Brands + iPhone Games = Success?

But only if they're innovative

Brands + iPhone Games = Success?
Branded games have something of a poor reputation on mobile, thanks mainly to some dodgy movie games. It's somewhat unfair, given the fact that there are dozens of high-quality mobile games out there too.

But when people in the industry complain about branded games, it's often not the specific games they're fed up with, but more the fact that brands dominate the operator decks to such a degree that own-IP titles don't get a look in.

In theory, the iPhone App Store makes the playing field more level. Indeed, original iPhone games like Trism, Toy Bot Diaries, Enigmo, Billy Frontier, X-Plane 9 and Kroll have been promoted on the App Store homepage, and racked up healthy sales into the bargain.

However, where there's money, brands are sure to follow. Indeed, there are already numerous iPhone games based on existing brands, albeit usually gaming ones. There are console brands (Spore, Super Monkey Ball), casual brands (Bejeweled, Diner Dash) and even mobile brands (Real Football 2009, Asphalt 4 Elite Racing) in the mix.

Clearly, familiar brands still exert a pull on iPhone gamers. What we haven't seen, yet, are many iPhone titles based on movies, TV shows or board games - in stark contrast to mobile decks. This is likely to change.

Thankfully, there's evidence that some of the brands getting into iPhone gaming are taking a refreshingly innovative approach.

It started with iPint, an application designed by ad agency Beattie McGuinness Bungay for Carling, with the aim of promoting the beer brand:

Given away for free, it offered a simple bar-sliding game, topped off with a virtual pint that can be 'drunk' using the iPhone's accelerometer.

It was cheeky, and became one of the main party-pieces for iPhone owners in the early weeks of the App Store, along with the PhoneSaber application. Which, by the way, has just been replaced by an officially-sanctioned LightSaber Unleashed app, promoting THQ Wireless' Star Wars: The Force Unleashed game.

But there's evidence that brands are looking beyond simple promotional games. Audi of America launched its Audi A4 Driving Challenge game on the App Store, offering five courses to drive an Audi around using tilt-steering. It had ghost cars, achievements and three different cars to drive.

Like the apps mentioned above, it was also free. While it's not challenging Asphalt 4 for complexity, it's certainly a cut above traditional notions of an advergame on mobile.

But perhaps the most innovative approach has been taken by Fox Broadcasting, with its Ambush game, which is another freebie released to promote the Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series.

Developed by agency 65 Media, it's a cross-platform location-based MMORPG, which lets players take on the role of humans or terminators. It can be played on the iPhone or on the game's official website, and involves web players setting traps for their iPhone opponents.
Ambush in particular is a great use of the iPhone's capabilities - GPS and connectivity in particular - to create a truly innovative game around a brand.

Meanwhile, Tapulous, the developer of music game Tap Tap Revenge, has just announced plans to release a premium version themed around Nine Inch Nails, featuring a dozen of the band's songs from their last two albums.

It's a branded game, but one you'd want to buy. If you're a Nine Inch Nails fan, of course. But the company is planning other branded versions in the coming months too.

The App Store goldrush is sure to result in a swathe of more basic branded spin-offs, of course.

But as new media agencies (and their clients) train their eyes on the iPhone, it's good to see that there are already some advergames providing an example of how to do something different.

Contributing Editor

Stuart is a freelance journalist and blogger who's been getting paid to write stuff since 1998. In that time, he's focused on topics ranging from Sega's Dreamcast console to robots. That's what you call versatility. (Or a short attention span.)