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May 20 2021
Many of the world’s top intellectual properties (IPs) are increasingly being leveraged in the mobile games space, originating from sectors including film, comic books, and video games. Useful as a marketing tool, IP may become more important in a post-IDFA landscape where granular targeting is impossible.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Great intellectual property drives awareness and creates an instant emotional attachment with users. This helps in two concrete ways: (1) Apple and Google often feature IP-based titles in their app stores, and (2) people often search for the IP itself and can find such titles. When you market the title, consumers instantly recognize the brand and form an association with your game. This can significantly reduce your customer acquisition costs.
IP based on television shows often can be bundled with a promotion. This could mean commercial time, in-show mentions or a more comprehensive integration with the television show. This provides an easier and more cost-effective channel to market into, as the user is literally focused on that IP at that moment of time. It has the ability to cut through all of the clutter of marketing messages.
Building a game based on IP is a huge bet. And the stronger the IP's connection with your users, the more ROI there will be. So invest in your new partner's IP and help them grow. It will have a direct impact on your bottom line. Plan events together, and invest in introducing your user base (potentially even from other titles you have) to the new IP. Create materials and strategies for your IP partner to market, as well. This two-way street can pay off big time.
There are lots of match-3 titles based on known brands, but none of the top 10 games by revenue uses any third party IP. If you are working on a casual or hyper-casual game that barely features any story and character development, chances are you'll be just fine without an IP.
If, on the other hand, if you are developing a midcore RPG, you can benefit from storylines and lore offered by existing IPs. In fact, there are many more successful RPGs that are tied to a third party license than those that are not.
Another genre where using an IP makes perfect sense is location-based games. In the US, the top three titles in this genre are all based on popular franchises.
As mobile games industry revenue has skyrocketed, large IP-owners from “traditional” industries have swooped down for the spoils. As a result, licensing opportunities are rather plentiful. With this ample supply of IPs to use (at least for the bigger publishers), it's not always easy to find the right one for your game design.
We've already discussed how other genres are more suited for IP integration, but even with these “IP-synergetic” genres, the fit isn't always guaranteed. What you need to ask yourself is how well the IP you're licensing supports your game's feature-set.
For example, RPGs with a heavy focus on character collection & development features are much better off with an IP that comes with a wide range of distinguishable heroes and villains. Even better if they're tied together by rich background lore. This way, your meta and core layer features are aligned with and supported tremendously by the IP.
If you decide to go with an IP that lacks the things mentioned above, it won't reinforce your game's feature-set in a meaningful way. In all likelihood, this will lead to sub-optimal results.
The IP you chose should match the demographic appeal of your game. If you are making a midcore title with a heavy meta elements and complex UI/UX, you'd better stay clear of “casual” IPs.
Disney Sorcerer's Arena by GLU games, for example. Is it really such a good idea to use Mickey and Ariel in a midcore tactical battler? Tactical battlers should feature Iron Man or other Marvel characters, whose fans might enjoy a challenge. And the Mouse House audience will likely prefer a more casual gameplay.
The bottom line is that basing your game on a popular IP will definitely drive your sales if the game itself is high-quality.
But to get the optimal results, there are considerations you need to be aware of. And it's not just a list of items that you want to tick off. All these aspects are interconnected, so you need to approach the IP synergy as a whole.
This third and final point touches probably the most obvious effect of brands and IPs in games. When you decide to go down the path of licensing, you're pretty much locking down major aspects relating to story and art elements.
This reflects on your title's demographic appeal, which in turn is something to keep in mind when designing your feature-set (and choosing the game's genre).
If the IP you are sticking with doesn't fit the demographic appeal of your game mechanics & genre, the outcome probably won't shoot through the charts. In other words, it's not enough that you have an “IP-synergetic” genre like RPG or Strategy.
Not even if the IP supports your feature-set with, for example, lots of characters backed by rich lore and story elements. The IP should also appeal to people who enjoy your title from a purely game-play perspective. This is not to say that a Harry Potter 4X strategy game will fail with 100% certainty.
However, it's not easy to find players who love all things Hogwarts AND can't get enough of extremely aggressive & complex 4X gaming. So even if the IP integrates well with your game design and features, make sure it also appeals to the same people who enjoy the game-play.
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