It hasn’t been by accident that, over the course of the last one year and ten months, the tabletop gaming juggernaut, Ravensburger, has found itself at the centre of a far greater narrative on the global licensing space.
It’s actually been a focal point for the company, and one that culminated with a major Game of the Year win for its popular Disney Villainous board game – a game that puts players in control of the Disney Universe’s most wicked – that in just under one year has shifted more than 350,000 copies to board gaming fans worldwide.
In little under two years, and under the leadership of Ravensburger’s North American CEO, Filip Francke, the company has grown its licensed games offering by 26 per cent, now working with some of the biggest names in entertainment, including Disney, Universal, Google, and Porsche.
For this 135 year old toy, game and puzzles specialist, licensing presents an area of “huge potential,” to build on a success that has already allowed Ravensburger to expand its operations in the sector, from in-house design and development to marketing and plenty inbetween. Licensing.biz catches up CEO, Francke to learn more…
Can you talk us through the strength of Ravensburger’s licensed games portfolio? How has this grown over the past year and what’s driven this growth?
Ravensburger’s approach to licensing has always been tightly connected to the values of our company. For the past 135 years, Ravensburger has built toys and games for “the hand, the head and the heart.” This philosophy ensures that a consumer of a Ravensburger licensed game will enjoy an immersive game experience. Not only do we want you to live the IP, we aim to have you come back and experience the game over and over again. Re-playability is a core principle of our products, whether they are licensed or non-licensed products.
That said, it’s not surprising that our stable of license partners has expanded over the years. When we establish the team needed with a license partner, both on game development and on joint launch and marketing, we consider our licensed games as license property brand equity building.
Many in the market see licensing so often as a cash grab, but we see licensed games as an asset and extension of our shared brand promise around immersive storytelling, play and experience.
How does this now position Ravensburger in that licensed games market? How integral has this aspect now become to the overall business?
We have recently decided to streamline the positioning of the brands in our portfolio. For example, Wonder Forge will stay true to its original DNA and focus solely on licensed games for pre-schoolers and children.
Licensing opportunities for Ravensburger, which we consider our mother brand, will mainly target older children through adults. Licensing here will focus on building exciting new franchises and broadening classic titles like Labyrinth.
Ravensburger has experienced several years of double-digit growth, fuelled in large part by licensed games. 2018 in particular launched several big hits: Jurassic Park: Danger! was a runaway hit (Universal really understands the importance of marketing collaboration). Then, of course we won the Game of the Year with Disney Villainous, with more than 350,000 units sold to date.
This year, we’re excited to offer new immersive titles like Jaws, Universal Monsters: Horrified and also added to the Villainous franchise with Disney Villainous: Wicked to the Core.
What plans have you got to continue the momentum in this space – can we expect to see further AAA licenses coming on board?
Today, consumers are looking for comfort, connection and fun, and it’s not hard to understand why given our sometimes-frantic lifestyles. We’re looking for familiar or nostalgic titles that offer comfort, and a reason to gather and connect. So, we aim to become even more authentic, immersive and re-playable in our next game experiences.
How have you guys been adapting to the changing retail landscape – is the growth in the licensed games space a reflection of the strategy here?
We believe in storytelling and we have found many retailer partners who are willing to tell stories together with us. Licensing in particular allows for hyper-targeted digital video marketing where we, together with the retailer, can reach the IP’s core fans in a very powerful way.
On that note, we have taken a successful page from the movie industry when it comes to building buzz pre- launch. We now try to launch every big new game with a trailer – a video that makes you want to know more.
What do you make of the health of the licensing space – are we seeing some good entertainment properties coming through?
There are so many fun fanbases and going forward, we’re focusing less on new releases and looking more at the fan base. How you reach and engage with the fans, and how you give a fantastic, unexpected and authentic experience they will enjoy. Those fans are the heart of any licensed property, which means the market is ripe for the right game that transports players with original art, immersive storyline and inventive game mechanics.
What’s that process of bringing these big entertainment properties into the gaming world like? What are the challenges?
Successfully bringing AAA licenses to the tabletop takes more collaboration than ever before, and shared and supported vision with your big entertainment partner. Can we make something special happen together, something unexpected? We are great at producing fantastic game experiences, but we need a partner that allows that special idea to form.
What’s next for Ravensburger in this licensed gaming space? How do you guys build on that success from here?
We will continue to work with our marquee partners like Disney, Universal, Porsche and more to create inventive and immersive game play experiences. We will look to expand those partnership into other properties.
For example, we added ThinkFun to our Ravensburger family in 2017 and its multi-million-unit properties like RushHour, Zingo and Maze Series have never been licensed. We’re excited to see what opportunities we can find for these titles. We see many relevant licensees that in a very authentic way can be represented in ThinkFun’s values.
We see immense opportunity in the licensed market – bringing beloved characters, favourite bad guys, and reimagined storylines wrapped in original art for a one-of-a-kind, immersive game play experience.