From the earliest days of the mobile games market, third-party brands have been valuable ways to reach new audiences and bring in fans from the worlds of film, TV, books and beyond. However, the challenges of bringing brands to games can be daunting, with numerous examples of projects which have failed to engage, or left the original audience cold.
One of the unsung heroes of the recent branded games space is an unassuming, two-dimensional monochrome cat, whose misadventures have brought fans of the original series into the mobile games world and spawned a number of new titles - all developed with the backing and involvement of the original creator.
The Pocketgamer.biz team sat down with Paul Smith, the head of studio of Tactile Games in the UK and Simon Tofield, the artist behind the phenomenon which is Simon's Cat, to find out how the two are working together to bring the games to life.
PocketGamer.biz - Can you tell us about the games/titles you’ve worked on with the Simon’s Cat IP?
Paul Smith - Since 2018 the Tactile UK team has produced three Simon's Cat games, with another title currently in production and due for Worldwide release in 2024. This doesn't sound like a prolific output for a studio; however, all our existing games have full Live Ops support and are continually evolving and improving with new features and level releases.
Crunch Time and Pop Time were released in 2018 and 2019 respectively and both have a saga meta-game.
Story Time was released in April 2021 and is an Apple Arcade exclusive title. The core gameplay is a match-three blast mechanic, and the metagame has a strong narrative theme with players tasked with helping Simon and his cat transform and decorate the game world. Story Time is currently the longest-running Live Ops game on Apple Arcade with new content and features released every month since launch.
PG.biz - What drew you to the IP in the first place?
Paul Smith - In 2012, the team produced several Peppa Pig games for release on iOS/Android, which were hugely successful. One of the licensing managers at Eone thought we'd be a good fit for the Simon's Cat IP and put us in contact.
Simon’s Cat is beautifully animated and has great attention to detail. The core values of the Simon’s Cat IP resonated with the team and the 2D animated style appealed to us since we could leverage our existing team's art and animation skills.
PG.biz - Many IP deals are brokered between agents and the developers and IP creators rarely meet. It sounds like there’s a big difference between Tactile and Simon Tofield, Is that the case?
Paul Smith - The UK team has a track record of working with IP holders and brands, and a strong working relationship with our clients has always underpinned our long-term success. It sounds simplistic, but constant close communication with brand owners is essential.
We hold regular weekly meetings with the Simon’s Cat/Banijay team and it’s these meetings where trust is built and IP knowledge is exchanged. Having Simon directly involved in the metagame and narrative development has been a critical factor in the game’s long-term success.
In the past, we have declined some very high-profile IP partnerships, partly because we wouldn’t have regular access to the original creators. As a business, if you’re going to heavily invest in an IP/brand, where the brand owner has approval rights, the IP holders need to be an extended part of your team.
PG.biz - What role does Simon play in the design and development of the Simon’s Cat games?
Paul Smith - Simon’s role could best be described as an Executive Art Director, explicitly overseeing and approving the visual style and character animation. The Tactile team handles all game design elements, while Simon will review artwork and provide drawovers and original designs.
PG.biz - How did Tactile decide what genres of game would be appropriate for the IP?
Paul Smith - Combining an innovative internet cat brand with the Match three genre creates the perfect overlap with a casual game audience.
The Simon’s Cat brand has a core 30-50yrs female audience, and this audience correlates perfectly with the casual match-three genre.
PG.biz - The majority of the original cartoons have a very simple, monochrome style, yet the mobile games are more colourful and have a polished production style, how did that come about?
Paul Smith - Being able to add colour was a hugely important trigger for us to engage with the IP. The Simon’s Cat team had already created a coloured version of their “Off to the Vets” film, and we took that style and pushed it as far as we could.
This was a perfect opportunity to differentiate the game from the animated series by adding colour and introducing new characters.
Simon’s role could best be described as an Executive Art Director, explicitly overseeing and approving the visual style and character animation.Paul Smith
PG.biz - Are the Simon’s Cat games Tactile’s first projects with third-party IP? What other properties have you worked with?
Paul Smith - Yes, these are the first third-party products Tactile has created. However, the UK team (formerly Strawdog Studios) had a long history of making successful games based on existing brands, including Peppa Pig (Eone), Leapfrog, Mister Men, Eden (Channel 4), E.T.:The Green Planet (EA).
PG.biz - How did Tactile approach the complex areas of monetisation and user acquisition with such a well-loved brand? (Did you have to be careful around age ranges for example?)
Paul Smith - The Tactile studio in Copenhagen has a talented team of marketing and user acquisition (UA) experts who have complete control over that aspect of the games route to market. Since the company specialises in Match 3 games, insights and learnings can be shared across the entire game portfolio, and this is hugely valuable when integrating the monetisation strategy and marketing campaigns.
PG.biz - What are your plans for the future of the franchise? Are more games coming (or more content for the existing games)?
Paul Smith - Yes, more games are coming soon. We recently extended our Simon’s Cat license by a further six years and will continue to fully support our existing titles.
PG.biz - Are there other brands or pieces of Intellectual Property out there you’d love to work with?
Paul Smith - We have identified lots of IPs/Brands that resonate with our core audience. We are interested in brands that are character-based on an established global audience.
PG.biz - Are there plans to move beyond mobile or take Simon’s Cat into another (3rd) dimension?
Paul Smith - Mobile is the perfect platform for the IP; however, we have a close working relationship with Apple and would love to explore the Vision Pro and see how we can bring a match three experience to that platform.
Simon Tofield, the creator of Simon's Cat kindly agreed to answer some questions for PG.biz about his experience working with Tactile on the games featuring his favourite feline.
PG.biz - How have you found the move into the games world - and the hugely competitive mobile market? Has Simon’s Cat had a warm welcome in game form?
Simon Tofield - I’ve really enjoyed working on these mobile games. It’s allowed me to explore and further develop the cat’s universe and show more of his world. I know the fans of the animations have enjoyed this side of the gameplay and the depth it’s brought to the brand.
PG.biz - Has the process of creating games based on Simon’s Cat inspired you, or let you see the characters, environments and story-telling in a new way?
Simon Tofield - It’s been really useful for me working on these games, mainly because it’s forced me to think outside the box in regard to the cat’s world. In particular, it has been extremely helpful to figure out the terrain surrounding the cat’s house and all the characters that live in the surrounding neighbourhood and environments. For example, Mr Potts the angry, cat-hating gardener really came to life in the games. His character was created in a book, but exploring his personality in the games has been great fun and has led to many story ideas.
PG.biz - What have been the best parts of working on the games, or the things which have surprised you most?
Simon Tofield - My favourite thing about the game development process is the fact I can rough out an idea of a design and see it fully worked up and in the game a couple of weeks later. Traditional animation is often a very lengthy process with storyboards, animatics etc. So being able to see my imagination visualised in a game so quickly is a great buzz and it’s the thing I enjoy the most about this new medium.
PG.biz - What are your favourite games/genres - and could we see them creeping into the future of Simon’s Cat?
Simon Tofield - I’m a bit of an old-school gamer. My favourite genre of game is the first-person shooter, I’ve had great fun on Call of Duty and Halo. Funny enough I sometimes listen to the Halo soundtrack while working. However, I don’t think my tubby little cat will ever be seen in armour wasting bad guys, then again… I could be wrong!