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Licensing In Games: Issue 3

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

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 Goku and the Dragonball gang demonstrating Fortnite’s potential in being the ultimate IP playhouse to a Pizza Hut and Genshin Impact collaboration that was so successful it had to be shut down by police, here are our favorite IP plays and the biggest licensing stories from August. 

Newzoo’s IP-based mobile games report proves mobile games are leading the way on the licensing front

image: Newzoo

You can trace the history of licensed video games back to the release of Superman on the Atari 2600 in 1979, and video games have been a powerhouse for IP plays ever since – with varying degrees of success. Goldeneye on the N64 is widely regarded as one of the greatest first-person-shooters ever created, while E.T. on the Atari 2600 is widely regarded as the greatest extraterrestrial threat mankind has ever faced, the release of which led to the entire video game market collapsing in 1983 and 700,000 copies of the game finding their way home to a landfill. 

But despite the occasional flop, video games based on blockbuster hits, major TV franchises, sports brands and even music stars (shout out 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand) have been largely successful and continued to grow in popularity throughout the ‘90s and early 00s. But the loss of several key studios and publishers such as Radical Entertainment, Acclaim, Visceral Games and Neversoft over the next decade, along with the mounting costs of development as video games have grown larger in size means that, with the exception of some AAA titles, there aren’t as many IP-based video games as there used to be. 

At least, not on PC and console. Because Newzoo’s report into IP-based mobile games proves the mobile sector is leading the way on the licensing front. As the report suggests, there are plenty of reasons for this. Mobile games are generally cheaper to develop and easier to monetise, especially as so many mobile games operate on a live-service model, which means IP-based mobile games are easier to recoup costs on. And if you’re not already aware, mobile games generate more than half of global gaming revenue, and the mobile market is growing at a much faster rate than PC, console and portable. 

IP is an important part of this, as Newzoo finds strong IP attracts high spenders, which could be leading to “higher revenues for IP-based mobile games”. Big spenders (players who spend more than $25 per month) and average spenders (between $5–$25) are 2.84 times more likely to download a game based on an IP/universe they like in comparison to low spenders (less than $5 per month). 

image: Newzoo

The report also breaks down the areas where IP-based mobile games are performing strongly, with IP-based games having a much bigger presence in Japan’s top-grossing chart (eight out of 20) than China (four out of 20) and the US (3 out of 20). It’s worth noting that Japan has a mountain of IP from manga and anime to tap into, while these entertainment sectors aren’t as popular in China and the US. And if you’ve been reading our previous newsletters, you’ll be aware that Japan is leading the way when it comes to IP collaborations and crossovers. Again, due to the diverse line-up of IP it has to play with, along with the demographic similarities between anime, gaming and manga. 

image: Newzoo

That said, Western IP is leading the way with downloads due to the global appeal of Marvel, the top-performing IP for downloads, followed by Cartoon Network and Disney. But the manga might of Umasumsume: Pretty Derby means its earning more global revenue than Marvel, which you may find surprising given its a manga series unfamiliar to most people in the West. 

In addition to this in-depth analysis, the report also covers the three important criteria to assess the success of IP-based mobile games with input from key stakeholders at companies such as Bandai Namco and Gree Entertainment. It’s a pretty lengthy report, so if you’re interested in the key highlights we’d recommend checking out our summary of what licensors and game studios can learn from this report here. 

The mobile market shows no signs of slowing down, and while this Newzoo focuses specifically on IP-based mobile games, there are countless collaborations and crossovers being announced for mobile games every day as part of their LiveOps strategies. The information in this Newzoo report should prove useful to you if you’re exploring IP partnerships for a game’s LiveOps strategy, and if you’re looking for further inspiration, you’ll find some of our favorite IP collaborations and crossovers further down. 

Lionsgate puts its IP into the hands of creators through its partnership with the story-telling platform, Dorian.

User-generated content is playing an important role in laying the foundations for the metaverse, with many industry pundits and video game companies backing the idea that it might be the future of video games too. Fortnite players spend 50% of their time playing in the game’s Creative mode, according to Epic Games, and Roblox recently announced it's giving away more than $10 million to Roblox developers to fund the creation of new experiences on the platform. 

It should come as no surprise, then, to see other big names in the world of entertainment shifting their focus to user-created video game content, specifically Lionsgate, who is partnering with the storytelling platform Dorian “to create user-generated content, interactive games and events inspired by popular Lionsgate films,” according to Hollywood Reporter

As for how this works, the first IP they’re doing this for is the Blair Witch franchise, and creators are being asked to respond to a brief by sending in their fan fiction between a sixteen-day period in October for a chance to have their story idea made into a game on the Dorian platform. The brief? Influencers head to Black Hills Forest for a Blair Witch–themed music festival. The part that’s up for interpretation: Will the characters survive the night in the forest or end up live-streaming their own deaths?

Here’s where things get interesting, though. In addition to having their idea turned into a game, the winning creator will get to meet a Lionsgate exec and also monetize their game by using Dorian’s virtual currency which “users can buy and sell on the platform.” In the case of this specific collaboration, it’s not yet clear how those in-game transactions will look or how much control the creator will have on the monetisation mechanics in the game, but it’s usually the case that in-game currency is spent on cosmetic items such as outfits and characters. 

This partnership is pretty clever and stood out to us for two main reasons. The first is that while Lionsgate isn’t a name that many people will associate with video games, the company has been making a concentrated push into the video game market over the last five years. 

Its latest release, Evil Dead: The Game, was met with favorable reviews from most video game outlets, and the company has partnered with other video game studios to license out its IP in collaborations and limited-time events. Ash vs Evil Dead was brought back to life as a character in Dead by Daylight, one of the most popular games on mobile, while legendary assassin John Wick can be purchased as a legendary character outfit in Fortnite for 2000 V-bucks (that’s roughly $15). This partnership with Dorian pushes its IP into a new genre, though: interactive storytelling. 

That’s the second reason we like this partnership; Lionsgate knows its audience. After its successful attempts at moving into survival horror games, we can’t think of a better fit for the production company’s IP than storytelling games. If you’re not familiar with the genre, these games are true to the name in the sense that you navigate characters through a story, but you’re usually presented with split-second decisions or dialogue choices that impact the outcome of the narrative. TellTale’s The Walking Dead and Supermassive’s Until Dawn are two good examples.

We imagine that this The Blair Witch game will play out in a similar way to the latter, where your choices will determine how many lives are saved or taken as the adventure plays out. No tough decisions, then. But as Hollywood Reporter points out, one of the biggest appeals of the Dorian platform is that creators do not need any coding experience to create their own games. 

If this partnership ends up helping creators earn money by turning their ideas into playable reality while pushing Liongate’s IP in new directions and encouraging creativity, that’s a win-win as far as we’re concerned. 

The Pokemon Company’s latest collaboration with BMW might be its most on-brand partnership yet

image: Gamescom/BMW/The Pokémon Company

Gamescom was full of big surprises this year. We never expected to see an actual mosh pit at a video game conference, but Trivium’s Matt Heafy literally split the room in two as part of a live performance for Metal: Hellsinger. Rather than revealing a new video game, Metal Gear’s creator, Hideo Kojima, revealed a new podcast in partnership with Spotify, and we finally got a proper look at Dead Island 2. But the one thing we didn’t expect was the show coming to an electrifying finish as The Pokémon Company teamed up with BMW to reveal a Pikachu-branded MINI Concept Aceman Car

Before we dive into why we find this collaboration so interesting, it’s important to highlight the strength and sheer size of the Pokémon brand. License Global’s annual report placed The Pokémon Company International in the fifth position in its top global licensor rankings after it made $8.5 billion from licensing deals in 2021 – that’s more money than Hasbro and Mattel. 2021 was a big year for Pokémon as the global franchise celebrated its 25th anniversary, leading to many of its trading card products selling out at launch. In fact, trying to catch these 25th-anniversary products at retail price was just as difficult as trying to catch a Mewtwo with a regular Pokéball. 

This collaboration ticks a number of boxes, though. First, this is an electric car with a futuristic design themed around Pokémon’s most iconic character: the electric mouse, Pikachu. Second, of all the car styles that Pokémon could have based this collaboration on, it’s chosen a Mini, and the word Pokémon is a stylistic abbreviation of Pocket Monsters. Finally, not only is this collaboration incredibly on-brand, you’d have a hard time shouting down electric vehicles given their green credentials, so this is great positioning for The Pokémon Company. 

But why would the brand best known for its iconic game series, anime and trading cards choose to align itself with a car manufacturer? The answer to this is two-fold and this collaboration is mutually beneficial to BMW and The Pokémon Company. Some of Pokémon’s biggest fans have grown up with the franchise since they were children in the ‘90s. Many of them will now be in their 30s, and if they just so happen to be in the market for an electric vehicle, then this is the best thing they could ask for – as long as they have the disposable income to splash out on what’s essentially a drivable Pikachu. 

This is The Pokémon Company widening its reach into an older demographic with larger disposable income. It’s been happening for some time now through collaborations in a diverse range of sectors, particularly fashion, with partners including streetwear and high fashion brands such as Gucci, Adidas, Criminal Damage, Balmain, Levi, and many more. 

BMW is going after the opposite end of the market, as this post on the BMW blog explains: “Ever since BMW revived the MINI brand, it’s been trying to capture a younger generation of car enthusiasts.” Not only was BMW the main sponsor of Gamescom, but the Pikachu MINI car has an interactive OLED display with animations running throughout the dashboards and a built-in mobile cinema that allows passengers to experience their favorite Pokémon films or video games on the go. Don’t game and drive, though – we don’t think Officer Jenny would approve of that. 

Stephanie Hurst, head of MINI, believes, “This is how [BMW] reach a whole new target group at Gamescom 2022, as an event for modern fandom, gaming and pop culture.” 

In brief

Here are some of our other favorite brand collaborations, licensing deals and partnerships from the month of August: 
  • Terminator is back, and this time in the Call of Duty universe. A massive selection of Terminator cosmetics, including weapon blueprints, skins and even a unique finishing move were made available in August, along with a new game mode: Titanium Trials: Endurance Battle Royale. To capitalise on the collaboration, a limited run of T-shirts were also made available through the Call of Duty Store.
  • If you’re into the idea of taking part in Squid Game without having to put your life on the line, Netflix’s TV series collaboration with the interactive gaming and technology company, Immersive Gearbox, might interest you. A maximum of six players can attempt to survive six challenges from the show in a life-sized, interactive format. This announcement follows Netflix’s continued expansion of its IP into gaming formats.
  • Pokémon Go has had over one billion downloads since its release in 2016, and this latest collaboration with the UK teahouse chain Chatime turns its UK and Taiwan stores into PokéStops and Gyms. For the yet-to-be Pokémon masters amongst you, this means these stores will become important locations in the augmented reality game, drawing in Pokémon GO players while enticing them with delicious Pokémon-themed beverages. 
  • Sonic The Hedgehog celebrated its 30th anniversary this year and Fall Guys joined in on the festivities by welcoming Sega’s blue mascot into a limited-time stage called Bean Hill Zone (see what they did there?). Players could also win and purchase Sonic The Hedgehog skins and a new emote.
  • Dragon Ball characters have landed in Fortnite, which means you can now fly around as Goku and fire a Kamehameha beam into an army of Star Wars storm troopers, Marvel and DC characters – if you’re willing to part with the equivalent of $15, of course. This is the closest thing we’ve got to a playable multiverse.
  • Capcom’s collaboration with the fashion brand, Onitsuka Tiger, kits out characters from the beat ‘em up series such as Chun Li and Kimberly in Onitsuka Tiger’s streetwear, which means Chun Li’s devastating kick blows are delivered in stylish kicks. A capsule collection of original collaboration items featuring illustrations of the two characters is set to launch in 2023.
  • Ukrainian development studio, GSC Game World, had to postpone the development of its latest title Stalker 2 due to the war in Ukraine, but that hasn’t stopped their efforts on the marketing front. A Stalker 2-themed supermarket is now officially open in Kyiv through a collaboration with Silpo, who specialises in branded shopping experiences. “For us, this is an important event and a kind of symbol of the vitality of Ukrainians”, its developers say
  • League of Legends is one of the most popular competitive games in the world, with millions of people streaming the League of Legends World Championship every year. They’ve got the money to fly a CGI dragon over a 200-strong-band of musicians at a world championship final, so getting the iconic jewellery brand Tiffany to design a recreation of the trophy for said final seems like the logical next step.
  • Cookie Run Kingdom is following up on the success of its collaboration with Disney by joining forces with the RPG mobile game, Summoners War: Sky Arena. The special crossover event allowed Sky Arena players to collect a small army of Cookie Run Kingdom characters.
  • A new whisky ‘inspired’ by The Last of Us: Part II is now available through a partnership between game developer Naughty Dog and The Digital Spirits. Great news for anyone who’s ever wondered what retribution, revenge and excessive violence taste like.
  • If you remember the 1988 cult horror hit, Killer Klowns, you’ll be happy (or terrified) to hear that it’s being turned into a multiplayer horror game. Killer Klowns from Outer Space: The Game, will release early next year.
  • Forgot virtual merchandise, it looks like virtual furniture is the next big growth area in video games and the metaverse – home retailer Williams-Sonoma is launching a collaboration with Roblox. Shares jumped 2.2% off the back of the news that West Elm will be the first home furnishings retailer to provide digital furniture to Roblox.
  • If you’re not familiar with Rocket League, think FIFA but little toy cars with rockets. It’s brilliant fun, and developers Psyonix can now add Ferrari to the list of car manufacturers they’ve collaborated with thanks to the addition of the 296 GTB into Rocket League. 
And in other news… 
  • PUBG: Mobile, one of the most popular battle-royale games on mobile devices, beat the likes of Roblox, Fortnite and Wave to win best metaverse performance at MTV’s Video Music Awards for its collaboration with K-pop group, Blackpink.
  • Genshin Impact’s collaboration with Pizza Hut in China raises the bar for what classes as a successful mobile collaboration after its overwhelming popularity led to the police shutting it down.
  • Mobile publisher Zynga joined forces with India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to release two games telling the story of India’s independence in celebration of India’s 75th Year of Independence.  
  • When Wave Race was released on the N64 in 1996, it featured some heavy in-game promo from the Coca-Cola company in the form of Fanta adverts. That seems to have been forgotten about until the game was re-released for Switch Online, with the latest patch swapping all Fanta imagery for Nintendo 64 logos.
  • This is an interesting interview in Gamesindustry.biz about the upcoming Lord of The Rings spin-off game, Gollum. The studio’s head of publishing talks about the game’s retail strategy and the importance of being on shop shelves for mainstream IPs.
  • “Obscure video game movies could flood the market following Sonic’s success,” says Verge. As for this being welcome news or a scary threat, that remains on the kind of treatment gaming IP gets in Hollywood. Gran Turismo, Ghost of Tsushima, Space Channel 5, Days Gone, Super Mario, The Last of Us and God of War (and breathe!) are just some of the gaming IPs currently being explored as films.
  • This is an interesting comment piece in Campaign US that explores the idea that brands are missing a beat when it comes to opportunities in the metaverse. Given one of the examples is a campaign from a fast food brand in which players had to find a place to eat without getting killed, we’re inclined to agree. 
  • Swedish video game company Embracer Group is on a shopping spree at the moment and has thrown the IP rights to Lord of the Rings and Gollum into its ever-growing basket.
  • And on the topic of Lord of the Rings games, there’s a new one coming from Weta Workshop and Private Division, best known for publishing Hades and The Outer Worlds.
  • EA Sports may have lost the rights to the FIFA game from next year, but it’s made a tactical move as part of a three-year sponsorship deal with Sky’s Premier League.
  • Games Workshop made £25 million from licensing its IP into video games last year. That may pale in comparison to the £391 million the miniature wargame company made overall last year, but it’s still an impressive figure.
  • Minecraft developer Mojang teamed up with the National Trust to recreate Corfe Castle ruins in the game. 
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