As the biggest entertainment medium in the world, video game licenses are often overlooked by the industry at large. Dan Amos, head of new media at dedicated game licensing agency Tinderbox which now represents such franchises as Call of Duty and Halo is here to tell you why its time to start paying attention.
What is the ethos of Tinderbox?
It always feels like a confessional when talking about the beginnings of Tinderbox and its ethos. I’ve been a huge video game fan from a young age so I’m sure in part this had a major hand in the division’s development — sometimes I do have to remind myself that I’m working. My fandom aside, Tinderbox was set up as a division of Beanstalk to fulfil the growing market need for a specialised, experienced licensing agency that would cater to those brands born in the digital space. At the time of creating Tinderbox, the licensing industry had begun to see the rise of the app game as a genuine contender to traditional entertainment properties. I wanted to provide a licensing service to videogame franchises, digital brands and streamed content – in truth, the content my own children are consuming more so than what I’d consider ‘traditional’ entertainment. This began with representing mobile apps and social networks, and grew into relationships with some of the biggest videogame franchises in the world.
The ethos hasn’t changed — we want to work with digital brands that have a connection with their audience, as this to me is one of the most exciting things about videogames. The sizeable, engaged and dedicated communities they create.
What franchises do you work with?
Currently, Tinderbox represents multiple video game franchises, from the established and iconic to the developing and as yet unknown. It’s particularly exciting to see a video game develop but it’s even more so when you can play a part in building the community through consumer products.
Under the Microsoft Studios umbrella, Tinderbox represents several franchises including the 15-year cultural touchstone Halo. Currently developed by 343 Industries, Halo continues to inspire generations of gamers whilst extending far beyond the core video game through comics, novels, animation and film. In addition, Microsoft’s critically acclaimed race title Forza Motorsport has seen extensions in apparel, cult-classic Killer Instinct has seen long-awaited action figures, and the in-development Sea of Thieves coming from industry legends Rare Studios will launch alongside a range of consumer products.
More recently we have begun to support Activision’s Call of Duty, a truly massive franchise known to gamers and non-gamers alike. Call of Duty was 2016’s No.1 top-selling console video game franchise worldwide for the seventh time in the last eight years, and continues to be a pop culture juggernaut worldwide. Tinderbox will be extending Call of Duty into a broad range of categories and distribution channels throughout Europe.
What have been some of your biggest projects?
Aside from securing some of my all-time favourite video games as clients, working on promising new IP such as Sea of Thieves to develop a full range of product that supports the community is really rewarding. We have worked closely with Microsoft’s Rare Studios to secure key partners across a range of categories that I’m sure will delight the Sea of Thieves fans and I can’t wait to share. That, and a near life-size Halo Master Chief helmet that doubles as a Bluetooth speaker!
How does Tinderbox approach working with a new client?
The importance of community is paramount to our current Tinderbox video game clients and the strategy we undertake for each takes this into consideration. Beanstalk has nearly three decades of brand extension experience, working with some of the world’s most recognised global brands, and it is by leveraging this experience that Tinderbox is able to tailor strategic licensing plans to our client’s needs. Whether a client has an established licensing programme and the need is further territorial expansion, or it’s a new IP with no retail presence that requires a comprehensive strategy to support its own retail development, Tinderbox will be on hand to provide this insight. The scale of today’s video game franchises both in their size of audience and influence often sees similar attributes to that of major global brands, however the approach to licensing is always unique to the franchise.
Now that Tinderbox is representing Call of Duty, what could the series’ return to the World War II setting mean for licensing opportunities?
Call of Duty is one of the most iconic video game franchises in history. Its reach extends into the fabric of pop-culture with references in all forms of media, globally. With the recent announcement of the series returning to World War II, I anticipate interest in the franchise to extend beyond that of its core demographic. This may mean opportunities to broaden the franchise into new categories and new channels of distribution beyond that of video games. A non-gamer audience interested in Activision’s authentic and accurate portrayal of history will become new potential consumers of Call of Duty licensed products. Call of Duty WWII promises to be one of the biggest launches in the franchise to date and will more than capture the same exposure as a major blockbuster film release. I foresee retail placement for the franchise extending far beyond specialty.
Your Halo portfolio includes toys and apparel. Is toys an area that you feel is relatively untapped by gaming properties? Is this an area you plan to focus on with other franchises?
Videogame apparel is beginning to secure retail placement beyond specialty and gaming channels, as audiences become broader than the core fan. I foresee video game apparel continuing to broaden its appeal with a number of fashion retailers already seeing its potential, and it will certainly continue to be a focus for Tinderbox clients. With the toy category, it is dependent on the game property under consideration and its audience. Halo as a 15-year franchise has spanned generations — I obsessively played Halo 2 and now my own son obsessively plays Halo 5. The opportunity to develop Halo consumer products that appeal both to a core adult gamer audience, as well as in the case of Halo, an emerging younger fan, is hugely rewarding as well as brand building. Where a video game property has the right audience, but importantly attributes that can be translated into product, we will consider the toy category. One related area that appeals across video game properties regardless of audience are limited edition collectables — products considered pieces of video game history.
You have also worked with upcoming game Sea of Thieves. How does working on a new unreleased IP differ from working on a well-established brand like Halo?
Both are exciting IP’s to work on and both require a tailored approach. With Halo, there is a franchise history with a dedicated fan base and existing partners to consider. Everything Tinderbox does to support the team at 343 Industries needs to be supportive of the existing programme. With Sea of Thieves, we are working with Rare to create the consumer products programme. This means understanding the long-term strategy of the game to ensure consumer products support this. Identifying categories that help develop or reinforce a story yet to be told are important, as are partners that support a gaming launch by amplifying marketing. Ultimately, the difference is the timing at which separate categories will receive consumer permission.
What inroads is Tinderbox making to the eSports industry?
Tinderbox is absolutely making inroads into the eSports industry, through several of our clients who have longstanding ties to the eSports community, but also through leagues, teams and personalities. The phenomenon of eSports is becoming harder to ignore for mainstream media, with the rise of televised tournaments, dedicated eSports media and even the NBA team owners investing. We are a short distance from an eSports consumer products presence at general retail. I look forward to sharing Tinderbox’s progress in this space soon!
How does the audience for eSports differ from that of single player and casual games?
There is actually little difference — the competitive nature of video games has always been present. The rise in popularity of ‘speedruns’, where players compete to complete a single player game in the fastest time possible shows that neither the age of a game (often older iterations of titles on older consoles are most popular) and lack of multiplayer are barriers to competitive gaming. Community is the red thread that runs through video games both in and out of eSports.
Anything to add?
It’s truly fantastic to see the rise of video games in pop culture both as an art form but also as a preferred choice of entertainment. As video games become increasingly more mainstream, the growing presence of video games in the licensing industry is clear, with more properties than ever present at events such as Licensing Expo and Brand Licensing Europe. I’m looking forward to seeing more video game products at retail as well as sharing our own Tinderbox client’s offerings with fans.