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Licensing In Games: Issue 2

Newsletter
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Welcome to the latest edition of the Layer licensing newsletter, covering the biggest updates and news stories on brand collaborations, partnerships and licensing deals in the world of 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. 

From major fashion houses such as Dior and Gucci making major moves in the esports space, a Disney makeover for the mobile game Cookie Kingdom, and a deliciously cool ice cream partnership with Nintendo, here are our favourite IP plays from July. 

The city-building mobile game Cookie Run Kingdom gets a Disney-themed makeover 

You might not be familiar with Cookie Run Kingdom. Like most mobile games, Cookie Run Kingdom flies under the rader of media coverage from gaming outlets, but the latest figures show it received over 200k monthly downloads in June while also earning over $3m in revenue that same month. It’s part of the Cookie Run franchise, which has reached more than 100 million downloads worldwide, and was the eighth most-downloaded hypercasual iOS game in 2021. 

Image: Polygon

If those numbers weren’t reason enough for Disney to get in on the hype, Cookie Run Kingdom’s younger demographic of players, animated aesthetic and character-based game mechanics are the perfect match for Disney’s catalogue of cartoon icons. The end result is the Festival Dream of Wishes, which basically turns the crumbling cookie kingdom into a Disney wonderland. 

To give you an idea of how the collaboration works, it’s important to understand Cookie Run Kingdom’s gameplay mechanics. As a free-to-play mobile game, Cookie Run Kingdom makes nearly all of its money through in-app purchases, ranging from subscription plans, in-app purchases and gachas – but most of it comes from gachas. 

Gachas, if you’re not familiar with them, are similar to loot boxes where players pull a gacha and receive a random reward. In the case of Cookie Run Kingdom, gachas award players with new characters, equipment and player skins. As the gameplay mechanics of Cookie Run Kingdom are based around growing and levelling up a team of characters and your kingdom to progress through the game, there are plenty of specific characters and items that players want to get their hands on – the randomness of gachas incentivises players to keep going until they get the item or character they’re after. 

The Disney collaboration introduced 20 new Disney-themed characters and 45 decorative buildings for players to unlock, although the Disney characters can’t be used in battles and only interacted with (because that would go against Disney’s brand values – right?!) As an added bonus, you can even turn the main castle in your kingdom into the iconic Disney castle. Alongside these new unlockables, there are also limited-time offers, a daily log-in bonus calendar to incentivize players to play the game every day, and you also get a guaranteed Mickey Mouse character for pulling your first gacha. 

This is a great way of activating the campaign, as not only does it encourage Disney fans to check out Cookie Run Kingdom for the first time if they haven’t already, but can also bring back lapsed players with the promise of new content. And that seems to have worked; revenue climbed by over 300% and downloads by nearly 100% according to figures from GameRefinery

With the collaboration set to run for 50 days, we reckon this is a great play by Disney. The latest Newzoo report into IP-based mobile games shows Disney is one of the most popular global IPs in Japan, so it’ll be interesting to see the impact on downloads this collaboration has in the country. Disney fans are also highly receptive to gacha mechanics, one of the key monetisation features driving revenue in Cookie Run Kingdom. 

Dior makes its virtual world debut after going for a spin in Gran Turismo 7

Inbetween Balenciaga popping up in Fortnite, Gucci creating its own virtual world in Roblox and numerous collaborations between Louis Vuitton and League of Legends, video games have become the hottest experimental playground for high fashion brands. In fact, you’d struggle to find a notable fashion brand that hasn’t made a major video game play in the last year with the exception of Dior - at least until very recently.

At the end of July, Dior announced a new collaboration with the PlayStation racing sim, Gran Turismo, which will also be the first time Dior’s designs have been made available in-game in a virtual space. From 25 August, Gran Turismo players can dress their avatar in an exclusive yellow and grey Dior racing overall, matching gloves, reinterpreted ‘Diorzion’ shoes and a blue and grey helmet before taking the Dior customised De Tomaso Mangusta for a spin. 

It’s hard to say exactly why Dior’s virtual world debut taken so much longer than its competitors such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Burberry. Maybe they never saw video games as the right fit for the brand (despite Louis Vuitton’s numerous collaborations with Final Fantasy), or maybe the appointment of Kim Jones as creative director has helped steer the company in a more youth-facing direction. 

image: Eurogamer

Either way, this collaboration between Gran Turismo and Dior is an excellent fit: luxury cars meets luxury fashion. The racing sim is also one of the most popular franchises in PlayStation history, and while figures for this latest release haven’t been made available yet, total sales for the franchise across the previous 12 titles top 85 million

And then there’s the fact that this collaboration was inspired by the glamorous adverts for Dior perfume from the ‘60s to the ‘80s that regularly featured luxury cars. If you check out the comments on the Gran Turismo X Dior announcement video from the Gran Turismo channel, you can see for yourself that a lot of GT players are really into this collaboration, and it’s clear that a lot of time and energy has been invested into it to ensure it’s authentic. 

This collaboration has put the Dior name front and centre for a lot of those players, and it’s also been covered extensively across gaming, sports, lifestyle, fashion and entertainment media. What remains to be seen is how much money this collaboration will make. 

Gran Turismo’s economy works by players earning credits from their races, which can then be used to purchase new cars, equipment, and various cosmetic items. Earning the amount of credits you need to purchase luxury cars can take a lot of time, but if time is a luxury, you can also buy credits using real money (the game recently came under fire for a patch that reduced the amount of credits you earn from races to incentivize in-game purchases). 

The official announcement doesn’t state whether the new items in this Dior collaboration will be paid-for, or made available for free. If they’re paid for, it’ll be interesting to see how much they cost; some of Gran Turismo’s most expensive cars sell for upwards of 3m credits; the equivalent value in money if you were going to purchase those credits would be $30 USD. 

If you’re interested in learning more about some of the major fashion plays in video games, we’d recommend this excellent write-up from the Washington Post

EA Sports and La Liga join forces to take EA’s legacy in football games to the next level. 

Back in May, EA Sports FIFA made the bold decision to drop the FIFA name and rebrand to EA Sports FC following the expiration of EA’s license with football’s global governing body. This news was arguably one of the biggest licensing stories of the decade. 

For many football fans, EA Sports FIFA played a significant role in their fandom; fans have immersed themselves with their favourite players, clubs, countries, and even stadiums through the game. So EA’s decision to step away from FIFA licensing left people wondering what the future of sports games would look like, particularly with well documented objections to FIFPro (A FIFA entity) licensing from football players – the most high profiled objections coming from global stars Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Gareth Bale.

Image: Venture Beat

Many fans felt that by losing FIFA, EA Sports would also lose access to using real life profiles of players, clubs, and even stadiums, something which has placed FIFA’s popularity ahead of other football games such as Pro Evolution Soccer (or eFootball as it now known). 

With the expiration set to be official from August next year, EA Sport hasn’t rested on its laurels. Starting in the 2023-2024 season, EA Sports has agreed to a multi-year agreement with La Liga which is set to pave the way for new fan experiences, deeper in-game integrations, enhanced broadcast communications, and even an agreement to develop the grassroots level in Spain, solidifying the EA brand name amongst a new generation of players and fans.

EA Sports have had a long-standing partnership with the Premier League and have been a Lead Partner since the 2016/17 season, so are familiar with partnerships in Football. However, with the emergence as title sponsor of La Liga, the second most watched league in the world, EA Sports are in uncharted territory and are pioneering a potential future for the gaming and sporting industry. 

This move brings EA into a new light for existing and new fans, raising the profile of the game company even further amongst international audiences. Ultimately, sponsoring a football team is seen as a significant status symbol for a company and achieves a level of exposure and brand recognition that is achieved by very few companies. 

This agreement places the groundwork and offers the potential for others to follow in the footsteps of EA. Traditionally, football has seen a variety of gaming companies appear as the main sponsors of clubs. Nintendo, Sony, Sega, and Eidos have all been iconic sponsorships for many of the most recognizable teams in the world including Juventus, Arsenal, and Manchester City. 

Yet, in more recent years, the relationship between gaming and football clubs has fallen away. There is the notable exception in Everton FC, who signed a sponsorship agreement with mobile game giants Rovio, and showcased their flagship game Angry Birds for an estimated £3 million. However, the sponsorship caused outrage amongst fans and was ultimately not extended beyond its original terms.

Over the past few years, betting companies have taken the mantle and have been relentless in their sponsorship of football, particularly in the English pyramid. However, as debated by the government, football needs to have a social responsibility and should proactively be seeking future sponsorship opportunities that will disassociate the long-standing relationship between football and betting. 

This presents a major opportunity for gaming and the games industry. With EA Sports being the pioneers, there is now a clear pathway that has emerged. After all, the brand loyalty of football fans is unprecedented due to the nature of the sport. Does EA’s sponsorship of La Liga herald a new era where other gaming studios will follow suit? Football as an industry is at a breaking point culturally and is looking to escape the wraths of betting sponsors, just like they have previously done with their alcohol sponsorships. Expect more deals like this in the future. 

In brief 

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

  • “Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, when I was dead broke, man I couldn't picture this,” nor could we picture a reality where Notorious B.I.G.’s music gets a release in one of most popular games of all time, Fortnite. The ‘It Was All A Dream,’ music pack will set you back 200 V-bucks, roughly the price of a coffee. Well worth it, in our opinion.
  • After successful collaborations with The Walking Dead and Batman, State of Survival can add another big name to its collaboration list: UFC. The Walking Dead collaboration game led to 20M new installs according to PocketGamer, we’ll be keeping an eye on this latest mash-up to see if it hits as hard.
  • Cosmetic skins are a constant source of revenue for freemium mobile games, and we’re confident that these new Star Wars skins in Mobile Legends: Bang Bang will be a hit with players (and probably make both parties a lot of money).
  • With Honda’s recent Hondaverse and McLaren flipping NFTs in a partnership with InfiniteWorld, there seems to be a new trend of automotive brands making moves into video games and the metaverse. Now Volvo is getting in on the action thanks to its recent partnership with Farming Simulator 22, allowing players to “feel all the thrill of driving a Volvo Construction Equipment machine from the comfort of their living room.” Before you laugh, we’d like to point out that the Farming Simulator franchise has sold over 30 million copies, and as iVT’s editor points out in their write-up, there’s a chance here for Volvo to “introduce operator skills to an audience who may not have been able to access them before.” Brands using video games as a tool to educate people in addition to brand awareness? We think that’s pretty cool.
  • This is one of the most delicious collaborations we’ve ever seen, and the fact it’s with Nintendo is the icing on the cake (or rather, Rainbow Road sprinkles in this case). ColdStoneCreamery has teamed up with Nintendo for three new game-inspired creations and an icecream cake. If you want to find out what Kirby tastes like, you can read the full release here.
  • PUBG: MOBILE stepped into the virtual concert space following its collaboration with the K-pop band, BLACKPINK. Fans were treated to a run of virtual concerts across four different dates and timezones, and the entire experience was monetised with new skins and cosmetic items. More here.
  • Remember the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games? Birdman is back. Well, kind of. This time he’s dropping into the virtual world of Sandbox in a collaboration that allows players to tear it up in their own skatepark, but the decision to integrate this experience with NFTs has been met by backlash by gamers, who make up a large portion of Tony Hawk’s fanbase. Hit and miss. 
  • The Pokemon Company is responsible for some of the biggest licensing plays in the video game world, and now they’ve collaborated with Squishmallows for a run of soft pillows based on iconic Pokemon.
  • Collaborations between brands and video games don’t have to be virtual ones, and this latest collaboration between Genshin Impact and the UK’s sporting festival, Boardmasters, proves just that. The world of Teyvat will be brought to (hopefully) sunny Cornwall in an exclusive brand area offering games, fun challenges and snacks, along with a big musical surprise to be announced before then.
  • Stray, the latest game from Annapurna Interactive, launched to rave reviews last month, largely due to the fact it’s entirely cat-based. To celebrate its launch, the developer has collaborated with pet accessory brand Travel Cat for a limited edition cat carrier. If you want to get your claws on one, it’ll set you back £160.
  • The Japanese fashion brand SuperGroupies which specialises in merchandise inspired by anime and video games has released a Kingdom Hearts capsule and it looks fantastic.
  • Think you escaped Wordle? Think again. Now it’s being turned into a board game. RIP our productivity. 

And in other news… 

  • Don’t be fooled into thinking virtual concerts are only taking place on platforms such as Roblox and Fortnite. Garena Free Fire announced that Justin Bieber will be perform live on stage in its virtual world on August 27th following the game’s successful concerts with BTS and DJ Alok. We’ll have more on this after the performance in next month’s newsletter.
  • Sony PlayStation has entered into a new licensing agreement with Spin Master, providing the company with access to some of PlayStation’s biggest first-party franchises including God of War, Horizon, The Last of Us and Uncharted. Expect plenty of action figures, collectibles, playsets, plush dolls, vehicles, RCs and puzzles.
  • Guild eSports becomes the first-ever European sports team organisation to sign a global sponsorship deal with the Cola Cola Company.
  • Roblox – one of the largest players in the virtual concert and metaverse space – made several key appointments across its partnerships team responsible for brand collaborations in the TV, film, sports, fashion and beauty sectors. Alongside the appointment of Karibi Dagogo-Jack as the company’s head of music partnerships, Todd Lichten (ex-Meta) joins as head of entertainment partnerships; Winnie Burke as head of fashion and beauty partnerships; and Hayden Walling as head of sports partnerships. CMU has the full update and goes into more detail about Roblox’s exciting future.
  • This op-ed in MCV off the back of the Lego Group’s $1bn investment into Epic Games is definitely worth a read. Epic is widely considered as being one of the leading players when it comes to setting the foundations for the metaverse and this piece by Stuart Smith, a corporate transactions and intellectual property lawyer, dives into the importance of the shared vision between the Lego Group and Epic Games to create something that’s “safe and fun for both children and families.”
  • Looking for proof of the power of influencer marketing? Look no further than TenZ’s collaboration with the gaming mouse manufacturer Finalmouse. The limited edition Starlight Pro - TenZ mouse sold out of all 40k units in just a couple of hours, generating over $7.6m in revenue, half of which went to TenZ. Not bad for a day’s work.
  • And on the topic of collaborations and metaverse building blocks (no pun intended), Unity has merged with ironSource, proving game creators with even more tools to create, publish, run and monetize their video games.
  • You’ll know them as the company responsible for those impossible-to-escape vinyl recreations of pop culture characters, but the Funko Pop company has announced it’s working with 10:10 Games to create a video game. The company has previously worked with Xbox Game Studios to create Gears Pop!
  • We love it when brands do good, and we love this collaboration between Burberry and the esports company Gen.G. It highlights inclusivity in the competitive esports scene through a four-part education series alongside an esports scholarship for one lucky player. 

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