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Licensing In Games: Issue 1

Newsletter
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The best examples of IP getting licensed in video games, as well as the latest news on collaborations, brand partnerships and in-game events.

Welcome to your very first edition of the Layer licensing newsletter, a new monthly newsletter breaking down all of the latest news and updates on brand collaborations, partnerships and licensing deals happening between brands and video games.

When games work with IP from popular artists, brands, or franchises they can create interactive experiences that deliver unrivalled fan engagement and player experiences.

If you’re interested in finding out just how they’re doing that, we’ll be delivering everything you need to know straight to your inbox, every month.

Putting a value on brands and IP in the modern gaming world

It’s our first newsletter, so let’s start by putting some context and numbers behind all of the licensing deals that are taking place in video games right now. Whether it’s virtual merch desks popping up in Fortnite and Roblox, the emergence of branded virtual worlds or famous video game items transforming into physical products, you might be wondering why there’s so much interest from brands in video games right now, so let’s take a look:

Social e-commerce company, Depop, brings virtual thrifting into The Sims

Virtual merchandise is all the rage. In the last few months alone we’ve seen fashion brands such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Ralph Lauren, Givenchy and Nike (to name just a few) setting up shop in the metaverse and video games such as Roblox and Fortnite, but this latest collaboration between EA’s The Sims and Depop is unlike anything we’ve seen before, with the new ‘High School Years’ expansion introducing seller-designed virtual clothing into The Sims 4, which can be bought and sold through an in-game merchandising platform.

What makes this collaboration so impressive? It all comes down to knowing your audience, and The Sims 4 players are the perfect target audience for Depop. 61% of Sims 4 players are female, 54% of which are under the age of 24, according to Vogue, while over 90% of Depop’s active users are under the age of 26. This is one of the best gaming partnerships we’ve seen between Gen Z brands so far.

It’s incredibly on-brand, too. EA has launched an in-game app called Trendi that allows people to resell their clothes to other players on a marketplace, with players controlling how they price and promote their products.

Vogue says this ‘peer-to-peer platform is one of the first secondhand sites to dive into digital clothing and appear in a virtual world,’ but let’s not forget that in-game reselling platforms have existed in video games for a long time. Players have been trading weapons, armour and other cosmetic items in the MMORPG RuneScape since 2007 through its in-game marketplace, The Grand Exchange. We’re sure there are plenty of other examples, too.

Another thing that makes this collaboration interesting is how independent creatives get to benefit. There’s a lot of talk right now around barriers to entry into video games and the metaverse, but Depop has chosen fifteen sellers across the UK, US and Australia to create three custom pieces of merch that will feature in the game.

With Depop being a second-hand marketplace, there are some obvious challenges here around licensing and IP, but all of the designs that feature in the game feature looks that are ‘inspired by’ brands (presumably very carefully) to avoid any kickback from big names.

What remains to be seen is how much money Depop is making out of this deal, and how the Depop sellers featured in The Sims 4 are being compensated. Both companies declined to share financial details of the partnership with Vogue, but The Sims doesn’t make revenue from in-game clothing sales and sellers will benefit from the exposure, according to Vogue.

Ah, being paid in exposure. But in this case, it’s the best that creators will probably get. Unlike Roblox, Fortnite and many other online games, The Sims 4 doesn’t have feature microtransactions for typical in-game items, so the only time you need to dig into your wallet is if you want to purchase additional content such as DLC expansions.

This wasn’t always the case. The Sims 3 featured an in-game currency called Sims Points that could be purchased with real money to buy furniture and other items from an in-game store, but this caused so much controversy that EA decided to scrap it for The Sims 4.

You could consider this a missed opportunity. Zara Larsson has made over $1m in virtual merchandise sales in Roblox(and that’s after the % cut that Roblox has taken), but microtransactions never seem to be too far away from controversy in the gaming world. Things could change, though… maybe? This expansion doesn’t launch until the end of July so there aren’t any details (yet) on how players will pay for these items. Watch this space.

Honda pulls up in Fortnite with ‘Hondaverse’

Now that Epic has started rolling out its Creative Toolset for Fortnite creators, expect to start seeing a lot more branded worlds appearing in the Game. Hondaverse (see what they did there?) is one of the latest, featuring a series of custom (yet-to-be-released) online maps designed around parkour challenges/gaming experiences and trivia questions.

One important thing to point out here is that Hondaverse hasn’t been developed in collaboration with Epic, which is probably one of the reasons there aren’t that many people talking about it online. That said, we wanted to dive into this activation anyway because it’s certainly an interesting example of a brand that you wouldn’t associate with gaming audiences tapping into a younger demographic.

There’s a focus on Twitch here, which gives out some confusing messages, but MarketingDive point out, Honda does have experience activating marketing campaigns via its Twitch channel. For Hondaverse, the Japanese manufacturer collaborated with SypherPK, a popular streamer with over 5m subscribers on YouTube and 6m followers on Twitch.

The campaign was activated through a live stream with SypherPK, where he basically explored Hondaverse while the developers are still building it. MarketingDive, who broke the story, says that players will eventually be able to explore the world and compete with each other, but launching a campaign in this way without opening up to players at the same time is a strange way of doing things.

While these maps aren’t playable yet, this video with SypherPK does provide an interesting behind-the-scenes look at how custom Fortnite maps are designed and what can be done with them, so we’d recommend watching the video to take a look at what’s possible when it comes to developing worlds in Fortnite (if you know the right people, of course).

At the time of writing, the video is closing in on 300k views. Honda should be happy with that if it’s getting them in front of new audiences – especially as there’s a HUGE Honda HR-V parked up in the middle of the map – but we’ll have to wait until the maps are officially launched to see how Honda is going to monetise this motorised metaverse.

In Brief

Here are some of our favourite brand collaborations, licensing deals and partnerships from the month of June:

  • Japanese beverage giant, Suntory, teamed up with Capcom to promote the 35th anniversary of Street Fighter IIwith an AR mobile game and a Street Fighter-themed packaging design for its aptly-named carbonated water brand, The Strong. The promo video is a must-watch.
  • Destiny players might want to check out this $185 Nerf gun version of the Gjallarhorn rocket launcher. As well as featuring an impressive design that Destiny players will immediately recognise, it packs a punch by firing three mega Nerf darts at once. Now that is some legendary loot.
  • Niantic, the company behind the incredibly popular AR mobile game Pokémon GO, has launched an NBA metaverse game. VentureBeat has the rundown here.
  • British fashion house Burberry has partnered with Mythical Games to launch an NFT collection in Blankos Blok Party, currently in early access for PC and macOS.
  • More The Sims news, this time for the mobile game The Sims FreePlay, which brings LEGO DOTS products to life in the game. Alongside a limited-time live event that you can check out here, players can unlock a variety of LEGO DOTS products to use in the game. More on the LEGO website here.
  • Titan Forge Games, the studio behind Smite, has announced a crossover event with RuneScape. Despite being a 20-year-old franchise, this is the first time RuneScape has collaborated with another franchise. It’ll be interesting to see how many of Smite’s 30 million players end up checking out RuneScape for the first time. PCInvasion has the details.
  • Activision Blizzard is promoting its recently launched mobile game, Diablo Immortal, through a partnership with Burger King. If you want to sink your teeth into the Diablo Ultimate Donut Burger, you’ll have to make the journey to Korea where it’s exclusively available (for the time being, we hope).
  • Whether it’s Angry Birds, Uniqlo, AAPE, Toy Story, or Lacoste, the video game Minecraft is no stranger to collaborations. Ice Age is the latest brand to appear in the virtual sandbox.
  • Another virtual world appears in Roblox. This time it’s WimbleWorld, launched with the aim of “engaging a new generation of Tennis fans.” Players can compete in tennis matches, unlock UGC-themed items and style their avatar with exclusive Ralph Lauren merchandise from the Wimbledon shop. It’s had six million (!) visits at the time of writing.
  • Bethesda’s Starfield might be one of the most anticipated releases of the decade. How many cans of this Starfield-themed Rockstar Energy do you think you’ll drink before we get to play the game at some point in 2023?

In other news…

  • Japanese beverage giant, Suntory, teamed up with Capcom to promote the 35th anniversary of Street Fighter IIwith an AR mobile game and a Street Fighter-themed packaging design for its aptly-named carbonated water brand, The Strong. The promo video is a must-watch.
  • It’s valued at over nine billion dollars and has raised over $770m to date but that didn’t stop the Pokémon Gocompany, Niantic, laying off 90 staff (roughly 8% of its workforce) after it cancelled four different games, including a Transformers one. Niantic is considered one of the biggest players in the metaverse space – it’s currently working on a music metaverse with Pixelynx – but this shows some IP deals such as the one it had with Transformers don’t always work out as intended.
  • MGA Entertainment, who you may recognise as the parent company behind brands such as Bratz and L.O.L. Surprise, has partnered with the gaming company Yodo1 to explore new opportunities in the Chinese gaming space. PocketGamer has the full story.
  • There’s no denying the prevalence of video games and pop culture in Japan, so maybe it should come as no surprise that the Japanese government has collaborated with Capcom’s Monster Hunter franchise to promote road safety in Osaka.
  • This is an interesting and somewhat controversial take from Protocol that gamers don’t care about brands entering video games and the metaverse. We, and the numbers behind these collaborations, prove otherwise. This is based on the recent findings from a survey, but as we don’t know the target audience we’d take the numbers with a pinch of salt. Nonetheless, they provide food for thought and highlight the importance of getting the right match-up when it comes to brand partnerships in video games and the metaverse. Gamers can be a cynical bunch.
  • What collaborations can we expect to see next in Fortnite? Elden Ring, GTA, Rick and Morty, and How I Met Your Mother, according to a recent player survey sent out by the game’s creator, Epic.
  • If you’re a fan of old-school, side-scrolling beat ‘em ups, you might have already played Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge. It’s a delicious slice of arcade gaming goodness, and to add to the ‘90s nostalgia, Wu Tang Clan legends Ghostface Killah and Raekwon collaborated with the creators of the game to release an original track. Take a listen here.    

August 1, 2022
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