Issue #
Nicki Minaj goes all guns blazing and Dungeons & Dragons is back in style

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. 

In one of the busiest years for video games which has given us The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Resident Evil 4 Remake and a Metroid Prime remaster, there were very few people – critics and gamers alike – that expected Baldur’s Gate 3, an RPG based on the Dungeons and Dragons license, to be this year’s biggest hit. 

The CEO of Hasbro, the parent company of developer Larian Studios and DnD license holder Wizards of the Coast, believes Baldur’s Gate 3 will make Hasbro more money than all of its film licenses from the past 10 years. But it was only in January this year that WOTC cancelled at least five unannounced video game projects. Could Baldur’s success trigger a change in direction and inspire more games based on the DnD license? 

Elsewhere, we take a look back at licensing deals in Activision games as Nicki Minaj makes her arrival in Call of Duty alongside Snoop and 21 Savage as part of this year’s 50th anniversary of hip-hop. And in the wake of Recur’s announcement that it's retiring its NFT platform, what lessons are there for the Web3 world on the importance of utility? 

You’ll also find our top picks for video game licensing deals, collaborations and partnerships from the last month.

Nicki Minaj is now a playable character in Call of Duty – but should we expect any less from Activision?

Nicki Minaj is now a playable character in Call of Duty. Yes, you read that correctly. The Barbz have entered the battlefield, meaning you can now gun down other players or roundhouse kick them, if you prefer, as one of the biggest rap sensations in the world. She even has her own weapon blueprints, vehicle skin and loading screen, meaning you can drive around the Warzone map in your very own ‘Nicki Whip’, all for just 2400 COD points (roughly $20). 

Of course, we should expect nothing less from Activision. Anything you can license, COD can license better. COD can license anything, better than you. Minaj makes her arrival alongside Snoop Dogg and 21 Savage as part of this year’s 50th anniversary of hip-hop, but Activision’s first-person-shooter has a long history of licensed collaborations and partnerships, as do its other titles. 

If you thought Fortnite was the reigning champion of licensing IP into its battle royale universe to draw in new players, just take a look at some of the major licenses from the world of TV, film and music that have found a home in Call of Duty. Some of the most iconic crossovers in the Call of Duty universe include Attack on Titan, Die Hard, Scream’s Ghostface, Rambo, and even The Terminator. 

Activision has over 40 years experience integrating IP into its video games, or developing and publishing games based on IP. Ghostbusters, released on the Atari and ZX Spectrum in 1985, was one of the first licensed games it worked on, which was swiftly followed up by games based on the Predator, Rampage, Die Hard and Thunderbirds licenses. The success of these titles led to Activision seeking wider opportunities in the publishing space, as it worked to bring licensed titles such as Pop Eye over to Europe. 

While many know Activision for its Call of Duty games, one of its biggest accomplishments in the licensing space is grabbing the video game license from professional skateboarder, Tony Hawk. The Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series generated around $1.4 billion in revenue since the release of the first game back in 1999, all while setting a new gold standard for skateboarding and sports games. 

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was an overnight hit at launch, but even then, it didn’t stop Activision from using its tried and tested method of IP licensing to generate new sales for the series. Over the years, Spider-Man, Darth Maul and even Shrek found their way into the games as unlock-able characters. 

As we prepare to dive back into Warzone to check out the latest batch of operators – which have been met with an overwhelmingly positive response from the COD fan base – we can’t wait to see what Activision has lined up for the future.

Will the success of Baldur’s Gate 3 inspire Hasbro to license more video games?

Given Baldur’s Gate 2 was released almost 23 years ago, there was immense hype surrounding the release of Larian Studio’s next installment in the CRPG series based on the tabletop roleplaying game, Dungeons and Dragons (DnD). After entering early access in 2020, Baldur’s Gate 3 was finally released on Windows PC on Aug 3, with PS5 and Xbox Series X/S versions of the game soon to follow, and the response to the game is far beyond what anyone could have imagined.

At the time of writing, Baldur’s Gate 3 is 2023’s highest-rated game on Metacritic and the sixth-best game ever released on PC. The general consensus amongst critics is Baldur’s Gate 3 is one of the best RPGs ever made. Others call it a masterpiece. Its launch almost brought Steam to its knees and saw over 800,000 concurrent players at its peak. Some players loved the game so much that they defied the laws of time itself, completing the game on its opening weekend despite it being estimated to take 75 to 100 hours to see it through to its conclusion.

The success of Baldur’s Gate 3 has caught many people by surprise. We knew it was going to be good, but nobody knew it was going to be this good. When Netflix’s Stranger Things featured DnD in its episodes, it caused sales of DnD starter sets to surge by 250%. Larian’s success with Baldur’s Gate 3 has done more than show the world that the DnD hype is very much here to stay. It’s shown DnD’s license holder, Wizards of the Coast, owned by Hasbro, the true potential of DnD as a video game. 

We can’t help but wonder if the game’s success might impact wider business decisions at Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro. Can we expect Hasbro to push for more licensing opportunities in the gaming space? Will Wizards of the Coast focus on raising its video game profile? It was only at the beginning of 2023 that the company cancelled at least five unannounced video game projects

Last year, Axios reported that Hasbro has been steadily shifting its in-house product development and publishing efforts over the past few years. Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast are said to have six internal studios between them working on unannounced games, including a big-budget action-adventure game based on G.I. Joe led by former Warner Bros. developers at Atomic Arcade.

The decision to focus development efforts in-house rather than licensing out its IP to partner studios is all part of quality control. Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast have seen mixed results with their licensed games over the years, particularly Activision’s 2014 Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark, which GameSpot said is “so sloppy and incoherent that it feels more like a cheap knockoff than a proper Transformers game.” 

So, it’s not hard to see why Hasbro perhaps felt the need to take more control, although even with six studios, it simply doesn’t have the capacity to produce massive games based on all its different franchises.

This is where Larian Studios got involved with Baldur’s Gate 3, and its success emphasises the importance of picking the right partner to develop a licensed game. Larian had already demonstrated their expertise with complex, multi-choice fantasy RPGs through their other acclaimed video game franchise, Divinity: Original Sin, which already felt somewhat DnD-esque. This made them the perfect choice to take the reigns of Baldur’s Gate.

If they’re smart, Hasbro should look to continue such partnerships alongside their in-house efforts; they just need to think wisely about who they bring on board to adapt their most beloved properties to avoid past mistakes. DnD has unlimited potential, with lore spanning multiple novels, worlds, species and dimensions, meaning there are opportunities for integrations in smaller titles, as well as full-fledged IP-based games across various genres. 

Hasbro’s CEO expects to make more money from Baldur’s Gate 3 than from all of its film licensing in the past ten years. Rather than wait another 23 years to put out a quality DnD video game, Hasbro should be exploring the wider potential of DnD in the gaming space, and look to the success of Baldur’s Gate 3 to shape future video games based on the license.

Rugrats and Hello Kitty left without a Web3 home as Recur platform retires

On August 18, Recur announced the discontinuation of its Web3 platform following turbulent times in the crypto and blockchain space. Recur was best known for licensing IPs from major names such as Sanrio and Nickelodeon to turn into NFTs. Holders have until November 16 to transfer their assets on the platform to their preferred self-custodial wallets. 

It’s worth noting that Recur’s NFTs provided no utility. As public interest in NFTs continues to waver, it’s important that licensors consider the applications and utility of NFTs and Web3 assets based on their IP. Otherwise, you’re asking users to pay for what are essentially digital collectibles with no tangible usage. 

While there’s no escaping the fact that there’s a fundamental shift occurring in the Web3 space right now, there are many Web3 and blockchain games that are still thriving, namely Alien Worlds and Planet X. We can also look to games based on major IP such as Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds, which have incorporated blockchain elements to add, not force, additional gameplay mechanics onto players that are interested in exploring crypto ownership. 

Our biggest piece of advice to those looking to explore the Web3 space? If your NFT and Web3 experiments don’t make sense experientially, they probably aren’t a great project.

In Brief

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

  • PUBG Mobile’s producer and head of publishing speak to Pocket Tactics about branded collaborations in the battle royale game. 
  • Teenage Mutant Minecraft Turtles? – TMNT fans won’t want to miss the latest Minecraft DLC. 
  • Here’s a licensed game update we never imagined writing… Dana White’s Power Slap is coming to mobile. 
  • PUBG: Mobile announced a new partnership with BBC’s Top Gear and Aston Martin, which introduced new vehicles into the game.
  • Metal band Megadeth are headlining a special in-game event, Metal Fest, taking place in several games from the Wargaming franchise.
  • In what might be a first for the eyewear sector, Korean eyewear company Gentle Monster has partnered with Blizzard’s Overwatch 2 to create a reinterpretation of D.Va’s signature headwear – and they look incredible!
  • Animal Crossing LEGO sets are reportedly in development, according to a leak. Let’s hope Tom Nook has nothing to do with setting the recommended retail price.
  • Another licensed kart racer is in development! This time it’s The Smurfs sitting behind the wheel.
  • Norwegian DJ Alan Walker makes his way into PUBG: Mobile, bringing legendary costumes and cash prizes with him.
  • K-pop legends Blackpink are launching an immersive Roblox experience, Blackpink: The Palace

And in other news… 

  • Digiday explores the benefits and limitations of virtual commerce as Ralph Loren follows up the release of its Polo P-Wing Boot – originally a digital Fortnite item – as a physical product.
  • New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art releases a new app that lets Roblox players turn artwork into digital Roblox accessories. 
  • Licensing sales topped $340 billion in 2022, and a major boost is expected this year following the overwhelming success of the Barbie movie and its associated marketing.
  • We’re big believers in the power of licensing IP into mobile games, and EA is increasing its focus on the market following the success of FIFA Mobile.
  • The film adaptation of Sony PlayStation’s Gran Turismo series failed to impress critics, with The Guardian writing it missed an opportunity to ‘embrace the video game[s] that inspired it’. 
  • If you’re struggling to find the right game to integrate with, you could always just build your own. That’s exactly what UK prog metal band TesseracT did, after building their own VR experience to release new music from their upcoming album. 
  • New visual elements have been introduced to La Liga’s live broadcasts to make them look more like a video game, building on its partnership with EA Sports. 
  • Can AEW replicate the success of competitor WWE’s video game collaborations? GameRant seems to think so
  • Kanye fans have transformed the rapper’s debut album, The College Dropout, into a LEGO video game
  • Ubisoft’s Far Cry series has appointed a new IP director, Drew Holmes, as it continues to explore opportunities for the video game series in other medium.