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How to bring blockbuster brands to the gaming world

Outright Games on three key principles that can bring success when working with major licenses

Successfully bringing well-loved characters from cinema and television to games has been a tough challenge for developers and publishers to crack, but these titles are now beginning to find their place. The reveal of Hogwarts Legacy in the PlayStation 5 showcase turned a lot of heads last year, and Hitman developer IO Interactive teased a brand new James Bond game, which immediately created a huge groundswell of hype.

Since 2017, we've seen an uptick in the number of media and entertainment companies -- spanning toys, board games, film, TV and more -- looking to cross over into the games industry. These businesses can ensure these projects are a success by leaning on the expertise of existing games publishers, avoiding the learning curve of setting up their own studios, and getting their games to market faster. With the entertainment and media industry going through a challenging period, gaming can provide a much needed financial win for consumer product departments in these organisations.

Gaming can provide a much needed financial win for media and entertainment organisations

The benefits for game developers and publishers that establish these sorts of partnerships are clear. Having a brand already established for your game is an invaluable marketing asset. You have an immediately recognisable world and set of characters which will already have resonance with a traditional gaming audience, as well as the attention of a wider consumer base that usually falls outside of the games industry. But how do you start having these conversations?

Here are a few top tips for publishers and developers who have identified opportunities in this area, and want to know how to get started.

Network, network, network

In this industry, a great business opportunity is worthless until you are able to talk to the right person. To get cut-through, making yourself a recognisable face is essential. The two main methods of doing this are networking through organised events and social media presence.

Firstly, understanding the key trade shows in your area and attending these is essential. Even in their current online format, events which organise alternative methods of networking will be important. Conferences such as GDC in San Francisco, SPOBIS Gaming & Media in Cologne, and the Las Vegas Licensing Show have the most impact for games publishers looking to open conversations with licensors. Attending events in 2020 became tricky for obvious reasons, but having a presence at core industry events will continue to be a must on the other side of the pandemic.

Having a presence at industry events will be a must on the other side of the pandemic

Secondly, LinkedIn is an incredibly powerful tool to build connections in the right places and to have conversations when not possible in person. It is important to set yourself regular, achievable goals when it comes to networking. For example, try setting an initial target of finding five people per day to introduce yourself to, and see how you can build your contact book from there. It is important at the beginning stage to open with a softer introduction. Hard selling tactics tend to put people off, and having light, open conversations is a much more productive way to build relationships in the media industry.

Prioritise passion over numbers

The first thing any media organisation will want to cover is the business opportunity at stake when allowing a publisher or developer to take the reins of their property and build it into a game. Having an understanding of the market size, the fiscal return, and other benefits is essential, but getting too wrapped up in the numbers can be a critical error. It is vital to identify projects that you're passionate about and demonstrate that passion at every stage of the pitching and production process.

One of the major concerns for a media organisation is ensuring that a partner will protect the reputation of the brand and create a game that will be well received by its target audience. To put these fears to rest early on, you need to show that you are as invested in the growth and direction of their media property as they are, and have a deep understanding of their audience.

Hogwarts Legacy is one of a wave of ambitious licensed games that are currently in development

You could give any media company a run of the mill concept for say, a Mario Kart style racing title, and in practice it might work as a game concept. However, it'll likely get you nowhere if it doesn't gel naturally and organically with the licensed property. To succeed you need to really understand the franchise you're making into an interactive experience, and how best to bring that vision to life.

Open communication and collaboration

Once you have the initial buy-in from a licensor, building a productive, longstanding relationship is reliant on open communication both ways. This is especially true in the initial stages of operation -- being able to show what the future holds to licensors will likely be your biggest challenge.

An understanding of market size, the fiscal return, and other benefits is essential, but getting too wrapped up in the numbers can be a critical error

Publishers must give the licensors a clear indication of what to expect, from the upside to licensing, the production timeline, forecasts for years two and three, the expected financial results, and so on. The key to delivering this is through open and honest communication, allowing your partners to trust your judgement and pull from the experience of the team around you. Establishing trust is important, and builds the foundation for a smooth development process and successful launch.

To hit the desired level of success, publishers, their developers, and the licensors need to be able to work to their strengths. If we look back at the example of IO Interactive's upcoming James Bond game, we can see elements found in this partnership that demonstrate, in a very clear way, how a licensor and developer can work well in parallel with each other.

MGM can lean on IO's expertise in making stealth action games, a genre it is renowned for and that perfectly compliments the James Bond media property. On a technical level IO can also leverage its proprietary Glacier game engine, which it has refined and perfected over the last 22 years. What MGM brings to the table is a successful track record in building and maintaining hype around the 007 brand. The challenges it has overcome to ensure the marketing and hype around the next film in the franchise, No Time To Die, plays nicely with the publicity of IO's recently announced title, and will be key to its success.

Bringing blockbusters to life

In the future we will undoubtedly see an increase in the number of media properties crossing into the games industry space, as well as an improvement in the quality and depth of these titles.

We have seen enormous growth in the licensed kids' gaming market this year, which we anticipate will continue exponentially. The likes of Harry Potter, Spider-Man and Project 007 signal that this trend will permeate the older demographic gaming market as well.

Terry Malham-Wallis is business development and licensing manager at Outright Games

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