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Licensing In Games: Issue 6

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. 

From A$AP Rocky and EA teaching everyone that music integrations are about more than just syncing the latest tracks, to a wrap-up of the biggest licensing deals from 2022 that you might have missed, here’s everything you need to know from last month.

As we approach the start of a new year, we just wanted to say thanks for reading. We hope you’ve found this year’s editions useful.

If 2022 was anything to go by, you can expect even bigger moves from licensors and IP holders in the gaming space this year. And if you want to keep up to date with everything that’s happening next year, make sure you’re subscribed, so you never miss an edition.

Retrospective: The biggest video game licensing deals, collabs and integrations you might have missed in 2022

Image: Moonton / Sanrio

In a year where licensing deals and branded experiences in Roblox and Fortnite dominated media headlines, it was easy to miss some of the smaller deals and integrations in PC, mobile and console games. There’s a lot that licensors can learn from these deals, so here’s a monthly recap of some of the best ones!

In January, we saw Valiant Entertainment’s Shadow Man comic IP return to consoles with a remastered version of the N64, PlayStation and Dreamcast game. The remaster was handled by Nightdive studios. It’s an excellent example of how to remaster an old IP-based game, as it features levels and content that was cut from the initial release. This makes it more of a director’s cut version of the game, with plenty of new treats for players.

February saw PUBG: Mobile host a collaboration with Jujutsu Kaisen, a popular anime and manga series, while Minecraft’s partnership with PUMA introduced PUMA-themed race courses into the game. Several new mobile games based on IP were also released in February, including Attack on Titan: Brave Order, Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel and The Office: Somehow We Manage.

In general, IP-based games are dominating the mobile market right now, especially as mobile studios have started leveraging well-known IP to bolster their user acquisition attempts in the wake of Apple’s Tracking Transparency policies. You can read our thoughts on why mobile games are leading the way on the licensing front here.

A new game based on the Conan IP made its way onto PC and PS4 in March, and Garena Free Fire hosted a huge collaboration with the Korean boy band, BTS – who are no strangers to video games with previous appearances in Among Us, Fortnite and Maple Story. On the topic of musicians, Roblox hosted a 24kGoldn concert which was heavily monetised with new cosmetic items. New character skins from Sanrio (Hello Kitty) popped up in Mobile Legends: Bang Bang.

April was a busy month for game releases, especially those based on IP, with new Star Wars, Lego and MLB games hitting the shelves. In the week of the GRAMMYS, an integrated experience within Roblox allowed players to watch the ceremony from the platform. Over in Japan, the manga series GeGeGe no Kitarou collaborated with the puzzle game Line PokoPoko to offer limited-time characters and stages to players.

May’s highlight was a collaboration event between PUBG Mobile and the anime series, Neon Genesis Evangelion. In addition to limited-time skins and characters, a huge mech stalked players in the open-world map and had to be shot down, adding a twist to the traditional gameplay formula. A blockchain game based on Bandai’s Ni No Kuni video game was also released – notable as it's the first blockchain mobile game based on a very popular franchise.

Street Fighter II celebrated its 35th anniversary in June, which the Japanese beverage company Suntory capitalised on with a collaboration video so hilarious its surpassed one million views! Wu-Tang masterminds Ghostface Killah and Raekwon recorded a new single, We Ain’t Came to Lose, for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Shredder’s Revenge, while Depop introduced virtual thrifting into EA’s The Sims

In July, Justin Bieber announced a concert experience in the mobile game Garena Free Fire and a new single written especially for the game, but more importantly: gamers could finally experience the thrill of driving a Volvo Construction Equipment machine if they owned a copy of farming simulator. There were some costly branded product releases in July, too. Gucci partnered with esports organisation Fnatic for the release of a $1.6k designer watch, while a themed Finalmouse mouse based on the Valiant pro player, TenZ, made over $7m in sales in just one day!

Games Workshop proved the profitable power of gaming in August after announcing it made over £25 million from video games based on its Warhammer IP, and a new Lord of the Rings game was announced in partnership with Weta Workshop. Legally Blonde got a new mobile game, Rocket League added loads of Ferrari vehicles into the game, and a new game based on Killer Klowns from Outer Space was announced. We suspect we’ll see more old-school entertainment IP given a refresh in 2023.

A GameInformer interview from September revealed that Overwatch’s VP wants to push the second game by licensing IP in Fortnite-style collaborations (our thoughts on that are here) and retro gaming fans were finally a Goldeneye N64 remaster. The NBA announced a new free-to-play fantasy game and Pokemon Go players got a flashy makeover courtesy of a collaboration with French fashion house, Balmain.

We’ve seen loads of celebrities tap into gaming this year. In October, F1 racer Lando Norris got a Halo-themed helmet, and Lil Baby and Nicki Minaj promoted the release of the new Call of Duty. Burberry unveiled a collaboration with Minecraft, supported by a capsule release of Minecraft-themed clothing and a new idle city builder based on The Godfather was released on mobile devices.

In November, Ralph Lauren redesigned its iconic Pony Polo logo for the first time in a groundbreaking new deal with Fortnite, which follows several major fashion outlets expanding their presence within video games this year. In the run-up to the World Cup, footballers such as Neymar and Messi made appearances in PUBG: Mobile and Call of Duty as playable characters, and the new Need for Speed went all-out with licensing deals in automotive, fashion, and music (more on that further down).

Finally, we saw the Fall Guys clone, Stumble Guys, collaborate with Hot Wheels for its first major partnership, while Nickelodeon and Outright games partnered on a new Paw Patrol game. The NFL and NBA also proved how video game partnerships are a great way of expanding their presence amongst Gen Z audiences, driving sports viewership for the future generation.

Think beyond sync: A$AP Rocky's music collaboration with Need For Speed is a game changer

Image: Electronic Arts

Video games have always been an important platform for marketing and distributing new music. Before Spotify, video game series such as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Grand Theft Auto and FIFA were the biggest music discovery platforms, with millions of sales shaping the music tastes of an entire generation (who’s still got Goldfinger’s Superman stook in their head?)

While licensed game soundtracks are still an important marketing asset today for both the video game industry and the music industry, there are plenty of ways that musicians can be integrated into gaming experiences beyond the traditional sync placement of their songs.

In 2020, Watch Dogs made national headlines for its collaboration with UK grime artist Stormzy, who made an in-game appearance with his own special missions. Most recently, A$AP Rocky partnered with EA to promote the release of Need for Speed: Unbound. This is a win-win for A$AP and EA. A$AP gets to align his brand with a well-known gaming series with over 150 million sales to date, while EA benefits from the marketing push and PR opportunities of working with the famous rapper.

One of the most impressive things about this deal is how heavily involved A$AP has been through the entire process. The official reveal trailer even starred A$AP Rocky.

It doesn’t stop there. Not only was A$AP featured in the game as a new character, but EA also designed a custom Mercedes A$AP 190 e, special missions, and, best of all, a custom horn pack where A$AP delightfully calls out ‘beep beep, beep beep’. All of these implementations have been promoted with individual videos pushed out to over one million subscribers on the Need For Speed YouTube channel.

There’s music involved too, of course. A$AP recorded a new track for the game, Shittin’ Me, which acts as the main theme for the game. The music video features gameplay footage from Need for Speed and has picked up over three million views.

The partnership between EA and A$AP was covered by various publications, including a gaming-centric interview with A$AP in Rolling Stone – an outlet that Need for Speed wouldn’t have appeared in if not for the collaboration with A$AP.

If you’re working with a big name in the music space and looking into gaming partnerships, don’t forget that it isn’t just songs and albums that act as IP. Think about the broader brand of the musician/artist and how that can be utilised in a partnership. That might involve new missions, character skins, emotes, or in the case of Need for Speed, a custom horn pack!

What can we learn about making IP-based mobile games from East Side Games' success?

Image: East Side Games / 20th Century Fox

RuPaul, Trailer Park Boys, The Office and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia are just a small selection of the IPs that East Side Games, a development studio in Canada, has turned into mobile games. In its financial statement for Q3 2022, the company celebrated a 32% increase in year-on-year revenue which it credits to strong IP licensing – so what can we learn about licensing IP into mobile games from East Side Games?

First, some market context. In 2021, Apple’s App Tracking Transparency policies went live, which requires app and game developers to get their users to ‘opt in’ to having their data tracked. The main thing that you need to know about this policy is it makes it harder for game studios to get their hands on the valuable data they need to market and promote their games to new users.

The impact of ATT on the mobile market isn’t small. 68% of game developers now find marketing their mobile games more difficult, and the mobile games market has declined this year for the first time in over a decade.

As a result, mobile game studios are getting more creative with the ways they acquire new users, and leveraging well-known IP in licensing deals has been one of the most effective ways of doing this, as the success of East Side Games’ mobile portfolio proves.

Licensing a well-known IP and building a game around it doesn’t guarantee success, though. These experiences need to be great games, first and foremost, enjoyable by gamers and fans of the franchise that might be new to a gaming experience. More importantly, gameplay mechanics need to be suitable for the demographic that the IP is expected to pull in.

This is something that East Side Games is doing incredibly well. It’s Always Sunny: The Gang is a management sim where players have to launder Frank’s money as they play through a variety of scenes as depicted in famous episodes from the series. RuPaul’s Drag Race Superstar focuses on dressing your character in various fashion pieces and competing in challenges, while Star Trek: Lower Deck is a simulation game taking place onboard the lower decks of the U.S.S. Cerritos.

Despite the differences in gameplay mechanics across East Side Games’ portfolio, all of their games share the same art style. There are also several simulator games, so it’s likely that any players who enjoyed playing Star Trek: Lower Deck might check out The Office game after they’re done – especially as both games are based on well-known entertainment IPs.

Like most of the mobile market, these titles are all free-to-play in the hope that players download the title, enjoy it and start investing in it. With numerous IP-based games currently in soft launch, we wouldn’t be surprised to see revenue continue to grow as East Side Games, especially as the mobile market recovers.

In brief 

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

  • Food for fun? The Japanese fast food brand Lotteria opened a virtual kiosk in the social network game, Play Together.
  • EA launched a special skater edition of Need for Speed: Unbound in collaboration with skate and fashion brand, Palace. You can also dress your character in clothing from Versace, Puma, Alpha, Born x Raised, Brain Dead, Champion, Vans, and loads more.
  • Denim company Edwin and Bandai Namco collaborated to release a new Elden Ring cloak.
  • NERF released a replica of Jinx’s gun from the popular MOBA, League of Legends.
  • TikTok star Addison Rae made an appearance in the Final Fantasy mobile game, Brave Exvius.
  • Stumble Guys, a mobile clone of the popular party game Fall Guys, chooses Hot Wheels as the partner for its first branded event.
  • Nickelodeon and Outright Games team up for a new Paw Patrol game.
  • Nothing says Merry Christmas like a Christmas event starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Milla Jovovich blowing each other to bits in armored vehicles. Thanks, World of Tanks.
  • Digital fashion house, Blueberry (not Burberry!) launched a line of clothing in The Sims 4.
  • Now that it’s ticked football stars and rock stars off the collaboration list, Garena Free Fire is lining up cricket stars next. Its latest collaboration introduced Pakistani cricketers Babar Azam and Shadab Khan as playable characters.

And in other news…

  • Lionsgate CEO says he’s been ‘fielding proposals’ for a John Wick game in an interview with Eurogamer. We hope it happens…
  • STOP. SENDING. US. LEGO. ZELDA. IDEAS. NINTENDO. WON’T. LET. US. TOUCH. THEIR. IP – All Lego Ideas submissions based on The Legend of Zelda are now banned!
  • Rockstar Games, creators of Grand Theft Auto, rejected a movie deal with eminem, according to an insider.
  • If you can’t stand the legal heat get out of the kitchen. The owner of the Cooking Mama IP wins its legal case against an unauthorised Switch version.
  • And if you’re a fan of COD but whoppers aren’t your thing, you’ll be pleased to hear there’s another food chain getting in on the double XP action: Little Caesars.
  • Opening your IP up to play is a great way to reach new audiences and stay relevant, argues Funs Jacobs from Media.Monks.
  • Take Two Interactive, one of the biggest game publishers in the world, confirmed it has no interest in acquiring the FIFA license after EA waved goodbye to it.
  • Speaking of EA, it’s planning on launching a college football game in 2024.
  • Mobile game, Sky: Children of the Light’s latest update was themed around Norweigan pop star, Aurora. The highlight was a 45-minute in-game concert experience.
  • Xbox partnered with the health app, Calm, to introduce video game soundscapes into the app.

Happy Holidays!

December 20, 2022
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