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Lessons on licensing - is Bluey the Videogame a dog’s breakfast?

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

Which IP categories are the best match for video game integrations? How do IP integrations impact game revenues and download figures? And what are the most common game genres for IP integrations? Newzoo’s latest report on IP and brand collaborations has the answers, which we analyze alongside wider market trends.  Elsewhere in this month’s newsletter, we explore the nuances of character skins – one of the most popular ways of licensing non-gaming IP into video games – following the recent controversy around a new update in Fortnite, which locked certain skins on islands with a lower rating than Teen.  Finally, November saw the arrival of several new releases based on major IP, notably Bluey: The Videogame. There’s no doubt that this game will be at the top of most kids’ Christmas wish lists, but with one notable critic and Bluey fan calling it a ‘bitter disappointment,’ what can licensors learn about adapting well-known kids IP for the video game market? 

You can find our answers below, as well as the latest news, collaborations, and in-game events from the world of licensing and video games. 

Three key findings from Newzoo’s report on IP and brand collaborations in video games

Newzoo’s latest report, ‘How IP and brand collaborations level up games’, provides answers to some of the biggest questions from licensors and video game studios about the benefits of licensing IP into games. With data from over 470 IP and brand collaborations in PC and console games from January 2021 to June 2023, this is a vital read for any game studio that’s interested in learning more about the benefits of non-gaming IP integration, and for any licensor wanting to learn more about the gaming world. So, let’s dive in! 

More collaboration opportunities will arise as games embrace live-service models 

First things first: this report doesn’t include an analysis of mobile games. So, while Newzoo notes that slightly fewer IP collaborations hit the gaming market from 2021 to H1 2023, we’re confident this wouldn’t be the case if you included mobile games, given we tracked nearly 90 IP-based in-game events on mobile alone in H1 2023. 

Either way, Newzoo says that while it found IP collaborations and IP-based game releases on PC and mobile were slightly down, this ‘doesn’t negate IP and brand partnerships' proven ability to boost player engagement and revenue in PC and console games.’ In fact, and as Newzoo rightly suggests, it’s likely that we’ll see more opportunities now the market has settled post-COVID, and as more games embrace live-service models. 

Why? Because as previous data from Newzoo has consistently demonstrated, integrating IP into a video game as part of a LiveOps experience can boost not only game downloads and daily revenue (which is often split with the licensor), but also lead to mass exposure for the IP that’s being integrated. 

And, it’s often battle royale video games with a live service model, such as Fortnite, PUBG and Call of Duty: Warzone, that utilize IP collaborations the most. Newzoo’s report found battle royale is the most common genre for collaborations due to the large volume of integrations and collaborations that are taking place in the games mentioned above. 

For some studios, this quantifiable impact on revenue and download figures from IP integration in live service games is too good to resist. Activision Blizzard made the decision to switch Overwatch from a pay-to-play game to a live-service game for its sequel, Overwatch 2, and its latest IP integration with the K-pop group Le Sserafim has proven a huge hit with fans. We expect we’ll see more IP collabs in Overwatch 2 in the future. 

IP fit with games is an important driver for success

If you’re a licensor, it’s important to seek out gaming partners that suit the style and audience of the IP you’re working with. Similarly, for video game studios, you need to ensure that any IP you integrate into your game won’t upset your existing players because it’s too different or doesn’t fit the tone of your game. 

Newzoo uses the survival horror video game, Dead by Daylight, as a case study to highlight the importance of the right fit between the video game and IP. Dead by Daylight’s gameplay mechanics pit a team of four survivors against a savage killer, and the game has hosted many successful collaborations with IP over the years to keep its players coming back for more. 

The key to success for its IP collaborations? The vast majority of the IP it collaborates with are horror franchises from the worlds of film, TV and entertainment (as well as other video games, of course). Two new DLC chapters from the video game Resident Evil and the film Ringu boosted daily active user figures by 31% and 29% on the week of their respective releases. 

As Newzoo concludes: ‘...collaborating with an IP that appeals to a similar fan base proves to be an effective strategy for a game, attracting fans who may not have found the game otherwise.’ 

Launching IP collabs alongside other marketing activities is a sure way to boost success rates 

Where possible, licensors shouldn’t treat a gaming integration as a stand-alone activation. Integrations prove more effective when they’re launched alongside other marketing activities as you can tap into the media noise and general consumer hype attributed to those other marketing activities. 

Examples of such activities might be: 

  • A new movie or TV series for the IP, or new album or song for a celebrity/artist IP; 
  • A major anniversary for the IP; 
  • A major new product release for the IP; 
  • Wider partnerships or collaborations with other IP (with a video game being one of these). 

Some great examples of this working in practice are the Top Gun IP being integrated into Ace Combat 7 and Flight Simulator to coincide with the release of the Top Gun: Maverick film, with the paid DLC in Ace Combat 7 causing a 120% increase in DAUs during the week of its release, and the free DLC in Flight Simulator causing an 81% increase in DAUs. 

With Top Gun fans already enthused over the release of the film, these licensed collaborations with popular video games were a great way to capture the attention of film fans and anyone looking to further their engagement with the IP off the back of the film. As Newzoo summarises: 

‘Aligning such collaborations with the broader launch and marketing activities of the IP generates interest from both IP enthusiasts and gaming fans, leading to increased engagement and revenue for the games.’ This is especially beneficial for the licensor when they have a revenue split in place for any in-game sales of cosmetic items based on their IP.

Fortnite takes the skin out of the game for pre-teens

The massively successful battle royale game, Fortnite, makes a lot of its money from skins, which change the appearance of in-game characters. Over the years, players have been able to purchase skins from a diverse range of IPs covering everything from Star Wars and Spider-Man to John Wick and the Xenomorph from Alien. 

Up until now, there have never been any age restrictions on these skins outside of the game’s PEGI rating of 12, or Teen in the US. Skins from IP that might typically be associated with adults are designed in a way that they’re appropriate for children aged 12 and above; the xenomorph skin, while scary in appearance, doesn’t come with any additional features that would jeopardise the game’s age ratings. 

But Fortnite’s gradual move away from its position as a ‘video game’ to a ‘gaming platform’ has had an impact on player skins. Now that Fortnite is a gaming platform, players and developers are able to create and publish their own games on the Fortnite ecosystem using the Unreal Editor for Fortnite

These games are assigned an age rating by the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC), which uses a questionnaire to assign ratings from E (Everyone) to T (Teen). This update came into effect on November 14. It led to some skins being unusable in experiences with an age rating below Teen, notably Resident Evil’s Claire Redfield skin, which features a holstered pistol on the character’s thigh. 

Of course, there is a reasonable argument to be made here that no one under the age of 12 should be playing Fortnite anyway. But the bigger issue for players is skins they have paid upwards of $10 for could no longer be used in certain experiences within Fortnite. 

Epic acknowledged this blunder in a statement posted on X, but this whole controversy could have been avoided, and highlights the potential pitfalls that can arise around the age appropriation of skins when game studios make changes to their user terms and conditions. 

Of course, this isn’t the first time there’s been controversy around cosmetic skins in video games based on licensed IP, and we’re sure it won’t be the last. Modern Warfare 3 recently removed its ‘Evil Groot’ skin based on Groot from The Guardians of the Galaxy due to community backlash around the design, with players complaining characters wearing the skin were too challenging to spot and hit. 

If you’re integrating IP into video game skins, make sure you’ve carefully considered design and stylistic choices in line with the game’s age rating and style. Where possible, always design skins so they’re suitable for players of all ages, just to avoid any potential backlash.

Adapting kids IP for video games - is Bluey the Videogame a dog’s breakfast?

Bluey, the animated TV series about a family of Australian Blue Heeler dogs (or Australian Cattle dogs if you prefer), has gone from strength to strength since its debut on ABC Kids in 2018, with licensing and merchandising rights now sitting with BBC Studios. 

Perhaps most notably, Bluey isn’t just a hit with children; it’s a hit with their parents, too. Bluey ranked in the top 10 streaming programs in the US by minutes viewed last year, and was streamed for more than 20 billion minutes on Disney+, beating both Seinfeld and Gilmore Girls. One Mashable feature calls Bluey ‘the ultimate kids show for grown-ups,’ with producer Charlie Aspinwall saying the show’s script ideas were born from the creative team’s experiences as parents. 

Given Bluey’s popularity, it was inevitable that the Bluey IP would get a video game adaptation. ‘Bluey the Videogame’ is the outcome, developed by Spanish studio Artax Games and published by British games company, Outright Games, for release on November 17. Unfortunately for Bluey, fans, critics and parents alike have been left feeling it’s a dog’s dinner rather than a faithful gaming adaptation of everything that makes the TV series so special. 

Patrick Klepek, a former video game critic at Waypoint who now runs Crossplay, a video game newsletter at the intersection of video games and parenting, calls the game a ‘bitter disappointment, despite him leading with the notion that ‘Bluey isn’t just one of the best children’s shows, it’s one of the best TV shows – period.’

Klepek credits much of his disappointment with the video game to its lack of ambition and short total playtime of just two hours. Ultimately, the game ‘lacks depth,’ with Klepek placing them into the same bucket as other video games he’s played based on children’s IP, such as Paw Patrol and Trolls. Take a look at the Google reviews for the game and you’ll see that many other players are in agreement. 

All of this got us thinking about the whole transmedia debate, and how things can go wrong for a beloved IP when it’s pushed into new media formats – whether they’re film, TV or video games – and ultimately placed under the responsibility of people who aren’t always close to the IP. 

This can be a particular issue for video game adaptations of children’s IP, primarily because it’s easier to build what might be considered a cheap or lesser-quality game if your primary target audience (children) isn’t going to critique the game in the same way that most gamers or critics might. 

Herein lies the problem with Bluey: its ability to appeal to not just children, but viewers of any age, means many parents will want to experience this alongside their children. Younger players might not notice the flaws in the game – which range from freezes, disappearing characters and other gameplay bugs – but their parents are spotting them, and certainly don’t seem to be happy about paying $39.99 for a video game that lasts a couple of hours. 

In many ways, Bluey is a show that has found success because it doesn’t talk down to its audience. If children’s TV shows are capable of doing this, why should we settle for a dumbing-down of video games based on children’s IP? As an experienced critic, Klepek didn’t approach Bluey the Videogame expecting a grandiose retelling of the show through a video game format. He just wanted a fun game to play with his children, something which, as Klepek highlights, Bluey and other games based on children’s IP often fail to do. 

Off the back of Bluey the Videogame’s negative reception, TV editor Tom Stone explored in a recent op-ed whether companies are cashing in. While Stone makes some good points, it’s important to point out that most studios never set out to create bad games, and the long road of video game licensing history covers the good and bad, from best-selling titles such as GoldenEye 007 and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater to E.T. and Superman 64. 

When the industry does produce a dog’s dinner, this can be the result of external factors outside of the developer’s and sometimes even the publisher’s control, whether that’s lack of budget, unattainable deadlines, project mismanagement, and more. And the quality of a game isn’t always indicative of how it will sell, as sales figures for Bluey the Videogame will likely prove in the coming weeks. 

In brief 

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

And in other news…