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IP licensing for games: How to profit from brand injections

Yodo1's Yu Huan Mirko explores how partnering with IP owners can benefit your studio

By leveraging brand injections, IP holders and game developers have the possibility to reach an expanded audience by integrating multiple branded elements in already established games.

These can include iconic characters, stories, music, and other features, which can be enjoyed by the players as new exciting content that will further increase their engagement with the brand and the game.

As a short-term commitment for both developers and IP owners, brand injections offer a swift and easy access to the world of IP licensing and its benefits.

Through years of partnership with IP holders such as Hasbro, Yodo1 is licensed to help studios access world-class IP such as Transformers, My Little Pony, Monopoly, Play-Doh, and Blythe, and to amplify games with brand injections or partner with studios to create new IP-based titles.

To get started in the promising field of brands in games, here are five steps you can follow.

1. Prepare your game to profit from a brand injection

Before even thinking about finding IP for your video game, you have to make sure your title is ready. That means having a strong backbone of monetization, structure, and user retention.

An IP collaboration acts more as a catalyst to make a great title even more successful

You can improve in these areas with an optimal game monetization strategy, a technically sound game, and the right tools to engage and retain your players.

An IP collaboration, rather than giving you the base upon which to build your game, acts more as a catalyst to make a great title even more successful. If your game doesn't have the backbone it needs, you might not be able to take full advantage of the opportunities a brand injection presents.

However, if you have time- and market-tested retention, a solid technical structure, and great monetization potential but are encountering a slowdown in the growth of your game, a brand injection can be exactly what you need to regain momentum.

2. Consider your genre when looking for IP

Next, when looking for IP, you have to consider what will and won't work with your game type and theme.

Not all mobile games will produce good results with an IP injection: outcomes are contingent on the game's genre and theme, your audience, and the type and size of the IP.

Depending on the content an IP has to offer, certain game genres can be more likely to bring out the best of both sides and generate substantial results.

  • Action role-playing games

For example, a mobile Mecha Battle ARPG game called Iron Saga launched a collaboration with Netflix's Ultraman anime series and achieved great success because the sci-fi show -- packed with extraordinary superheroes -- fits naturally with the game's genre and story. Such a cohesive pairing made for smooth IP integration.

  • MOBA and fighting games

Another success story comes from the collaboration between Mobile Legends and King of Fighter: since fighting games and MOBA both have a players-versus-players core, they complement each other very well.

A fighting game's IP will often feature numerous well-defined characters, complete with special skills, movements, and effects, such that MOBA game designers will likely find their brands easy to inject.

  • Hypercasuals

On the other hand, when it comes to the hypercasual genre, IP injections can be more complicated. Simple gameplay and graphics, plus a reliance on ad monetization, make it difficult for these titles to achieve profits with brand-related in-app purchases -- which is the most common and effective way to capitalize on IP injections.

Additionally, when a game has a short life cycle -- which hypercasuals do, compared to mid- and hardcore video games -- it's difficult to deliver worthwhile benefits and exposure to the brand. In short, it's all about finding the right combination.

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3. Research the IP's reach and potential

Having prepared your game and considered the best match based on your genre, it's time to thoroughly research the IP itself: its fanbase, its reach, and how much the brand owner is still investing in keeping it alive and thriving.

Strong IP has the potential to win over players who have never heard of your game. You can take advantage of the loyal fanbase built by the licensor and increase traffic to your title simply by the power of brand affinity.

This, coupled with digital marketing campaigns, can spark unprecedented community engagement in the game, on social media, and across video platforms -- among established players and those attracted through the brand.

For example, a recent TikTok promotion video about the My Little Pony and Mini World brand injection achieved the highest 2020 engagement rate the game has experienced so far -- proving that the right brand injection approach can propel your game to new highs.

The right brand can also create new promotional opportunities for you and your game -- for example, organizing offline brand-related events that can further multiply your exposure.

4. Match your game to the brand audience

Having researched and chosen a fitting brand, you will also need to consider whether its fans will enjoy your gameplay: if it's not what they're into, it won't win them over.

Consider the recent Tom and Jerry game created by NetEase. Since this fun and quirky IP caters to a casual audience, it wouldn't make much sense to implement hardcore-game mechanics. That would only put off the show's biggest fans.

Using IP for children also requires your game to be in strict compliance with data tracking and reporting rules

We also need to factor in the age group a brand injection is targeting and consider how to make your game mechanics match.

For example, if you've selected an IP that appeals strongly to children, such as My Little Pony, you should design your gameplay in a way that is easy for them to understand and enjoy. Using IP for children also requires your game to be in strict compliance with data tracking and reporting rules.

IPs that are popular with children can be immensely valuable to companies in the game industry because children will trust the video games their parents hand over to them, and parents will trust the IP of internationally-recognized cartoons and toy brands.

This is especially true for those with positive values and educational elements.

5. Let the brand enhance your game

With IP holders keen on opportunities to collaborate, large game publishers and developers who take the above advice into account can easily find the right IP to give their titles even more traction.

For example, because RPG games often center around character growth, specialized weapons, and rich backstories, you can enhance their gameplay with IP that features well-loved heroes and notorious villains. When doing so, you'll want to reflect their personal histories and characteristics in your gameplay to immerse players in the plot.

Another example of brand integration done well comes from Chinese developer MiniWan. It's sandbox game Mini World executed a beautiful showcase of the Transformers brand.

With Yodo1's creative help, a pixelated representation of these robot characters was crafted to fit the game's art. The IP injection team took inspiration from the 1984 animated Transformers series to make the immersion even more authentic.

Complete with sleek graphics and sound effects, players can now purchase MiniWan's branded skins and convert in the game at any time -- enjoying a high-quality, brand-enhanced gaming experience.

In recent years, we have seen third-party IP licensing yield notable results in the mobile game market. That being said, you have to know which type of intellectual property will best fit your game's characteristics, as well as how to approach holders of intellectual property and how to integrate the brand into your game theme, products, and gameplay mechanisms.

But if you pay attention to the principles above and find a match-up where brand and game complement each other, both parties will benefit.

Yu Huan Mirko is the international PR manager of Yodo1, content creator and editor in charge of all the company publications. Yodo1 is a game platform company that helps developers better market, manage, and monetize their games. Our AI-powered tools and global expertise in areas such as mobile advertising, community management, and digital IP licensing enable partners to increase playtime, revenue, and retention. Our vision is to open the world of gaming success to anyone with the talent to develop. To learn more, visit www.yodo1.com and follow us on LinkedIn.

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