Asmodee’s licensing game: “It’s about time this happened, the fans out there are starving for stuff”

“The world is going to look very different now that Asmodee – one of the biggest players in the board gaming sector – is very actively pushing into licensing,” Alexander Thieme, manager of licensed publishing and consumer products, Asmodee Entertainment, promises.

The board game giant kicked off October with a show of force when it entered Festival of Licensing’s European leg with a tranche of partnership announcements covering both its hobby gaming portfolio and publishing imprint Aconyte Books.

Tapping into a fanbase and core audience of gamers and pop culture fans that are “positively starving for Asmodee licensing,” all of a sudden, the international hobby gaming specialist was landing graphic novel deals with CMON, bringing its artwork to the fore in pop culture collaborations, and partnering with the major entertainment studio, Ubisoft, to develop novels based on some of the largest video gaming IP on the planet.

Alexander Thieme, licensing manager of publishing and consumer products, Asmodee Entertainment

Yet while it may seem there’s not been a day over the last two weeks that a new development hasn’t emerged from Asmodee Entertainment, Thieme confidently informs us this is just the beginning.

“It’s about time this happened,” he tells Licensing.biz. “The fans out there are hungry, they are starving for stuff. Whenever I talk to fans and tell that I do the licensing, I ask them what they are looking for – is it comics, is it this, or that? And they bite my hand off. They are really crazy for it right now.

“But it’s the truth to say that we are just getting started.”

And that must be music to the ears. As dedication to a cause goes, you’ll find few more resolute than the tabletop gaming audience and the connection they have with their favourite titles. Yet, for so long, this has been a vastly under-served, if not, unrecognised market. With tabletop, hobby, and board gaming reaching new global heights, Asmodee Entertainment is on a mission to change all of that.

“I was part of the inventory at Games Workshop for many years, and I know the fanbase and the depths of their immersion,” says Thieme. “But I was surprised at how strong the connection is here, between fans and their board game titles.

“Arkham Horror is one of those that I am just super fascinated with how positive or how engaged the fans are when we announce something. It is incredible, they just pour out their love. The trick now is to find the right partners that are willing to jump into the boat with us.”

This will be Thieme’s remit. In the ten short months since he joined the board gaming giant, he has already seen this side to the business begin to flourish. The formation of Aconyte Books last has been an ace up the sleeve for the games publisher, having given the company a swinging door through which to license in and license out. It’s allowed the company to align itself with major entertainment companies such as Marvel and Ubisoft, as well as a platform from which it can propel titles like Twilight Imperium or Arkham Horror outside of the board game space.

“For me,” says Thieme, “as much as Asmodee’s statement is that there is a game for every gamer, I believe that here, there is a brand for every licensee. It’s about finding the right commercial endeavours.

“Dobble behaves very differently and has different opportunities to Arkham Horror. Catan is a beautiful hybrid of a mass market casual game and a super-ingrained hobby game. All of this produces very distinct audiences and very distinct opportunities.”

It’s just a matter of unearthing them. And that is what excites Thieme the most. His is a vision for Asmodee Entertainment unburdened by limitations of the IP. His is a belief that the opportunities are boundless, and that the success can be big. Bigger even than video gaming.

“How far can the medium be taken into licensing? That’s a simple answer,” he says. “Look at other media, such as video games, and how they are branching out. We have three licensing managers here at Asmodee; me for publishing and consumer products, a licensing manager for interactive games – so we can do interactive licensing next to us having our own publisher, and we have someone in Los Angeles talking television and film.

“There is no segment or category that won’t work. Of course, it won’t be everything for all of it. Dobble as a movie will not work. Dobble in a TV show… that can work. Dobble in apparel? Absolutely. Dobble in publishing? Oh yes. Comics or a Dobble Kids’ magazine? Hell yes.

The chances that Asmodee has as a licensor are gigantic. But it is early days right now; we are getting the first people in the boat and getting the market used to the idea that there is more to a board game than just rolling a dice. Customers and consumers are emotionally linked to them.”

What is intrinsic to Asmodee’s output is its storytelling. The board gaming scene thrives off its immersive storytelling; it’s ability to bring an audience one level deeper into a narrative by having them play a role within it. Of course, you can argue that video games do it just as well. Thieme will argue back that what analogue gaming delivers, however, is a social, shared-experience of living a narrative together.

“There’s a social story happening with every board game,” he explains. “I and many others find stories in board games that we remember for the rest of our lives. These social stories are extremely strong, and strong for licensing because what you want is a brand that someone will wear in their heart.

“Board games are in the home, on the table and a part of your life, more so, I would say, than digital games. You see the people around you. You have a drink with them, it’s a shared experience and it creates social fabric, and this is the canvass that we paint the licensing programme on.”

It’s with this that Asmodee Entertainment can start to have fun with the licensing endeavours it embarks upon. Over the coming months or years, promises Thieme, fans will begin to see what he calls ‘licensing with secret handshakes,’ or ‘guerrilla licensing’; the kind that will nod to the internal jokes or idiosyncrasies found in individual gaming titles.

“I call them the secret handshake of the geek, the kind where you’ll have just a symbol on a hat or something subtle,” says Thieme. “Of course you’ll have more obvious ones, but games like Arkham Horror or Pandemic are good for those idiosyncrasies.

“I think this will all be very welcomed. I think there has been a media fatigue in licensing and people are looking to break the monotony and be more dynamic. It’s why I can assure you, Asmodee Entertainment has plenty more to come.”

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of Licensing.biz and ToyNews. Hutchins has worked his way up from Staff Writer to the position of Editor across the two titles, having spent some six years with both ToyNews and Licensing.biz, and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing robert.hutchins@bizmedia.co.uk or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobHutchins3 if ranting is your thing...

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