“Licences are absolutely vital in this market because on the iPhone, it’s all about the front page," explains Gerry Whiteside, co-director of P2 Games, software developer and licensee.
"If you’re not in the Top 25 then you’ve got a problem."
Prior to its App Store venture, the Kent-based publisher's main business was done on the Nintendo platforms. An Entertainment One partner, P2 has shipped six Peppa Pig titles; three on the DS and three on the Wii.
Now, however, sales of Nintendo hardware and software are down 40 per cent, Whiteside estimates. Not wanting to fall victim to the downturn, P2 has turned its hand to app-making, with licences still at the heart of its new business model.
The vast majority of App Store users browse for new software in the Top 25 section, because whatever other people are downloading must be good, right?
To achieve a coveted Top 25 spot, many app makers sell their apps at the 59p price point. The aim is to get the product installed on as many iPhones as possible, hoping to generate a word-of-mouth buzz, propelling the app into the Top 25 - the shop window where downloads are virtually garunteed.
Licensing means that P2 doesn’t have to play that game.
Upon the launch of its first Peppa app, entitled Polly Parrot, P2 thought hard about pricing. "We could either go in free, at 59p, £1.19 or £1.79,” says Whiteside. “We decided that the brand value of Peppa is such that we should be at the highest price we can (£1.79). If you go and buy a Peppa magazine in the shop it’s going to cost £2.99 or £3.99. Why would you want to devalue the brand by selling an app at 59p?"
There are two benefits from the licences – P2 can collect more revenue from higher prices because of Peppa’s huge popularity and still amass the necessary downloads to ensure the game becomes a 'top' app. For Whiteside, in a highly competitive market like the App Store, brand recognition is indeed "vital".
"A factor for me is that the icons are quite small, so for parents and kids to recognise your app you've got to have something that is instantly recognisable. It's all about that little icon." Since December last year, P2’s Peppa Pig games, Polly Parrot and Little Mrs Chicken, have garnered over 200,000 downloads.
"Peppa’s been a real stalwart for us," Whiteside says, and cites eOne’s support as key to the success of its brands. The licensor is very active in encouraging its partners to work with each other where possible.
Whiteside reveals: “It's a very big objective of theirs. You have to do these kinds of things to get the most out of the brand. This type of cooperation means we get more coverage for our product, and there's so much opportunity for cross promotions."
eOne hosts regular partner days once, if not twice a year, where they "bring everyone together and present their plans for the brand."
A great example of this was the opening of Peppa Pig World at Paultons Park; P2 was able to get its Peppa Pig Theme Park Fun DS game ready in time to sell at the theme park on the day, thanks to cooperation organised by the licensor.
"This was worked in conjunction with eOne and Paultons to launch the game two days before they opened Peppa Pig World. It worked beautifully. One of our key strengths is that we work very hard behind the scenes with the other licensees,” Whiteside enthuses.
Although undoubtedly blessed with a first-class licence, eOne’s community ethos and careful planning has clearly been a huge benefit to its partners.
"It is hard work and I don't think a lot of brands are prepared to put in the effort,” Whiteside concludes.
In order to win a licence, Whiteside believes that researching and respecting the brand is necessary to ensure the product meets the standards of not only the licensor, but the fans.
"Licensors can be very particular about the style and content of games you may want to release. This can also add considerable time delays to the process but is absolutely necessary to ensure brand values are not compromised."
Firstly, Whiteside says, the animation needs to be spot on, it's important that the game looks and feels like an interactive episode, because that's what fans are looking for. "It’s no good if the child is going to think, 'This is not what it looks like on the TV.'"
When researching Humf, P2 staff watched around 40 five-minute episodes of the show to get ideas for content. In the case of Peppa, memorable moments from favourite episodes are interwoven into the games.
"There are some classic elements of Peppa that we’ve incorporated. In fact, the whole of Happy Mrs Chicken, which was the first app we did, was based around a computer game that featured in several episodes of Peppa Pig."
And do the games need to have any educational value?
"One of the key elements of Peppa is that she's not an educational brand. eOne are very specific about this – they want her to be a fun brand. There is a little learning on the way, but that shouldn't replace the fun element."
At the time of writing, in the Kids’ games category, 13 of the Top 25 are licensed titles, with the likes of Harry Potter, WWE, In the Night Garden and Lego present.
P2’s Peppa apps, Happy Mrs Chicken and Polly Parrot, occupy the fourth and fifth spots respectively, while Humf sits at number ten. A testament to the firm’s confidence in licensing is its portfolio of in-development games.
Of over 20 in the in the works, only a few are original IPs. One of those is called Happily Ever After, and features a cast of fairy-tale characters.
With Nintendo sales slowing down, licences have turned app development into realistic revenue stream for this pre-school game developer.
As Whiteside says: "Licensing allows P2 to plan and deliver results in the market."
This year, P2 has a strong list of titles set for release. From eOne there is Peppa Pig’s Party Time, Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom and Humf Playtime; Postman Pat, Guess with Jess and Tinga Tinga Tales from Classic Media; Tracy Beaker from Start Licensing, and from JCB, the JCB Older Boys App and My 1st JCB.
"Our objective for the end of this year is to try and own the top ten," says Whiteside – and with that range of pre-school licences, his goal looks achievable.