’ve been really pleasantly surprised. The character has been
well received by our players in our community. And that is honestly the
first filter which was looking at what did the players want. And even with
the Walking Dead came out of a survey, we did with our player base. We
basically said, which characters or which heroes or which people would
you love to see in the game? And Walking Dead was the number one. So
that’s how it all started. And we have built on it actually.
Rachit: 3:55 Super interesting. What led that initial concept of “we should look at IP”? I
mean, I think it’s really interesting that you got to that point of surveying
and understanding “which IP?” but how did you even start that discussion
in the first place around like “we want to look of this space in general”?
Bob: 5:01 Yeah, it’s a fair question. Because particularly for a company like ours
who focus so much on building on IP, and that really is, and continues to
be a core part of our strategy, it’s building these worlds. And we actually
believe, over time, and we’re seeing it come true now that the next
generation of great IP will come from games. And will be born in games.
And then you’re seeing it across the borders, everything from Arcane, so
even Plarium launching a new series off the bat, attached to raid. So
definitely, we do feel this is next generation. But I think what we’re
looking at and as everyone knows, mobile gaming is super competitive
space, user acquisition is incredibly competitive. And so we were looking
at different approaches there. But we’re also looking at the way our games
evolve, we add new heroes on a regular basis. And heroes are core part of
the game. And the players are heavily invested in the heroes they have.
And this whole process of unlocking them. So we were looking at ways we
could expand the storyline and expand the selection of heroes. And we’re
regularly in communication with our players. And so there was this
thought process around: “Okay, well, if we were going to introduce
something new to the game and a different theme, what could it be?” And
I think, again, IP is a natural extension. A lot of developers have done it.
And a lot of developers have seen real success with it. Obviously, as you
guys know, you live this all the time, it has to be done intelligently and
carefully. So I think that’s why when we first started thinking, IP could
provide both value from a marketing standpoint for new players and
expand the audience. But for us, equally importantly, it was another way to
engage our core player base. And another way to drive engagement and
ultimately monetization by introducing this whole new storyline and a new
hero to the game.
Rachit: 6:49 Has a word for both of those elements, I guess? I mean, firstly, in the UA
space, like given how challenging it is, do you still believe that IP is
something that can bring down your cost?
Bob: 7:02 Yeah, it’s a very fair question. Very good question. I mean, both of these
integrations happen pre-IDFA and need to see changes. So our that
reference point has changed pretty significantly. And you know, how does
the way work? And how IP influenced that? I guess, I’d say, from our
specific experience, we probably got more value and we probably did a
better job being super honest of integrating the IP for the existing players.
And we saw, I guess, set a really positive response, really high levels of
engagement. I’ll have to think about the percentage, but we saw a very
significant percentage of active players who unlock the hero, in both cases,
for Daryl Dixon and for the Joker. So there’s super high engagement.
Players both unlock the hero and then use the hero. And for the Joker, in
particular, the second time around, we built this very evolved storyline.
Because the Walking Dead, pretty obvious integration, zombie game, post-
apocalyptic, fine! Joker, not as obvious a fit. And so the writers built this
very loved storyline of “Here’s the Joker hero, here’s [unclear 8:07], how
does he play?” And so there’s this whole story unfolded over a period of
three months where, of course, surprise! Surprise! He wasn’t a [unclear
8:15] at the end. But that story actually worked. And so the players really
engaged with it. But it could have gone wrong if we just thrown the Joker
in without any context. And ultimately, on your question about UA, I’ll be
honest, I think we probably under exploited the potential of IP just because
I think we hadn’t had the experience of thinking about how do you adapt
your UA campaigns, because in FunPlus, it has been very specialized it, a
real, I’d say hardcore performance, CPI, LTV equations, really, really
good at performance marketing. And I think IP, in some cases necessitates
a slightly different approach and maybe a broader approach to marketing,
to really leverage the IP to its fullest. And I’d say, we did some. But I’d
say we could have probably done more. And I think because we were
focused on the kind of existing formula and systems that worked, we did
do some work with [unclear 9:09] in particular, and we actually created
this amazing TV spot. And we actually got Norman Rita. So we did this
whole shoot in LA. And all the stuff we have been never done before. But
I don’t think we actually knew what to do with UA. We want to clear over
this thing. It’s an amazing TV spot. On YouTube, you can see it, but we
didn’t necessarily run the [unclear 9:29]. We probably could have done
more with the actual TV campaigns. But again, it’s all different media
strategy. And we’re still learning about that. So I think for our experience,
there’s more to do. I guess, I’d say, moving forward to present day and the
world we all live in now from mobile gaming, where we know less about
players and the old formulas don’t necessarily work anymore, I think IP is
even more important. And I think FunPlus along with most mobile
developers who have games with a certain size, are having to relearn
marketing, and a lot of ways. Performance marketing alone is no longer
sufficient to scale your game, you need to really think about different ways
to both engage community, work with influencers, work with even more
traditional brand marketing. And we’re at the beginning of that process
and that journey. But I think, this idea of a full marketing mix is going to
be a necessity for developers to be successful. And you can see very easily
how IP helps differentiate. And as you start to tell stories and build brands
and use different types of marketing, IP become even more important in
Rachit: 10:38 Yeah, really, really interesting that you were also able to find that. That
collaboration really helped on the back end, although engagement, and
retention, and activation and the existing audience. So I guess you have
real players that are not just there for “flash in the pan” and they’re around,
they’re playing for a while. So it makes sense to give them content that
they genuinely love and they can interact with. So curious to hear, I mean,
it’s exciting to hear that you were able to tap into it for more than just the
UA. I think UA is definitely one of the first things, a lot of developers and
publishers we speak to, think about as the primary reason to use IP. But the
fact that you’re able to then see that advantage later on, down the funnel, is
really cool. Before we jump into more, I’m actually curious about the fact
that you have so much experience across working with IP partners, a lot of
people that we work with, don’t have people like you in their team, right?
And so I’m curious, like, how much of your role is focused on IP and
building that pipeline of working with more IP? And was that something
you’d done at Facebook and other jobs before? Or was IP something that
you kind of let them do with this role at FunPlus? And now it’s growing,
what’s that been?
Bob: 12:02 Yeah, it’s good question. I’d say, I spent a good chunk of my time...
Actually my one team member, Josh, is based in California. And so he
ends up managing a lot of the direct relationships. Now, just because it’s
easier. A lot of the IP holders, at least certainly Western IP holders, are
based in California. So that works well. And we did have subsequent to do
in these first two. We did a round of visits with a lot of the usual suspects
and talk to them and understood how they operated them. As you guys
know, the different IP holders operate very differently. And some are very
happy to license to IP too, in some ways, all comers, if the commercials
work. Others are very, very protective of the IP and want to make sure that
the storyline is perfectly integrated and that it supports the brand. And so
we have to talk to a pretty broad range. And we’re actually in the process
of doing another integration that’ll hopefully go live sometime towards the
end of the year. And since Survival so, more to come. But one of the
challenges is, again, to this point, making sure about marking is really
thinking about, how can we use the IP to broaden the appeal and find new
audiences and bring them into the game. So we’ll see if it works. But
there’s another one in discussion now. To the point [unclear 13:20] before,
I mean it’s funny. I hadn’t done IP in this sense of really going in
traditional licensing. We did do a bunch of things at Facebook where they
were launching an HTML5 gaming platform, where we were launching a
brand new thing. And again, IP is a great way to tell people, you’re doing
something new, so I did do a trip to Japan, where I went and saw every
traditional video game maker and [unclear 13:44] license created Pac Man
and Space Invaders and showing my age all the games that I played when I
was young in actual video game arcades. So yeah, that was the early tastes
of IP. And then, way back in time at EA, I worked at Pogo and a big part
of Pogo’s game library. It was basic casual service, all the Hasbro titles.
And he had a very big strategic deal with Hasbro. So that was probably my
first real interaction with IP. Because there was multifaceted deal with
Hasbro and we spend a lot of time working with them. And again, they’re
one of the original IP licenses and have built an enormous business off the
back of that. So yeah, that was my first experience. And then the trip to
Japan, it will live long in the memory front, in-person meetings and trying
to demo HTML5 games on a shaky connection as skeptical Japanese game
producers wondering, what in the world Facebook is doing in their office
and why they want Pac Man? But it worked in the end. Pac Man was the
first, the big launch game. But yeah, it’s such an interesting challenge
figuring out and matching the IP to the need you have and the audience
you’re trying to reach. And I think that’s one of the biggest challenges and
the hardest things is finding that the right IP for the job. I’d say, the right
IP can get your specific goals. Again, I think that, plus the integration and
the thoughtfulness around the process is what makes either successful or
Mitch: 15:26 How does that differ working with one licensor or working with Hasbro
and Pogo trying to find multiple licenses? Like, it’s obviously a different
Bob: 15:37 Yeah, very much a different approach. And I think, what we’ve seen is
good news, bad news is for... It’s a game today. There’s a reasonably
standard playbook for licensing IP and IP integrations. I mean, there’s a lot
of it happening. But I think the good news is that the commercials are
reasonably established and the model is reasonably well-established. And
as I said, it becomes more a question of finding the right IP. And I think
most of us, majority of us, the bigger holders of IP are reasonably open to
licensing, because it’s a core part of the business. I think where it gets
more interesting is when you’re trying to find an source IP, where people
don’t normally license it. There are a lot of these discussions where the
collaboration and the fit would be amazing. But Company A may not
necessarily be in the business of licensing the IP. And they’re very
protective of it. Okay, that’s where it gets harder. There are certainly some
of the much more established businesses, like a Hasbro, where the model
is pretty clear. And if there’s a space and category, then it just becomes a
question of... It’s not as simple as working out the details. But there is an
established model and precedents that you can follow.
Mitch: 16:55 Yeah, it makes sense. A lot of that is templated. Whereas when you’re
going out and building these partnerships, you have to do it all from
scratch. So it’s something that I think we come across is, it is a challenge
like, what’s the right price to offer? How do you work through approvals?
All of these things. Yeah, there’s some sort of playbook, but people aren’t
really sharing their playbook across the industry all of the time. So, yeah,
Bob: 17:21 No, and I can see, you play very useful role in that and trying to create
some transparency around the process. And again, where there is
consistency and learnings of anything, you see very different approaches.
And even looking at the two big comic IP holders, Marvel and DC, they
have a very different approach in terms of both how they license their IP,
but also in terms of how you can use the IP? In Marvel, the characters have
to very much look like the characters. So there’s a very clear playbook.
Whereas DC is interestingly quite open to you interpreting the characters.
For example, the Joker, relicensing comic book Joker, but again, if you
rewind in time, there’s multiple variants of the Joker that look quite
different depending on which artist originally drew the Joker. So they’re
quite open to finding their own version of the character, which is quite
interesting. In a way, there is a FunPlus Joker now that exists, that has
never been seen before, it looks slightly different. As long as you follow
the right guidelines and it looks like a joker. So there’s some pretty
interesting nuances as you get into partnering with different people and
how you can make the IP your own, or how you can integrate it
intelligently. So it’s yet a lot of fun. But again, I think the service you’re
starting to provide in your scaling is super helpful. Because again, not to
say it’s darker, but it’s certainly not something I’ve communicated a lot.
Mitch: 18:43 It’s like the UA dockets, the licensing dockets. But the Joker is really cool.
I haven’t played Status Survival. But if you look at the integration you did,
it really is like you’re in Joker. And I think it’s an interesting approach
what DC is doing, because you can add to the cannon, right? And if you
think of games becoming cross media as a term you hear all the time, it’s
like, if the game becomes big enough, you get this new version of a
character that has existed in various forms. So I think it’s a really cool
approach. As opposed to just like, here’s the character out of the box. I
mean, both of the merits. But yeah, it’s interesting.
Bob: 19:23 I think the next part of that is where you start to see Star Wars or other big
IP, where there’s such a deep universe and there’s so many elements of
that in sub worlds and extensions and characters that you also start to see
more and more this idea, what’s the right partnership? The game in
particular, because it’s interactive. Because it’s constantly evolving and
free to play. In games, the service model, you start to see IP they can live
within a game over a period of time. And actually start to extend the story.
Add new elements to the story as long as it fits with the existing canon and
doesn’t conflict with anything. So I think that’s the other thing that’s
gonna be super interesting, as you see some of these partnerships and
perfectly for some of the fully licensed games. The game can actually add
to the value of the IP and add to the story and the lower around the IP
itself. And in some cases, even add new characters. So I think with the
right kind of collaboration, you’re gonna see this interesting extension
where, of course, big value for the licensor, but the actual rights holder
will start to, hopefully, if it’s done right, have value for that they get back
beyond the commercial elements.
Mitch: 20:35 Yeah, absolutely. I wanted to talk about your approach to what you’ve
done so far. Because it is a little unique compared to some of the other
studios that we’ve spoken to. I guess they... A model we’ve seen, when
we’re talking about in-game integrations is, start small, do a small
collaboration, see what effect it has on in-game metrics, or UA, or
whatever it is, whatever the thing we’re testing is. And then we go bigger
and bigger from there. And you’ve done the opposite. You’ve started with
Daryl Dixon, the Joker, Orlando Bloom. So I’m curious, was your
approach always to just go big, or how did that come about?
Bob: 21:18 Yeah, I think, for us, particularly, say Survival, then when we started
doing these, the game was already in a way so big. It was a game that
scaled up very quickly. And, again, in a weird way, fortuitous timing,
launched in the end of 2019 and happen to coincide with a period of time
when people had a lot of time at home. So the game grew very big very
quickly. And so I think, by the time we started looking at IP, we needed
something that would move the needle for lack of a better expression. And
I think with the scale of the game and the economics around the game, it
made sense to try to find something that would truly add value. And also,
again, I think we were also guided by what our players were hoping to see.
And I think what’s nice is, because it was an integration within the game
over, there’s like something in for six months, again, it’s a bigger IP. But
for us within the context of the game, it made sense. It was the right size of
experiment for the size of our game. And if it hadn’t worked... The funny
part is, it’s a six month integration, but Daryl Dixon is still in the game. If
you had unlocked the hero, you still can play with Daryl Dixon forever,
just because of the virtue of the way the game works. So, thankfully, it
worked out because it would have been awkward if it hadn’t.
Mitch: 22:47 A lot of risk there, right? I’m assuming you spent a lot to get the right, so
you have to make sure that it pays off.
Bob: 22:56 Yeah, again, it’s finding the right balance for the IP holder and the
licensor. In this case, I think it worked well on their... MC are a great
partner to work with. And I think they see the value of these extensions as
well. In ways, it extends their universe just like it provides value to our
Mitch: 23:17 Yeah, so I guess it’s horses for courses then, right? Like if you had have
had a smaller game, then maybe you would have considered a smaller IP
to work with. But in your case, you really needed something that I guess
had pretty broad marketing power as well, right?
Bob: 23:33 Yeah. And again, when you’re talking about a zombie game, this is
probably somebody that... You know, so many types of IP you can bring to
the game and make it work. That’s the other day. You can list the 5-10 IP
that would fit incredibly in story and Walking Dead would be [unclear
Rachit: 23:52 I know you can’t give it away, but are you going off piste for this next
collaboration that you mentioned is coming out later? Are we getting a
Bobby collaboration [overlapping 24:00]?
Bob: 24:03 That good for, but I don’t think it would work out very well, for barfing
citizens survival to may have a [unclear 24:08] and family end. But we’re
looking at a couple of things. One of them would be definitely of piste.
Certainly, I might expect to see at the game. Again, because this challenge
is somewhat unique to strategy games and the way the audience engages,
there’s such deep engagement that the audience is easily narrow. And one
of the challenges is continuing to bring people into the top of the funnel.
And so IP in this case may serve to broaden the top of the funnel,
introduce the game to new audience. So by default that might a little
Rachit: 24:45 Just for context for others to understand like what does apply it roughly
look like in terms of how long they’re playing for, how many are coming
back? I don’t know how much you can share that, as a guideline.
Bob: 24:59 The way the... The retention curve tends to be that we lose a lot of people
pretty early on [unclear 25:04]. Numbers are reasonably low. But once
people have gone through this initial phase and know the way the games
tend to work, because there’s an initial solo phase where you’re basically
building your base, we lose a lot of people there, whether it’s a reasonable
amount of work and investment, and then once you get join an alliance
clan, in our case, they called alliances, the game changes dramatically in
the sense of very social, you get this deep engagement and level of
commitment with your alliances. And there are different types of alliances.
There’s some that are ridiculously hardcore, where people are waking up
in the morning to organize battles and raids.
Mitch: 25:43 Oh man, I could have been on Status Survival this morning in my jetlag.
Bob: 25:49 Next time you’re doing this, you want to join the alliance. I joined multiple
alliance. When I goes by, I was interviewed, I started playing the game,
and I got sucked in completely. And then I joined one alliance, and once I
actually started work, I just didn’t have time to play [unclear 26:03]. So
they very quickly kicked me out because I wasn’t committed. It’s like
dating. I tried another line that was still a little too involved. And the last
one was: “Okay, well, as long as you participate at some level, we’re
happy to have you.” But yeah, I’d say that the pattern tends to be that the
people who stay are very involved and will spend a lot of time. Certainly,
multiple times a day and hours a day. Just because the core, the really
compelling part of the game, which drives the long term retention is this
social element, both within your alliance, where there’s a lot of trading
resources and battle and preparation. And then you have these epic wars
alliance against the lions and reigns. And so those all happen in real time.
So it tends to require a pretty high level of commitment for those who are
still there. So yeah, it’s pretty deep engagement. Hence, why adding IP,
introducing a new hero can be compelling. Because... It’s interesting. For
Daryl Dixon, we made it reasonably accessible. And it was quite easy to
get the hero, which meant that all the core players unlocked did more or
less instantly. But that meant, in some ways, it was less compelling. If the
people didn’t have to work as hard, whereas the Joker, we changed the
way the process work to collect the assets are handed in, took longer. I
think actually it probably worked better. In that sense because it felt more
of a commitment and the people felt there was more value around the
character. We tend to have these events and these different storylines that
unfolds as part of the unlock process.
Rachit: 27:37 Yeah, it makes sense. I’m curious to jump into... Obviously, you
mentioned Daryl Dixon there. But on the flip, I’m interested in that
Orlando Bloom collaboration. I think games often generally lysing the
fictional characters, not necessarily talent or the actor behind it. What
made you do that? And how did that come about? It’s quite different to
what we’ve seen in Mark.
Bob: 28:06 I think the original, we were starting to looking at from a marketing
standpoint first and how can we evolve marketing. We kind of did this
discussion. King of Avalon is a game that’s been around for six plus years.
And we’ve done a lot of marketing over a long period of time. So we need
to start doing something different. So the original discussions were around
on a marketing level. I’m thinking about Orlando Bloom as a spokesperson
for lack of a better word, and really thinking about how could he help with
marketing campaign. And so the original discussion started with marketing
and having him promote the game. And so it just really went as the
discussions move forward. There was more and more interest in having
some type of integration in the game. So that happen organically. The
initial discussions with his team were all around: “Hey, can you do a
marketing campaign to promote the game?” Great. And then as discussion
went forward, it became clear that there was interest in actually having
him join the game and integrated the game. So way the other way around,
it wasn’t initially, to your point, there wasn’t, or we need to have Orlando
Bloom himself. In the game, there’s a credible fit and a nice fit from a
marketing standpoint. And then discussions evolve to the point where they
go, “Why do we create a hero?” And it’s a funny thing, even though the
heroes actually called Orlando Knightshard. So it’s a fictional character
that’s obviously him. They just don’t.... And then the commercial is all,
“Knights of the Round Table” are theory. And [unclear 29:44], he
obviously has lots of credibility in that type. So there’s a great commercial
that sits with that character. And he’s all dressed and has medieval armor.
So it started with marketing, and then more pushed into this game
integration. And again, there was a bit of a conceptual shift to move him
from an actor pronoun game to an actual character. So you’ve entered this
hybrid, where it’s obviously Orlando Bloom, but it’s not called the
Orlando Bloom in the game. [Overlapping 30:17].
Mitch: 30:21 I was gonna say, I mean, it does organically. I can see how that would
evolve. And Orlando Bloom is quite famous for playing fantasy characters,
right? I don’t imagine if you’d have done it with Mark Wahlberg, it would
have had the same effect. So it makes sense. It’s an interesting
collaboration and cool to hear how it evolved. One of the things I want to
talk about is working with big IPs and how it’s fraught with risk as well. I
mean, if you work with one of the big IPs and you make a really bad
experience, then you’re going to suffer reputationally. If you don’t make
an experience, which is true to your fan base, then you’re going to suffer
financially, because no one is going to buy or no one is going to engage
with the collaboration. So how aware of those risks were you when you
started down this path with these big IPs? And how did you manage them?
Bob: 31:25 Yeah, it is really important if you think about this from the outset. So I
think, with the question of the fit, it wasn’t really scientific. It was very
much again, as he said that, they really all came out of this initial player
survey. And even in subsequent discussions, we’ve been looking at that
survey and talking to players and understanding what they wanted to see.
So in that way, there wasn’t that much risk. In the sense of Walking Dead
was, we knew it would fit and resonate with the audience, but to your
broader point on the actual integration, I have to say, we have a pretty big
team of writers and for the type of game that it is, there ends up being it’s
via a lot of text, a lot of narrative, a lot of storyline as you work through.
And we have these regular events that take place. And so there’s always a
branch to the story and there’s this whole thing and scientists trying to find
a cure early. Because there’s already a pretty involved story. So we have to
think about how Daryl Dixon could fit into that story. So the good news
was, there was a lot of material to work with. The bad news was it had to
be credible and there had to be a story that worked. And again, I think the
Daryl Dixon thing was pretty natural. And, again, just given the game the
way the game works, creating hero was kind of the obvious thing to do.
And I think we were in a way lucky that the game had a template in a
sense of the way the events work and the way the characters work, that
you could logically see. We are already creating new heroes all the time.
So you can innovate to say, “Okay, well we’re going to create a special
hero.” So the way our games are format and made, I think, it’s an easier
thing to structure. I think going to the Joker or the Orlando Bloom one, we
had to be much more creative around how we built the special storyline to
make it work. Because again, you really just put Orlando Bloom in the
game, there would definitely be this moment of a jar and would not
necessarily resonate with the audience. You could get it wrong with the
Joker, is even probably a higher looks plan in the sense that, why in the
world is DC character in the game? There’s no Batman, what’s he doing?
But yeah, the storyline was the hardest part, I think. And then building
events that built maps the Joker universe to the status of our universe. And
that was I think the hardest part to mention. Again, for a deeper game like
ours, it’s easier because there’s more material to work with. I think if
you’re looking at a casual game, where it’s primarily, like I say traditional
puzzle game, it’s very difficult to fit IP into that, because there isn’t really
much to actually integrate into. And that’s I think where it becomes more
challenging is, if there is a deep storyline already, then it becomes easier.
And I think that’s one of the challenges of being for different types of
games. And I think if we go forward then finding that right balance, just
looking at very very current example, Subway Surfers have just launched
their next game Subway Surfers Blast, which is again a pretty standard
well on well-established puzzle mechanic. But I think just playing on the
train didn’t actually stopped the mind, but they’ve taken what is an
incredibly iconic game specific IP. And from what I can see, they basically
constructed a nice meta that lives in that universe and will take various
elements from the runner game and build a storyline that makes sense or
MJP charactering. And so I think it can be done. It does require probably
more work and more effort than might initially be perceived. I think,
actually, you made a good point. IP can be relevant just from a marketing
standpoint, who’s an endorsement figurehead. Would you accept that it’s
just marketing? And you’re going to benefit from audience awareness,
there can just be a brand fit. And that maybe isn’t that. I think, for our
purposes for these longer term integrations as to really fit with the game.
Mitch: 35:35 Yeah, that’s substantially less matter in a merge game than there is in a
zombie survival game. Right? So it makes sense. Just quickly, talking
about managing the risk of staying true to your players, the Joker, I think,
is a really good example of that, how you’ve started him off as a hero and
then turn him into a villain, right? I think, if you’d have just tried to make
the Joker a hero, it wouldn’t really work the same way. Because people
would be like, the Joker is a mischievous villain, right? So, yeah, that’s
clever. It’s a really staying true to the character.
Bob: 36:13 And I think, you need to add to that, we also have been lucky with the
partners we’ve worked with, in the sense they... Both for MC and DC,
they, of course, live and breathe these characters all the time. And there’s a
huge amount of knowledge and backstory and just real awareness, and we
learned a huge amount from them throughout the process. And we had so
many, obviously, regular calls and approval process. And as we built that
the characters in Sterling, we worked very closely with both partners,
respectively. And now I lost count of the number of times DC would say,
you know what, the Joker just wouldn’t do that, or the Joker would do this,
or this doesn’t resonate, this isn’t true to his character. Exactly! He’s
mischievous. He would never use it. So, again, I think that’s another thing
that we learned a lot is coming forward, where we’d always go with their
own IP and build their own storylines. And you’re, of course not
constraining them anyway. There’s positive and negatives to having these
constraints. And I think there is a huge amount of value that we were able
to gain from partnering with, wherever there’s DC, they have this amazing
knowledge of what the characters should do and what will resonate, and
will resonate with their fans. So we evolved a lot based on their feedback.
And that’s, again, key to making it feel authentic and credible. Joker also
has to feel like the Joker, right?
Rachit: 37:38 Yeah, having that opinionated partner that knows their law and their fan
base is probably going to be helpful in reducing risk and making sure that
things land well. So that makes sense. I think, on the flip side, you
mentioned, on the player base side, it was that the surveys that made that
initial walk into collaboration and have come to mind and make sense.
And I guess for that you need to have players in the first instance. So that
leans into obviously content integrations and collaborations on existing
games. Is that something that you will continue to only work in that way?
Or do you think...? There’s obviously publishers likes Scopely? Working
with IP based games and licensing games for licensing IP for new games.
Like is that approach that you think is just outside of FunPlus DNA? Or is
it completely different in how you approach it? I’m curious on your view
of using IP to build a new game around?
Bob: 38:37 Yeah, historically, we had built their own IP. And we are, though, looking
at the idea of fully licensed games. And it’s really doesn’t [unclear 38:48]
to your point. You’re making a bet, a much bigger bet on the IP and
finding it... But again, I think at some ways, the risks are higher, the
complexity is infinitely higher. But the same question, in our case remains,
what IP could we apply to strategy in this case? And so there are some
things that, hopefully, you’ll see in the not too distant future where, again,
we are measuring an IP with an entire game experience. And that, again,
risks are higher, but, hopefully, the upside is higher. And in this new
environment where marketing is harder, having a full IP experience will
hopefully be beneficial.
Rachit: 39:32 True. It’s very nice to get the inside scoop, obviously don’t know what it
is, but I looking forward to seeing whatever you’re planning in that. I think
it makes sense, especially, if you’ve seen the value of IP within games,
then I think it’s easy to probably justify and take on that risk to potentially
land with something bigger that’s strong out of the gates and you can
appeal to that audience. So makes a lot of sense.
Bob: 39:56 Yeah. And again, I think the same challenge apply. So it’s the process of
both picking the art case and IP that would match with the strategy genre.
Rachit: 40:05 Totally.
Bob: 40:06 Also, they know the integration work. And it’s certainly not an easy fame.
There’s incredible successes, and also games that just didn’t work,
because, again, that marriage wasn’t credible or wasn’t properly executed.
But I do think overall, IP will continue to grow in importance. I think just
as again as gaming evolves and as marketing evolves, I think, the need to
differentiate and the need to have some sort of recognizable brand, I think,
that’s going to become more important. You’re gonna have the established
IPs, integrated gaming, and then of course, new IP coming from gaming,
going to other forms of media.
Rachit: 40:48 I think the constraint you mentioned is also really, really healthy. You
know your strategy players from what you’ve done to date. And so it’s
easier at least to talk to the world about you feeling like, what can work
here? What will work for this type of player? They’re looking for
something that will engage them, that can build a world that actually
works with the strategy genre and the meta. So leading into that makes a
lot of sense. And I think it’s a good [unclear 41:11] for any developers and
publishers that are looking at licensed games. At least, if you can lean into
what you know and the players that you know, it’s easier to build games
around that and make sure that it’s IP that’ll lay in the category.
Bob: 41:25 Yes.
Mitch: 41:28 In terms of what you’ve done today, are you able to share anything around
metrics and what good looks like? If you’re talking about a UA decrease in
cost, or that kind of engagement or monetization lift that you’re aiming
for, what does that look like? And are there any particular learnings there?
Bob: 41:54 Yeah, good question. I think what we were hoping on the UA side without
sharing metrics was, we were hoping to be able to expand the range of
audience we targeted with UA rather than necessarily expected to be
cheaper. We’re hoping we could broaden the top of the funnel and get a
broader mix of people engaging and converting. It kind of works. I think,
part of it was, again, it’s a different approach. And then they required a lot
of optimization. And we did some of that. I think we probably could have,
in retrospect, gone further. And really thinking about how could we further
adapt our marketing and create up messaging to really get full benefit from
the IP and reach that audience. But I think for us that was the primary
metric looking at UA was less saying, existing audience will become,
which convert more cheaply as we can also reach a broader audience and
we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do with our own IP and our own
creative. So that’s, I think, from a marketing standpoint. In terms of the
retention, we look a lot obviously, of the long-term engaged players and
we did see some positive trends in terms of level of engagement and in
monetization. But it was, I think, again, the impact and the scale that the
game is operating out. It was not dramatically positive. I think it was net
positive. I think it was more... We did see a lot of positive feedback,
anecdotal feedback from players. They were excited to have some the
game. And so at some level, the fact that community was positive and we
saw lots of positive feedback was in some ways enough. And, again, we
did see some improvements in terms of longer term retention and
monetization of that. The most engaged player base. But it was, in some
ways more important that the community saw it as a positive and it was an
event that was well received. Obviously, be great if you saw these
Mitch: 43:56 It wouldn’t adjust. We went for the sound bite where you’d be like, you
know, and it was amazing, and we smashed all of our targets and IP is the
way to go.
Bob: 44:09 I think what is clear is that from Walking Dead to the Joker, we figured
some things out. And again, we changed as I was mentioning, effectively,
the unlock flow in the process of unlocking the character and the hero.
And ironically, making it harder to do made it more compelling, and drove
both higher engagement and higher monetization.
Mitch: 44:34 How much of that is a science versus an art? Do you have benchmarks
now that you set out when you do an IP collaboration to say, we absolutely
have to meet this benchmark for this to be successful, or is it more like you
said, it’s more qualitative, where you look at it and say, what did the
community say about the integration?
Bob: 44:55 Yeah, I mean, we obviously wanted to make sense from a financial
standpoint and to see positive metrics. I don’t think we need to have a
benchmark. Because, again, looking at what we’re trying to do now, I’d
say there’s probably going to be an even heavier emphasis on this idea of
broadening the audience appeal, whereas, I think particularly the first, the
Walking Dead was much more appealing to the core audience who are
already in the game. With the UA element of the marketing element, a
second priority, whereas I think now given the stage the games out and
maturity of the game and the evolution of marketing. I think we’ll lean
more into that first element. And so they think that’ll become a more
critical metric, which is, can we really broaden this all? Can we bring new
people into the game and convert them?
Rachit: 45:44 Yeah, makes sense. And I think you’ve definitely figured it out within
your space and your games? Well, and I’m curious if you had a view on
market and genres, in general, for [unclear 45:53]. Do you think IP works
better for some genres and categories? And are there places where you
think it doesn’t make sense? And what makes collaboration successful?
What is something that you’d avoid? I guess, as final notes for anyone
Bob: 46:10 For sure. No, I think, again, that the range of IP is so broad. You look at
things were, in a way the ultimate IP collaboration, but it would have been
EA FIFA. That’s no longer the case. But if you can do, truly taking,
making way FIFA became a global brand as a result of that. But you look
at the credibility that provided and the success. There’s examples like that,
where there’s a very natural fit and clear value at, from bringing IP or
characters into a game. And then you go more and more towards a
fictional realm and use Star Wars and Harry Potter. And I think, couple of
keys, one is matching the IP to the type of game. So I think if you’re
looking for these deeper, more immersive, mid-Korean beyond types of
games, you need IP that has that depth of story and the depth of character
and the [unclear 47:07]. Or else you’re just going to run out of... You can
only go so far. You can’t match the depth of the game and the engagement
to the depth of IP. So that’s why you look at the recent Harry Potter game,
you look at some of the more successful Star Wars games. They’re able to
build this long, continuing an evolving storyline, because there’s so much
content too and so many heroes to unlock. And I think that’s where, if we
are to do an IP license game, we’ll need to have something has this broad
universe of characters that you can pull from. Whereas I think if you’re
looking at something that’s much more of a casual experience or more
mass market, then again, matching the IP to that audience works. And I
think unfortunately, you look at something like, there’s some games where
it hasn’t worked, because the gap is too big. But if you can find an IP
that’s broadly accessible, and that can fit nicely with a casual game, and it
still has to work and still has to feel authentic. And I think that’s always
the balance, right? Is finding something that matches your type of game
and your audience, but also, where you can be credible and create some
sort of effective experience. Because as I think we’ve all seen, their games
where they more or less tacked on the IP and it works okay and in initial
marketing, but then the initial conversion is fine, but the retention is
terrible, so the integration is unfortunately largely wasted. So I think that’s
all that authenticity, and all that matching type of IP in the audience that
attracts to the type of game you’re trying to build.
Rachit: 48:44 Yeah, I think we’ve heard it before. And I think it’s nice to hear it again,
the thematic and audience fit is really very, very important. And then
actually being able to work with the IP and support it in a way that the
integration feels real and caters for the audience that’s coming in because
of the IP as well have anything to do. So that’s really helpful. I think we’re
coming up on time, Mitch. Anything on your end you want to ask before
we wrap up?
Mitch: 49:07 I do have one final question. Really important question. Will the players of
State of Survival ever get the cure? You mentioned the scientists are
working on the cure? Is it ever coming? It’s like The Walking Dead. Is
there ever gonna be...?
Bob: 49:24 There gonna be a happy ending. I don’t know. I wouldn’t feel very
optimistic for the game. They’re gonna have to suffer for a while longer,
unfortunately. It isn’t such a funny thing with that. The story continues to
evolve. And there’s always hope, but I think the cure is imminent.
Mitch: 49:45 When you finally do wrap up State of Survival, I think it’d be a nice touch
to just be like your... It’s cute.
Bob: 49:52 Did you go back [Overlapping 49:54].
Mitch: 49:54 Yeah, cool. Thanks for coming on, Bob. That was really interesting to see
how you’re approaching things at FunPlus. Thanks for the time. Really
Rachit: 50:03 Thank you Bob. Take care!