The emojis will be flying at mobile game publisher Jam City today, which just announced a big licensing partnership with Disney in mobile gaming.
Under the deal, Los Angeles-based Jam City will acquire Disney’s Emoji Blitz mobile game studio, and it will also make multiple Disney-based mobile games across a number of years under a broad licensing deal with Disney.
It’s a major milestone for Jam City, which has made mobile games for years and stepped up in a big way this year with the Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery mobile game earlier this year, which generated tens of millions of users thanks to a license deal with Warner Bros. and author J.K. Rowling.
“We’ve been working on this deal for a long time,” said Chris DeWolfe, CEO of Jam City, in an interview with GamesBeat. “We are taking over the Disney Emoji Blitz studio, and the first game we are working on is based on the sequel to Frozen that will debut with the next movie.”
Disney recognized in the past couple of years that it no longer wanted to make its own games in the hit-driven games business, and it would instead license its intellectual properties — including Marvel’s Spider-Man and Star Wars — to companies that specialized in making games.
It has given a lot of creative license to developers — Insomniac, in the case of Marvel’s Spider-Man, and Electronic Arts, in the case of Star Wars Battlefront and Star Wars Battlefront II. DeWolfe said that Jam City will have similar license to make a variety of games based on Disney and Pixar properties.
Before those games, Disney was in a funk in games. Disney shut down Avalanche, the 250-person studio that made Infinity in May 2016. Warner Bros. picked up a big part of that team. Disney also shut its Marvel: Avengers Alliance, an internally produced mobile game, and it also recently shuttered Marvel Heroes, a massively multiplayer online game made by outside studio Gazillion, which also closed its doors. These events prompted one Disney game leader, Chris Heatherly to make the jump to NBCUniversal to grow an internal and external game studio business.
“These are really big IPs, merging what we do best and they do best,” DeWolfe said. “It’s a win-win deal where Jam City gets access to the most beloved IP in the world, and they make sure it stays in expert hands.”
To date, Jam City has published 13 games, including its own branded games such as Cookie Jam and six licensed games based on Hollywood properties. Jam City’s licensed games, besides Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, Family Guy: AFMG, Family Guy: Quest for Stuff, Marvel Avengers Academy, Book of Life: Sugar Smash, and Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow.
Those games have done so well that Jam City has grown to more than 650 employees. DeWolfe said it’s not clear exactly how many Disney employees will choose to work at Jam City.
While Disney is taking some of the risk out of its game business, Jam City isn’t as concerned about that. DeWolfe said his company is completely focused on making mobile games, and that focus has helped it survive what has become a very competitive — and very lucrative — $70 billion market.
And while it is working on original titles, Jam City also wants to become the “go-to studio for Hollywood.”
To that end, Jam City is taking over Disney’s Glendale Games Studio, offering all employees jobs at Jam City.
“They have managers, artists, game designers, and engineers who have been at studio for many years and understand that IP and how it fits into a mobile game,” DeWolfe said.
Jam City will also have the right to develop new mobile games based on iconic characters and stories from Disney and Pixar.
As DeWolfe said, the first game Jam City and Disney plan to develop is a mobile game based on Walt Disney Animation Studio’s Frozen sequel. Details aren’t yet available.
Jam City is so proud to be teaming up with Disney to develop new mobile games based on some of Disney’s most beloved franchises that have engaged generations of fans for decades. I asked DeWolfe if the Disney deal should help with the rumored initial public offering of Jam City, and he declined to comment on that. Of course, the stock market has been a bit crazy for that kind of move.
“This really does help us with our strategy of half of our games more IP-oriented, as we saw with Harry Potter earlier this year, and half of our games being original Jam City titles like Cookie Jam,” DeWolfe said. “One thing we have learned is really big global IPs work the best for a worldwide game launch. As the mobile games business becomes more global, we saw the tens of millions of downloads that Harry Potter received from every corner of the world. We believe the Disney Pixar IPs have a similar effect.”