Mobile Mavens

Can mobile games still launch successful multimedia IP?

Can mobile games still launch successful multimedia IP?

Rovio has announced that a second Angry Birds movie will be hitting cinemas in September 2019.

The Angry Birds Movie launched in May 2016 and is said to have grossed over $347 million worldwide at the box office.

It was the first movie tie-in to one of mobile gaming's biggest brands, and its success has ensured that it won't remain a one-off.

Angry Birds is now arguably the biggest multimedia brand to have emerged from mobile games in the West, but in Japan the Monster Strike movie was a huge hit for XFLAG.

And on smaller screens, both Candy Crush and Subway Surfers are making a statement. But what does this tell us about the potential for mobile-first multimedia brands? We put it to our Mobile Mavens:

  • With Angry Birds getting a second movie in 2019, are mobile games now the ideal place to kickstart original multimedia franchises?
  • Can another Angry Birds-level original mobile IP emerge from today's ultra-competitive mobile market?
Torulf Jernström CEO Tribeflame

Mobile games are not the ideal place to kickstart original multimedia franchises, unfortunately. I don't think they are significantly worse as a starting point than other possible channels, but there are no easy ways.

Some six to eight years ago, the App Store and Google Play (called Android Market back then) were the channels with the lowest barrier to entry.

With the unbelievably huge wave of a few billion people getting their first smartphones in a matter of a few years, and then curiously making their first searches for cool apps to play around with, the apps that got a lot of attention back then had a comparatively easy way into building brands among the general population.

Still not easy, but way easier than through other channels. All the examples here (Subway Surfers, Candy Crush Saga, Angry Birds) are from the 2010-2012 era.

By now, the app stores are mature, and most people in developed countries are no longer curious for new apps. This means launching new franchises is very challenging.

Actually, I have recently noticed that the franchises my kids are now into are, to a large extent, the same ones that existed when I was a kid.

The long staying power of, for example, Disney characters, Smurfs, etc. mean that the renewal rate is quite slow, and new franchises do not emerge every month.

Jared Steffes Co-founder Muxy

Great points, Torulf! The barrier to entry and maturity points hit the nail on the head.

Our favourite video game franchises came from early points in the console's timeline.
Jared Steffes

The majority of our favourite console video game characters/franchises came from early points in the console or genre's timeline.

Mario, Sonic, Street Fighter, Resident Evil, Metal Gear and Angry Birds were defining games. No one that had an iPhone when the App Store launched remembers the games I made, but they remember the Snake game from their Nokia.

I believe there will be a couple of new franchises that get launched on VR, if it hits a mass appeal. It will be strange because the majority of the time we are playing as the character and grow to love it.

VR will rely more on the secondary characters and the story surrounding them.

Scott Foe Chief Product Officer Ignited Artists

The cheapest and easiest way to develop and launch new entertainment property is still, and may forever be, prose.

Prose can be conceived, developed and launched by one artist; with prose, the vision has its greatest chance at staying true and the costs are calculated in instant noodles.

Tom Kinniburgh Consultant MobileFreeToPlay

I think Angry Birds is the exception to the rule and that’s because Rovio has always wanted to be a media/entertainment company as well as a games company.

They invested in hiring staff who understood licensing and manufacturing of toys while Angry Birds was number one.

Although I don’t know the financials, I assume it’s a success when I can see Angry Birds Lego on the shelves!

As Torulf said, his kids are playing with the same toys he played with as a child. I think that is more to do with Disney being the incredible IP marketing machine it is, than the IP being better than any other IPs.

It’s far safer to stick to what you know and potentially license the brand out.
Tom Kinniburgh

I think it’s actually a question of priorities. Most games companies prioritise development as they have hired developers and kickstarting TV, film or books requires a unique set of skills.

It’s far safer to stick to what you know and potentially license the brand out if it gets extremely popular.

For instance, Nintendo with Pokemon is a good example of creating a game that then later spawning an IP that crossed different media due to its immense popularity as a video game.

The only other potentially viable mobile games company might be Supercell with the Clash IP but, is it a priority for them?

Scott Foe Chief Product Officer Ignited Artists

Tom raises an excellent point, which is that probability is dictated by intention: If you don't intend to develop world-class entertainment property, the probability that you will do so is greatly diminished.

It's funny, entertainment property being one of the two most valuable assets in any content company, and rarely do you ever find people within content companies whose jobs are dedicated to the development of world-class entertainment property.

Tony Gowland CEO Ant Workshop

Tony’s career has covered the whole spectrum from AAA console to handheld, mobile and flash titles, working on huge franchises such as Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption, and Call of Duty.

In 2015 he founded Ant Workshop to develop his own titles and to offer his experience as a design consultant.

Didn’t Seriously set up with the intention of growing Best Fiends as a multimedia IP?

I guess we’ll see if it worked out when they start releasing their animated shorts on YouTube - and if a movie follows them eventually.

Scott Foe Chief Product Officer Ignited Artists

Petri Järvilehto of Seriously (and previously of Rovio and Remedy) is one of the handful of people on the planet that actually understand entertainment property development, soup to nuts.

Really great points.

Back to the original questions, I think we're actually going through an era of what I call "re-entertainment". We are not seeing so many new IPs emerging across any media at the moment.

I don't think mobile games are a good place to launch new IP, because really no place is.
Nicolas Godement-Berline

Instead, games increasingly leverage existing IPs, while in Hollywood franchise reboots are among the most popular movie brands right now.

So I don't think mobile games are a particularly good place to launch a new IP, because really no place is.

But that's not to say it's going to last forever, nor that there aren't any exceptions. Supercell and Seriously are great examples. In Asia, LINE has made great efforts to make the messaging app a huge IP of its own.

So I definitely think there is still room for big IPs to emerge out of the mobile games market.

As Tom said, it's just not at the top of many game companies' priority. Nor should it be: making and operating hit games can be an immensely profitable business that requires a lot of focus.

That focus is easily side-tracked by the expensive and risky business of IP development.

John Ozimek Co-founder Big Ideas Machine

John is co-founder of PR and marketing company Big Ideas Machine. Also an all-round nice guy...

No, mobile is not the ideal platform to develop a multimedia IP.

As Tom and Scott have said, Rovio had the benefit of an absolutely global smash, kid-friendly game characters, and the prescience to build a team to exploit the IP.

Even then, it wasn't an instant leap to movies and cartoons.

The vast majority of multimedia IP that we can all name was first established on whatever was the biggest distribution platform available at the time - almost always TV or movies.

The exceptions are superheroes, which obviously started with comics, but very quickly moved to TV - the first to air was The Adventures of Superman in 1952.

The other is IP that has come from books - Twilight, Harry Potter, etc.

What's really important with developing a sustainable IP is the establishment of both story and character.

Think about it; the commercial success of Star Wars was that the toys allowed the continuation of the storyline and character interplay that the film establishes.

There needs to be an emotional aspect and hooks for our imaginations to take the characters and stories to new places - in effect, an endless narrative arc is what you want, rooted in an established 'universe'.

The games industry is littered with attempts to extend really successful game IP into multimedia.

Usually, it fails. And when it doesn't outright fail, you can argue that it damages the original IP. Resident Evil movies, anyone? Max Payne? Hitman?

I think it comes down to this: it's hard enough to make a successful game.
John Ozimek

But I think it comes down to this: it's hard enough to make a successful game.

It's borderline insanity to gamble on a mobile game - which, let's face it will be designed to monetise well rather than make us fall in love with a cast of quirky characters - becoming a multi-channel proposition from day one.

I would bet that anyone that does take that risk will be designing the game with TV in mind from the start. And to do that, you need an equally insane Senior Finance Officer, or lots and lots of money

What links both Best Fiends and Angry Birds is that the characters are universal, and child-friendly, making them attractive as a licensing proposition.

That's also why many of the most successful IPs are the ones that reach both kids and adults, because they are TV friendly, which makes them less of a commercial risk.

Despite being globally huge, games like Clash of Clans and Game of War don't lend themselves to this kind of extension or development, and the more adult nature of the gameplay isn't suited to a family audience.

Yes, there will undoubtedly be mobile games that make the jump to become successful IP in other formats. But first and foremost you have to build a successful game - which we all know is bloody hard.

Scott Foe Chief Product Officer Ignited Artists

I simply cannot get behind the assertion that making a game is hard enough as it is, and that focusing on entertainment property development is activity that depletes focus.

Fact: Developing a shitty entertainment property requires the same amount of activity as developing a great entertainment property.

The pudding's proof comes down to true understanding of entertainment property development, of which there is an industry-wide paucity.

John Ozimek Co-founder Big Ideas Machine

John is co-founder of PR and marketing company Big Ideas Machine. Also an all-round nice guy...

My point was that it's really hard work to make a commercially successful game, so the developers I know and work with are focused 1,000% on that - without the brain space to also be thinking about everything that goes into developing IP into a successful entertainment property as well.

Agree that it's something that maybe more developers could or should think about - or at least, add into the mix at the ideas stage. I'm full of admiration towards those that can manage to do it.

Torulf Jernström CEO Tribeflame

Guys, any product needs a clear audience as its target market.

Divide consumers into those who have credit cards, and those who don't.
Torulf Jernstrom

Top grossing mobile games and merchandise-driven entertainment properties have two mostly non-overlapping audiences.

Divide consumers into those who have their own credit cards, and those who do not.

Merch is mostly consumed by those who do not. IAPs are mostly consumed by those who do have their own credit cards.

Try explaining to someone else why it's a good idea to to buy an IAP in a game. It's like trying to to explain a joke. It's just not funny.

Jared Steffes Co-founder Muxy

The rest of the feedback made me think of influencers/celebrities driving the IP beyond the game.

It doesn't seem that far-fetched for Arnold Schwarzenegger to make a Mobile Strike movie or Kate Upton to star in a Game of War - Fire Age movie series with three different films in the saga.

It would just be thinking of how to build a multimedia franchise in reverse.

Dave Castelnuovo Owner Bolt Creative

Well, as someone who has had their hands in merchandising and explored entertainment deals, I’ll tell you that Angry Birds is an outlier in terms of how successful it was with merchandising compared to the rest of the field.

Cut the Rope should have been a similar IP, but couldn't sell merch anywhere close to Angry Birds.
Dave Castelnuovo

On the surface, Cut the Rope looked like it should have been a similar type of property - and ZeptoLab sure tried hard to make it into one - but back in the day, no one was able to sell shirts, toys, etc. anywhere close to Angry Birds.

I’m not as familiar with the current landscape and I wouldn’t claim that these audiences don’t overlap (kids play mobile games, kids buy toys, kids watch movies) but exploring licensing opportunities can definitely be a distraction from your main business unless:

  • You manage to create a monster hit mobile app.
  • It happens to merchandise well (zero chance Candy Crush TV will work).
  • You have it in your company’s DNA to take full advantage of these opportunities.

Angry Birds just happened to strike the right chord with users as crossover IP. And then Rovio put a ton of effort on top of that to make even more successful.

It’s an idiot's game to try and create a property from day one that starts in mobile with the end goal of being a blockbuster movie.

You’ll end up diluting the mobile game effort. Make the best game you can, and then worry about the rest once it works.

Scott Foe Chief Product Officer Ignited Artists

"It’s an idiot's game to try and create a property from day [one] that starts in mobile with the end goal of being a blockbuster movie." Well, colour me an 'idiot.'

Entertainment property development is what separates the Activisions from the basement-dwellers. If you don't have a strategy, you can't fail, because you weren't trying to accomplish anything in the first place.

Dave Castelnuovo Owner Bolt Creative

We're talking about mobile game developers not triple-A studios. Why not list the games that were originally conceived with blockbuster movies in mind and then actually reached the goal.

It might sound good to a client to tell them to craft their entertainment strategy from day one but no one has infinite resources.

Any money they put toward their entertainment goals is money that isn't going toward their game.

Maybe one day it will be like the movie industry where they have their Happy Meal toys, games, etc. already in the pipeline by the time they release, but even the triple-A game industry isn't there yet when it comes to movies and TV.

The attempts where they tried to tie it all together from day one, before they had a success in either, failed miserably.

Torulf Jernström CEO Tribeflame

Who is the target market for merchandise? Mainly, it's kids.

I have met adults who are collecting Hello Kitty or Moomin (I'm in Finland, Moomin is a thing), but often even then it's a brand they have known since they were kids.

Second point: No one is making (IAP) money on kids in the mobile market anymore. Mobile games are made for adults who spend on themselves.

Hence: who are you targeting? Kids or adults?

A caveat is that this is focused on merch, ignoring movies and TV series as possible spin-offs.

Another is that even though the paying customers are adults in games like the Clash series, that does not mean that all non-payers are also adults.


Features Editor

Matt is really bad at playing games, but hopefully a little better at writing about them. He's Features Editor for PocketGamer.biz, and has also written for lesser publications such as IGN, VICE, and Paste Magazine.

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Michael Chua Director of Operations at Gamma Interactive LLC
Creating an evergreen franchisable game IP may not be the end game for a lot of game makers and that's fine. I agree that having a solid long term strategy is key to any business, but the main focus should always be on the game's foundations to drive installs and user retention. Though at a certain threshold, you can hire Hollywood to drive your other lines of business as Rovio did when they hired David Maisel from Marvel for its movie.

I do think however, that there are simple steps that do make sense in the beginning while focusing on the game - creating names to characters, beautiful music that plays to users emotions, etc - initial leg work that can have massive pay off if your game achieves that certain level of success.
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