The Book of Life: Sugar Smash is a casual “match-3” style game on iOS that is a companion to the comedy film, which debuts in theaters on Oct. 17. The game will likely launch on the same day that the film has its red carpet premiere on Oct. 12, said Chris DeWolfe, the chief executive of SGN, in an interview with GamesBeat.
The collaboration is an important one for SGN since the deal is its first collaboration with a major Hollywood studio on a simultaneous game and film release. The movie is about Manolo, a young man torn between fulfilling his family’s expectations and following his heart. Produced by Guillermo del Toro and directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez, the film has a high-profile cast including Channing Tatum, Zoe Saldana, Diego Luna, Ron Perlman, Ice Cube, Danny Trejo, Cheech Marin, Plácido Domingo, and Christina Applegate.
Many of the characters played by those actors are featured in the game.
“The collaboration potential for mobile gaming and Hollywood entertainment is massive. We are thrilled to partner with Fox to develop a new avenue for The Book of Life,” said DeWolfe. “Additionally, through the appealing gameplay of The Book of Life: Sugar Smash, we can expose a new audience to the film and vice versa.”
Mobile games are a hot new market that could grow from $17.5 billion in 2013 to $35.4 billion in 2017, according to market researcher Newzoo. But with a million apps in the app stores, getting people to notice your game is a big problem. So gamemakers like SGN are turning to brands, and movie-related titles are starting to catch on. These brands already have such huge awareness among large audiences that might also be interested in the game, and that effect lowers the cost of acquiring new users for the mobile-game company, DeWolfe said.
As an example, Fox will advertise the game widely as it also promotes the movie. The Book of Life: Sugar Smash will be plastered on billboards in places like Times Square in New York and at the Fox studio lot as well.
“It’s a real win-win for us in terms of Fox marketing for the game,” DeWolfe said. “They are using all of their social media for their shows and movies. There are millions of apps in the wild, but if you have established brands, the percentage of conversions from free to paid will be much higher. And that reduces your cost per install.”
On the flip side, the revenue generated by the game, if it’s successful, for Fox will likely be a strong contributor to the bottom line. Hollywood has been paying attention to mobile games this year thanks to the enormous success of the title Kim Kardashian: Hollywood by Glu Mobile. In the past, movie deals have been risky for gamemakers because, during the console era, it used to take a lot more time and resources to make games. The movie studios also often required gamemakers to guarantee a minimum amount of revenues for a movie game.
The game’s virtual worlds correspond with the film’s three fantasy realms, which Manolo must explore, navigate, and overcome. The game’s levels vary in difficulty, objectives, and challenges. Players can instantly share and compete for high scores and accomplishments on social media.
“SGN has been a great partner in creating an enchanting game that maintains the integrity of the film’s storyline and unique style and tone,” said Rick Phillips, the senior vice president of Fox Digital Entertainment, in a statement. “With this game, we are able to broaden the film’s universe, enabling the audience to interact with the story long after they’ve left the theatre.”
SGN is based in Los Angeles, but it also has a big office in San Francisco.
“We get the best of both worlds,” DeWolfe said. “We have amazing game designers and artists in San Francisco, and down here we are closely situated to all of the intellectual property owners. Everything is close in proximity, and that makes it easier for us to get IP deals done.”
“I would expect a third of our slate in 2015 will be related to branded intellectual property,” DeWolfe said.
DeWolfe said the game has been in the works for about four months. That’s a short window, but the company was able to pull a lot of content from its game library. Negotiations were swift, DeWolfe said, so the development cycle could move quickly. SGN obtained a lot of the art from the animated film, as well as the audio of the actors’ voices. That made developing a whimsical game based on the kooky characters from the film much easier.
Fox Digital Entertainment is the division of Twentieth Century Fox that is dedicated to new mobile content. It has had a number of hit collaborations in mobile, including Angry Birds Rio, Ice Age Village, The Simpsons: Tapped Out, and Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff.
SGN is relatively late to the movie game business. But it has been building up its focus on high-quality casual games over the past couple of years, DeWolfe said. The company is doing fewer titles, and it is throwing a lot of weight behind hits such as Cookie Jam and Panda Pop, which tend to appeal to female audiences. Such hits can generate $100 million a year in revenues.
DeWolfe was the founder of social network MySpace, and he sold it to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which owns Fox.
“It’s nice to partner with them again,” DeWolfe said.
DeWolfe will go to the premiere and show the game to the film’s stars.