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To brand or not to brand is one of the oldest discussions in video games. Adding a popular brand like Harry Potter could be just the thing for Niantic’s next game, coming on the heels of Pokémon Go. But Electronic Arts once focused a huge amount of resources on brands like James Bond and Harry Potter, and it encountered oversaturation and consumer exhaustion.

We discussed these topics at a panel I moderated at the recent Montreal International Game Summit. Brands in games are cyclical. Sometimes they work in the early stage of a platform, and sometimes they do better amid an explosion of titles, like with the mobile game ecosystem.

We knew this is well-worn territory, so we tried to make the session as in-depth as we could. We looked at the pros and cons of brands versus new intellectual properties across many different franchises. My expert panelists included Caglar Eger, head of strategic partnerships at Goodgame Studios; Matthew Leopold, director of global business development at Yodo1; and Louis-René Auclair, cofounder of RocketJump Games and former chief marketing officer at Hibernum Creations.

Here’s an edited transcript of our panel.

Above: Brand panel at MIGS 2017: (left to right) Caglar Eger of Goodgame Studios, Matthew Leopold of Yodo1, and Louis-René Auclair of RocketJump Games.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Caglar Eger: I work at Goodgame Studios, which recently merged with the Stillfront Group. Now we’re a listed company in Sweden. We’re about 250 people, based in Hamburg. We’ve been developing games since 2009. We jumped into mobile games, originally coming from web games, in 2013. Our best known game is Empire: Four Kingdoms on both web and mobile. The franchise generated more than $800 million in the last five years. I’ve been doing business development for Goodgame Studios since 2012.

Matthew Leopold: I head up Yodo1’s business development and marketing team. Yodo1 is a Chinese publisher. We recently moved into the global spotlight with a couple of titles called Crossy Road and Rodeo Stampede on the mobile side. We’ve also started publishing on the PC in China, working with a bunch of developers from all over the world. We were founded in 2011 and we’ve been bringing games to the Chinese market ever since. I’ve been working in China for the past six years. I just moved back to the states a month ago. It’s still pretty new to me.

Louis-René Auclair: I head RocketJump Games in Montreal. I used to be the chief marketing or business or branding officer at Hibernum here in Montreal as well. Unfortunately they closed down last summer. I’ve been working with IP almost all my career, in video games and toys, most recently with Beauty and the Beast and the Bruce Lee IP as well.

GamesBeat: One good thing to start with is, what is a brand? I wrote about Jam City, a mobile game publisher. They announced that they’re making a Harry Potter game. The Harry Potter brand has a lot behind it. It has 450 million books sold and $7.7 billion generated by the films. You can figure that’s pretty well imprinted on billions of people around the world. That’s a brand.

A lot of indie developers start out thinking they’ll make their own brand. There’s a scale issue around how you get started with a brand and where you can go with it. How would you tackle the subject?

Auclair: Creating a brand or using a brand comes down to what your goal is with your game, with whatever you’re creating. Obviously using an already existing brand costs you money. That money should go toward getting more users for your game. Hopefully using a brand generates more downloads. So then you have to do the math and evaluate. If I create my own brand, how much marketing do I have to spend to get people notice my IP and make it a well-known brand?

We talk about Harry Potter being a brand. Yes, it generates billions of dollars, but it also cost billions of dollars to make the movies, to make this brand. There’s a lot of money involved on all fronts. If you don’t have the ability to spend up front, to create your brand and get eyeballs on it, you should go with an existing IP. But the IP is going to cost you money. It’s all about, I believe, your own creativity and your own focus, how you want to approach your game and your IP.

Leopold: It’s important to consider where the brand is in terms of geography and what you’re going for in terms of marketing. Some brands, like Marvel, do very well universally, but some brands don’t exist in China. A lot of the Fox brands don’t make it in China. You have to think about the markets you’re targeting with a brand. A brand is only considered a brand if it’s known in the region you’re going for.

Eger: The main question for game developers—do you need a brand to create a successful game? This is something that’s becoming, these days, pretty common. People are using existing IP, whether it’s big or small. It doesn’t matter, so long as there’s an IP, because the hope is to reduce your marketing cost. Three or four years ago, you had a CPI cost of 50 to 80 cents. Now you’re paying $15-20. That’s one of the biggest reasons game developers are moving to IP. The question, again, is do you need to do this to have a successful game?

Above: James Bond

Image Credit: Flickr user ClaraDon

GamesBeat: So the point of advertising is to get people familiar with your brand, but if they already know the brand, that’s a step that’s out of the way for you. You can just start selling.

Electronic Arts used to be nothing but Hollywood brands. They had James Bond. They had great success with Harry Potter. And then at some point they hit a wall. These brands in games stopped resonating with people. Why did that happen? Harry Potter is as strong today as it ever was, generally, but at some point EA gave up making Harry Potter games. Why not make one every year?

Eger: I think that’s something EA needs to answer. [laughs] But is overexposure a problem? You look at Marvel, for instance. There are so many Marvel games these days. What is a brand’s value if you create a new game alongside so many other people using that same IP? This is something you need to ask yourself.

Besides that, some developers also think—this is maybe something EA recognized. You don’t need an IP to make a good game. If you have an IP, you won’t automatically have a successful game. You need a great game first, and then maybe you can put an IP on it if you think that will lower your CPI costs. But nothing else works if you have a bad game.

Auclair: Yeah, I think EA fell victim to the brand-slapping strategy. People were seeing a lot of success, other studios started doing IP games as well, and they did what we call “brand slaps.” Take a brand and put it on the box, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with the lore of the IP.

It’s about treatment. It’s about the maturity of game-makers and the maturity of the public. At some point you get sophisticated enough to go looking for better entertainment, better games, better gameplay. If you buy a game about King Kong and it doesn’t do anything with the brand, doesn’t explore that world, doesn’t deepen your love for the world, it’s useless. It’s a bad strategy to take IP and just make crap with it, and that’s what happened on the console front. To this day it’s difficult to get good console games from Hollywood.

In mobile, because of the cost of user acquisition and marketing in free-to-play, it’s still pretty relevant. But you see that the games coming out are much more sophisticated. They use the brand properly. They promote the brand.

Above: Character design at Goodgame Studios in Hamburg. The company focuses on its own brands.

Image Credit: Good Game Studios

GamesBeat: There’s another creative issue here as well. Do developers want to make their own game with their own IP? Do they resist the idea of making a game with someone else’s brand on it?

Leopold: That really depends on the developer. I’ve spoken to a number of developers who are either trying to build their own IPs, or have entertained these conversations with big IP owners. It really depends on what the developer’s trying to accomplish.

When our team’s looking at games for the global publishing side, we’re specifically trying to find that next IP, an original IP that we can make into a brand. We were able to do that with Crossy Road. We partnered up with bigger brands to promote that game, like PS-Y from Korea. It’s about identifying what defines that brand.

If the developer wants to go after a bigger brand, that is an investment on their own side, in terms of game design and background story. It can be worth it in the end. But it’s definitely much more difficult to push that.

Eger: We’ve never published an external IP. It was always important for us to create our own IP. We know it’s difficult, but you’re super flexible with what you can do. When you hit a success then you can leverage that. You can make another game based on your own IP. Especially when you have in-game seasonal events or whatever, you’re completely independent. You can decide for yourself what you want to do with the game. Once you make it with your own IP, there are lots of ways to leverage that.

GamesBeat: Matt, what do you think about what there is from the west that works in China, and why?

Leopold: There’s this perception that a lot of the big brands automatically make it in the Chinese market, just because there has to be a market there for them. The truth is that there aren’t many really big IPs appearing in the top-grossing charts. You see games like Marvel up there. Marvel does well all over the world. But if you look at the IP itself, it really started with the movies. The comics never resonated with Chinese readers. The IP only works in China when it draws from the movies. Looking at a game like Marvel Puzzle Quest, where it uses a lot of the art style from the comic books and old cartoons, that doesn’t resonate very well with Chinese players. You have to dissect a brand and find out what aspects of the brand work in what region.

An IP that works very well in both China and western countries is Transformers, where the cartoons in the ‘80s—those were actually dubbed into Chinese and shown on TV. They were able to penetrate the market early on and get traction. Now it’s grown into a bigger IP since the movies have come out. These generations are getting older. There’s a massive audience in China for Transformers compared to smaller IPs that haven’t had time to become known in the market.

Above: The landing at Omaha Beach in Call of Duty: WWII.

Image Credit: Sledgehammer/Activision

GamesBeat: Let’s talk about Call of Duty and Halo. Halo was a big smash hit on the original Xbox. It instantly became a brand for Microsoft. With Halo 2, though, there was some conflict there. J Allard was running the Xbox business with Robbie Bach above him and they wanted the next Halo to come in real fast. Ed Fries and the Bungie team resisted the idea of doing a sequel fast, because while it took them only a short time to get Halo to the original Xbox, they wanted to make Halo 2 bigger and better. They took three years to get it out. Ever since then, that team has expanded and increased the frequency of releasing new games. But one of the reasons Ed Fries is no longer at Microsoft is because of arguments like that.

With Call of Duty, the same kind of thing happened. The Infinity Ward development team, which made Call of Duty, was purchased by Activision. Eventually they got into a big lawsuit after Call of Duty: Modern Warfare came out. The notion was that Bobby Kotick, at the top of Activision, wanted to do a new game every year, and give the game to more studios in order to do that. Infinity Ward wanted to remain the stewards of the brand and didn’t want to do a new game every year.

If you look at Call of Duty now, it comes out every year. It has surpassed $15 billion in revenue. Call of Duty: WWII could be one of the most successful games of all time. So who made the right decision? Was Bobby Kotick right? Were the guys running the Xbox business right?

Auclair: It’s a tricky question. Obviously the way you have to look at it is, how does the consumer respond to the brand? Consumers sometimes have a habit of wanting something every year – like Madden, like Call of Duty now. Some others like to wait for a longer period of time. You can say that about Star Wars. I think both were right, because both have had tremendous success.

Could Halo have had bigger success with a new game every year? I’m not sure. The brand, the IP, is very specific. It doesn’t have that kind of depth, necessarily. When they went for too much depth, with too many extra storylines, people actually stepped back. It was too much – too many villains, too many planets. Call of Duty, they can go for different periods of history, whether it’s the modern day or back to WWII. There’s a lot of material for them to do a game a year. And it’s not the same kind of audience. There’s a gap between Halo fans and Call of Duty fans.

Ultimately Call of Duty has had more success than Halo, but I don’t think that’s necessarily because of that specific decision. You have to know your fans and understand what they want. That’s how you should make your decision.

Audience: From a business model perspective, Activision obviously made the right move. Like we were talking about earlier, they could have fallen into a trap, overusing the brand every year.

GamesBeat: The deciding factor seems to be whether the quality stays high. With Activision, they had some foresight to put three studios on it, so they could each do one game every three years and the quality on each game stays high.

Audience: When we were talking about what makes a brand, we were talking about what a brand can bring to your game. It’s the reversed situation. Activision was right, because what does a game bring to the brand? You mentioned that with Call of Duty, each time they can explore a different setting. They can keep exploring the brand that is Call of Duty with this elegant way of doing a new setting for every game, every year. Halo doesn’t have that that breadth, so maybe they don’t have an opportunity to do a game every year that brings something as interesting to the brand.

Above: Ratchet once again wonders if he left the gas on.

Image Credit: Insomniac Games

GamesBeat: So the kind of brand matters — whether it’s a brand that’s suitable for making sequels or not.

Audience: I work at Insomniac, and I’m in charge of branding there, so I have some perspective. Ratchet and Clank is a good example of what we’re talking about. There have been a lot of Ratchet and Clank games over the years, and we’ve made a lot of consecutive Ratchet and Clank games. When we did that, it was our primary studio focus. Always we always weighed what the quality would be, but we also had to look at what else we were doing at the time.

When we broadened our portfolio, we expanded it to include games like Resistance, Sunset Overdrive, and now we’re working on Spider-Man. We had to take that into account. What can we do to honor our franchise, honor our fans, and be proud of the work we’re doing? Balancing those things from a development perspective, at the same time taking into account what a publisher is looking for, all those things have to be weighed together. I don’t think it’s as black and white as “Was Activision right?” It’s the whole recipe together. Hopefully you can negotiate and figure out what’s best for everyone.

GamesBeat: So you can rotate brands as well. Keep them from getting exhausted.

Audience: For us, from a brand perspective, first and foremost it’s about making sure we’re a good place to work. That trumps everything. But from there, you want to be smart enough — when we were serializing Resistance and Ratchet and Clank, yeah, we were leapfrogging back and forth. When we came out with Ratchet and Clank for PS4, obviously we’d been working on Spider-Man at the same time. You look at what your priorities are as a studio, the value of the brand, what the publisher is looking for, the quality you’re trying to attain, and that’s what informs your decision.

Auclair: You’re also talking about two different things. The brand of Insomniac itself, the studio, that’s a brand. You have to maintain that brand at the same time you’re managing the brands of your products. You have to cater to both, because if you only make Ratchet and Clank every year, you probably won’t be a great place to work. People are going to be pissed off making the same game. You have to think about those two brands.

That’s part of why the studio resisted at Activision. They were the brand owner. Their brand was “we’re the makers of Call of Duty.” They were afraid of that. It’s a lot of branding to take into consideration. Even people are brands now.

Above: Grand Theft Auto V is on fire.

Image Credit: Rockstar Games

GamesBeat: An interesting thing about video games — sequels can be bigger. Grand Theft Auto V is much bigger than Grand Theft Auto IV. That gives you an interesting opportunity as far as how and when to approach it. Ubisoft has said that they like starting a brand at the beginning of a new platform. Even though there aren’t many units of that platform out, it’s a good time to introduce something new, like ZombiU on the Wii U. After that the idea sinks in with people and it seems like it was a big deal — it made a big splash on the new platform, so maybe they’ll try the second game that comes out, and the second game has a chance to be much bigger. Ubisoft might expect to make more money on Watch Dogs 2 than Watch Dogs.

If we look at mobile games, where we are now, mobile games seem to be migrating toward brands now, but they didn’t start that way. They started out with original titles. What do you think of the idea of that cycle? Is that the right way to plan your brand introductions, when you find a new platform?

Auclair: It’s a great strategy. When you launch a new platform, whether it’s a new phone or a new console, the consumers who are getting that in the beginning are aggressive purchasers. They’re trendsetters. They want everything first. It’s a great time to start a new brand because these people consume more content. They want to try everything.

You’ll rarely make a profit on those first games, though. That’s why you see games like the first Assassins’ Creed or the first Watch Dogs — Watch Dogs was more expensive, much bigger in scope, but still, it was there to get the brand out there. You’re first to the market, a market that’s hungry for content. You can create that brand and then make a profit over the longer period of time.

In mobile, the problem right now is that with the dominance of Google Play and the iTunes store, you’re not going to see a new device that comes with a new store and new users. Because of that, because of the competition, the cost of marketing has increased, and that takes us back to brands. That’s what makes it easier, even though it’s extremely expensive. EA probably forked over $20 million to do the Simpsons game before they wrote one line of code.

It’s about that balance in the market. New consoles bring new players who are hungry for content. But now, in the mobile world, we’re fighting against 100,000 games a year. It’s very different. You have to set yourself apart by adding an IP or having a huge marketing budget to create your IP.

Above: Jam City will make Harry Potter: Hogwart’s Mystery.

Image Credit: Jam City/Warner Bros.

GamesBeat: Talking to the president of Jam City yesterday, he said the thing they liked about Harry Potter is that on mobile, it wasn’t really that big a deal. Nobody had exhausted the brand on mobile yet. Maybe they had those memories of the console games. On mobile, sometimes these older brands can make a comeback. Maybe that’s something to think about as a strategy. A brand that’s lain fallow for a while, or a retro brand, does that make sense?

Eger: In this case, with Harry Potter, it could be interesting to know if they have an exclusive or not.

GamesBeat: They don’t. They’re going to compete against Harry Potter Go from Niantic. But that’s going to be very different from Jam City’s RPG. That’s kind of like Marvel. When you make a game with Marvel, you’re competing against many different kinds of Marvel mobile games.

Eger: You definitely need to have good app store optimization. If you start doing TV campaigns, or campaigns in general, and people start searching for your game and then they download a game from another developer, that’s a waste of money. That’s one reason it’s important to not have too many people working on the same IP.

Leopold: At the same time, I think it’s important to have that diversity of mechanics when the IP is first coming to the platform. You’re never really going to know which mechanic is going to do well for the project. Take Transformers for instance. We published Earth Wars in China, launching it right at the time when Kabam’s Forged to Fight came out. The mechanics, for the Chinese audience, just worked much better for Earth Wars. Forged to Fight slowly started dropping off the charts, simply because the mechanics weren’t as popular in that specific region.

GamesBeat: If you’re a new developer shopping for a brand or wanting to help something with a brand, how do you go about it? Do you go to the franchise expo and hang out and see what’s for sale?

Auclair: The licensing expo, there’s a lot of big IPs selling to you. They have 60 meetings that week and they’re only trying to get the biggest NG possible. In my opinion, to get a license, it’s all about relationships. You have to work on those all the time. You have to talk to them and see what’s important. You’re going to go to Disney and you expect to have a presentation about Star Wars and Marvel, and then they talk about Muppets for half an hour. Speaking from experience. I love the Muppets, but they don’t have lightsabers.

GamesBeat: Can you put lightsabers in the Muppets game?

Auclair: Poor Kermit. [laughs] I think it’s important to know what’s hot and what’s not, not only in the market, but in the publisher’s mind. There’s a market for almost every IP. Figure out if it’s evergreen. You should get something evergreen. But then listen. Pay attention to what they say. If they’re pitching an IP hard, maybe they can’t get a very big deal on it, because they have some sort of request to find a game for that specific IP. That’s when you can do something out of the ordinary.

We did that at Hybernum for Beauty and the Beast. We went to the presentation. They showed all their IPs. Beauty and the Beast was a big focus. People were unsure of it, because they didn’t know how it would work in live action. It turned out to be the biggest movie of 2017.

GamesBeat: What was the context for that meeting?

Auclair: That one was at Disney. They invited all their licensees and partners and presented their full catalog. You go in and try to make a deal, try to get some love from them. Like I say, people weren’t sure about Beauty and the Beast. That was right when Star Wars and Marvel were still doing gangbusters business on the app stores. We went for Beauty and the Beast and it served us well. So pay attention to what they tell you, but also do your homework. Don’t get fooled by taking Independence Day 2 and getting screwed because no on watches the movie.

GamesBeat: How does a Disney go and find new developers that they haven’t worked with before?

Auclair: Like pretty much any biz dev, they can go to shows and — everyone wants to work with Disney. It’s easy for them. Their biggest issue right now is internal turmoil. They’re not licensing. They don’t know what they want to do. They may move full-blown into licensing out of co-development, but that also results — in licensing, because people pay NGs, the only thing people want to talk about is Star Wars and Marvel. Disney wants to move the rest of their portfolio, which is a lot more difficult, because if you do games for kids, for instance, that just doesn’t work. They’re having a tough fight over there.

Above: The Disney Afternoon Collection packages six classic games for modern consoles and PCs.

Image Credit: Capcom

GamesBeat: I think a lot of people here are interested in how you start out on this whole journey. How do you find what IPs are out there, what’s ripe for exploitation?

Leopoldo: Like Louis said, it’s really about building a relationship. When we were talking to Hasbro about Transformers, we’d known those guys for a number of years. We’d looked a lot of their IPs. This was the one we saw as a good fit for the Chinese market. We’d been waiting for them to work on this IP and this mechanic, and it all really clicked. That’s when we started establishing that. But it’s really about building a relationship, starting to reach out to the guys on the ground when you’re at those expos. They’re always looking for people to meet with as far as finding developers to publish their IP.

GamesBeat: How often does a brand check in with you to see whether you’re on track, whether you’re making the right game, whether your loot crates are too expensive?

Leopoldo: That really depends on the publishing relationship. For a developer that’s just looking for publishing in China, sometimes they’re a bit more hands-off than if you’re doing a really global project. With the Hasbro guys, they’ll check in every couple months. We’ll have weekly emails, sending weekly reports, but in terms of marketing and road maps, we’ll just do every couple of months.

Auclair: Some IP owners are very hands-on. Disney is one that’s very hands-on. They care for their brands extremely well. They’re going to check everything. They have approvals in the contract that say they’ll check everything and they own everything. They basically own you. You’re going to be talking to them almost every day. Our producer on Beauty and the Beast I think talked to the guy there every day before he went to bed, when he woke up in the morning — he’s always on a call with them.

Some are going to be more hands-off. We worked with Wizards of the Coast on Magic: The Gathering. They wanted an update once a month. They wanted to make sure we treated the cards right. But they’re not hands-on. They trust you. That’s another thing to think of when you’re going for an IP. Go for a brand that you’re passionate about. Don’t go for a brand just because you want the marketing that comes with it. If you’re not passionate about the brand, the game that comes out of it is going to suck. If the game sucks you’re dead. So be passionate about your IP. Learn about it. Get to know it. Really go for that one, and that’s how you’ll stand out.

Eger: What’s also important when you’re publishing an IP is your flexibility. Like you said, you’re waking up and calling them. Before you go to sleep, you’re calling them. When you run into things that you have to discuss in detail, discussion is losing time, losing flexibility. You need to know in advance if your team can manage this.

If you’re planning a new in-game event because it’s important for retention — day 10 retention is going down, day 30, whatever — you’re in trouble if you have to spend weeks discussing how to put this event together. You’re still losing retention, losing players, and losing money. You need to know whether you’re willing to take a risk before you sign a contract.

GamesBeat: Your company’s argument is that it doesn’t take as long to build a brand as you might think, that that’s the right way to go.

Eger: The main reason we’ve never wanted to do an IP game — we’ve discussed this a lot before. The problem was always the contract. When an IP is getting really big, and you always want to go for big IP, the contract gets more and more difficult. You lose your flexibility. If you go for a smaller IP, why are you going for IP at all? You end up negotiating for weeks or months and in the end nothing is moving forward, because they think, sometimes, that they can make a game better than a game developer can.

With your own IP, like I say, you’re flexible. You can do events in the game however you want to. You invest the money you’d spend on a license in marketing to grow your own IP.

Above: Cars 3: Driven to Win.

Image Credit: Disney

Auclair: Those are all valid points. You should always know who’s in charge of final approvals on the IP owner side. Is it the movie team? Is it the publisher’s games team? You’ll find that some movie teams don’t know how to make games. They’ll push you to do things that don’t make sense.

I have two fun examples of that. We did a Cars game for Disney. The cars needed to be based on the toys, because it was one of those games where you’d scan the toys. We had to do like 600 cars, and some of them got refused on approvals because the screws on the bottom didn’t show up when the cars flipped in the game. I don’t know if you know how small those screws would be on an iPhone, but we had to put them in anyway to match the toys. You always need to know who makes those decisions.

Another one was with Lego. We did the Lego City game with different levels of zoom. They wanted the bumps on the top of every Lego brick to be perfectly round at all times. I don’t know if you know how many triangles that would take, but imagine zooming in and seeing all those details on top. It was a PC game, and the performance would die every time. We had to fight with them before they would agree to just having seven sides and a flat texture on top to make it look round. Otherwise the game just wouldn’t work. Always know who you’re going to deal with on a decision-making level. That can kill your game.

Question: Why don’t we see so many triple-A console game brands working on mobile? Final Fantasy has done well, or Fallout Shelter, but there haven’t been many others.

Auclair: If it’s adapted well, it works. With every IP you need to have the right to openly create around the main game. If Fallout Shelter had been another third-person shooter, it wouldn’t work. But the way they did it worked. It needs to be extremely open creatively, and the game needs to be made for mobile.

GamesBeat: Fallout Shelter was also considered a failure in many ways, ultimately, by some mobile people. It could have been built in a way that kept it in the charts forever. People finished the content and then there were no updates.

Auclair: What I like about that strategy, though, is that the people who play console games are willing to spend 70 bucks on a game. If you get them into free-to-play, make sure your startup pack is about 50 bucks, because they don’t mind paying that for a brand they love. There’s a lot of money to be made, in my opinion, in free-to-play console adaptation.

Eger: It’s also important that mobile games are made by and for people in the mobile game space, not by triple-A game makers. Look at Crytek. They tried to do mobile games a few years ago and failed hard.

Above: Dragon City is one of Social Point’s big hits.

Image Credit: Social Point

GamesBeat: Take-Two has said something similar. Their console developers had a try at making mobile games, and ultimately they had to spend $250 million to buy Socialpoint because they all failed.

Audience: We tried mobile as well for us, and it likewise didn’t succeed, although perhaps for different reasons. You talked about the developer-publisher relationship and the licensor relationship. I think it’s important, especially for developers in the room — you can’t underestimate marketing back, to that publisher and licensor, what you’re doing. You don’t want to wait every few months for your brand to check in. You want to be sending them highlight reels and treat it just like any other marketing campaign. You want to get them hyped about what you’re doing, because ultimately that may help bring more marketing dollars into your game campaign.

Auclair: I think it’s important to force that love, so to speak. Some license owners are going to have 50 different types of products a year coming out. How do you know they’re going to give you all the love that you need? So yes, do whatever you can. That’s how I see it.

GamesBeat: Does that mean you need to do it at a time when they have something else coming out for the brand, like a movie coming out?

Auclair: Anything. The more you do share with a publisher, the more they’ll share with you. You might not even know that they’re shipping a new game in your brand, a new book or something, but if you build that relationship they’ll tell you more about what they’re doing. Then you can strategize your own production, your own milestones, to fit with their brand road map. That’s critical.

One story about that I have to share — even before we signed the first Bruce Lee game, our pitch was all about showing respect and love to the brand, because ultimately we’re pitching his daughter. We won that pitch because she said we were the only ones who envisioned Bruce Lee like a human being, instead of a guy on a poster, a character in a movie. That opened up our creative pillars for when we did the game, and it opened up our relationship with them.

When we launched the game we got 4.5 million downloads in three days, because they helped us with 20 million likes on Facebook. They promoted the game with videos. We got Georges St. Pierre to make a sizzle reel at our office. Not only did we get the deal, we got all that love for free during the launch. Respect for the brand you work with goes a long way with the owners.

Leopold: To add to that, when we were launching Transformers, we were on a very tight deadline. It was right before the movie was coming out last summer. The game had obviously been out in the west, but it hadn’t launched in China yet. They were also trying to get Forged to Fight out along this same timeline. We had a very narrow window to get through government review and everything.

With all that in mind, it did help, come launch day, when Hasbro was willing to push a lot of marketing behind it. We did a lot of giveaways of rare merchandise. We had a whole section of the office stacked to the ceiling with Transformers action figures. We did live events for gamers, and that was another way to show Hasbro that we were really treating the brand well in China.

Question: What’s the risk versus the reward of reviving an older brand?

Auclair: You mitigate that risk with the amount of money it’ll cost you to license that brand, first of all. You have to evaluate the potential of a brand. There are different ways to do that. Reviving a brand costs money, because you have to spend money on the brand and spend money on the game. But then you also come into the factor of the user base right now being super strong on nostalgia. You don’t know what’s going to happen with nostalgia brands. You could make an E.T. game throwing back to the console game from the ‘80s and that could even work. Nostalgia is strong because of stuff like Stranger Things. There are deals to be had because of that. Your mitigation is your passion, your money, and your ability to take the content forward.

Question: You mentioned earlier that it’s getting harder to go on established platforms like Google Play and the iTunes store. It’s hard to introduce new brands. Do you think that with the interaction of ARKit, AR Core, and the push toward this submarket of augmented reality, is there potential for a new brand to find a home there?

Auclair: Yeah, because it’s a new platform, a new ecosystem. But the rush to that platform is going to be so fast. Apple is telling people, “Hey, if you want your game featured, do something with AR.” You’re going to get the big boys there right from the start — Clash Royale, Candy Crush. All of a sudden they can spend $15 a user, $2 million day. It’s a slightly better chance, I would say, but the market is still very dangerous right now on mobile.

Above: Skaven leader Queek Headtaker in Total War: Warhammer II.

Image Credit: Sega

Question: What do you think of the Warhammer license and how Games Workshop has handled that? They’ve sort of shotgunned it, where everyone from triple-A to indies is getting the license and you’re getting a bunch of different games.

Leopold: I’ve been looking at Warhammer games for the last couple of years. Before this explosion started, I kind of thought the brand was getting spread in too many different directions with too many different mechanics. It’s kind of like what I was talking about before, what mechanics work best with an IP. I think it’s a great way to see what sticks, to throw so much out there. But you run the risk, obviously, of oversaturating the market, which you see all the time with IP in the mobile space. Once you identify the mechanics that are working maybe you can go in that direction, but you can’t spread yourself too thin.

Auclair: It’s still very niche, in my opinion. Games Workshop in general is very niche.

Leopold: They’ve been trying to do justice to the brand on mobile and they haven’t really locked that down yet. That seems to be why they took that shotgun approach.

GamesBeat: They seem to have done well with the Total War series of games, where the Total War strategy games had been around for 15 years or so. When they introduced Total War: Warhammer, it was the most successful game ever for the Total War franchise. The sequel has gone even further, getting a ton of lore into the game. But it’s not so successful that they’re only going to do those games in the Total War franchise. They just announced a new historical strategy game as well.

Eger: One thing we didn’t talk about, if you create a game based on IP, it’s important to figure out — like you were saying about King Kong, you can’t necessarily make a King Kong match-three game. You can’t just make anything at all and then leverage an IP to get cheap users. Wooga tried to make their Futurama match-three game and it didn’t work at all.

Auclair: Star Wars: Puzzle Droids, the match-three game they launched in May? Couldn’t get downloads at all, even if it’s Star Wars.

GamesBeat: Caglar, what is the one brand that you maybe would go after?

Eger: That’s a good question. It would have to be something with fewer restrictions, something where we can be flexible. Flexbility is very important for us. Empire is our biggest game, and on a yearly basis we’re having 15-20 big updates. This just wouldn’t be possible if, like you said, we were having discussions for five months, six months with an IP owner. If we could get the flexibility we needed, though, we wouldn’t say no.

Auclair: Hibernum’s approach to IP was to try to focus, especially when dealing with Hollywood studios, on multi-IP deals. What I like about that is the ability to plan in advance for seasonal things, like when new movies come out. You’re not forced to attach yourself to one brand. If that one brand fails or falters you could be in big trouble.

These studios need content. They want games attached to their IP. It’s easy to go to someone like NBC Universal and say, “I want these eight brands. I want to deal for all of them. Here’s my strategy.” That can work really well. You can build that Venn diagram of game audiences and movie audiences. You can cater to seasonal events within your games. That’s a sound approach if you want to hedge your bets, instead of just going for one big IP that’s super expensive.

Above: Lego Dimensions Batman.

Image Credit: Warner Bros. Interactive

GamesBeat: Lego Dimensions worked that way. You could mix and match brands within the one game. The Dreamworks mobile game was another mixture.

Question: What about IP crossovers, where your game isn’t necessarily built on an IP, but you have an event that brings in an IP? You can get users from a given brand and still retain some of your flexibility.

Eger: That all depends on your audience. If there’s a connection and it makes sense, that can be a really good approach.

Auclair: A good example of that would be Dead by Daylight from Behaviour Interactive. They have all the horror movie icons crossing over. Every time they bring in a new one it’s great for marketing. It brings in new downloads and sales. For me, it’s a balance between how long it’s going to take me to do a deal for just one character, one piece of content, and the value of that character? Some of those deals could be very difficult to do.

Disclosure: The organizers of MIGS 2017 paid my way to Montreal. Our coverage remains objective.

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