VIDEO GAMES MONTH: The power of the licence

Of all the weapons that video games publishers yearn to have in their arsenal when it comes to releasing a new game, a strong licence remains perhaps the most fearsome.
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Strong IP and a loyal fanbase are hugely important, of course, but the marketing opportunities afforded by a strong brand open doors that perhaps no other USP can budge.

However, while it was once the case that successfully acquiring a licence itself guaranteed a certain level of success, in recent times things haven’t been quite as simple. Licensed titles have, among some followers of gaming at least, a somewhat sullied reputation – for every good use of a licence you’ll find two games that weren’t seen to be up to scratch.

But that does not in any way mean the licence is old news – it simply means that games companies are having to think a bit harder about how they use them. Is this the dawn of ‘astute marketing’?

“I think you've hit the nail on the head and coined a brand new marketing buzzword there,” Sony UK’s head of PR David Wilson tells sister title MCV. “I think PlayStation is certainly not about licensing for licensing sake. That is an accusation that could perhaps have been levelled at the industry in the past and has been responsible for the poor reputation that licensed product has acquired for being quickly produced and poor quality cash-ins.

“Our strategy relates specifically to the product in question – so with our best selling franchise Gran Turismo you can see that it is a given that the target demographic will demand the inclusion of licensed vehicles, manufacturers and circuits. The addition of BBC Top Gear content through the Gran Turismo TV offering is a further creative use of a complimentary licence.”

Associating a brand with your product instantly allows it to reach a far wider audience than it otherwise could – both by virtue of the fact that more eyes will take a second look at it, and also because more outlets show interest in giving pace on their shelves.

“I think it definitely gives us an edge,” Warner’s UK marketing boss Phil Lamb says of his company’s recently released Speed Racer. “As this is a strong family brand the theatrical division is using the High Street and grocery retail arena to promote it beyond just games sections and drive purchases on all levels.

“We can take advantage of cross-divisional synergies and combine trade activities with our consumer products division to ensure that the brand gets plenty of high-end visibility. The other great benefit is that this opportunity is not just restricted to the film release period – we can take advantage of the DVD launch later in the product cycle.”

Such is the power of the licence that publishers who once relied solely on hardcore-centric console or arcade gaming market are now vying for the rights to licenses from all sorts of sources. Take Konami, for instance – it made its name with titles such as 2D shooters Gradius and Frogger, but its early ‘90s success with arcade outings for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Simpsons brought with it a new dawn for the company. Now licensed property sits alongside core hits such as Metal Gear Solid and Pro Evolution Soccer.

“Provided the character is a strong one, there are no disadvantages to working with a licence,” Konami product manager Martine Saunders tells MCV in relation to the firm’s Hellboy: The Science of Evil. “We have been given a long leash to produce a game based on the strongest attributes of the character and series, and the results are as high as we expected.”

But perhaps the most interesting element of games licensing is not simply the licenses that have been given the gaming treatment – instead it’s the game that have rose to dominance purely because of the marketing insight of the games companies involved.

“SingStar is a franchise that has a unique position,” Sony’s Wilson adds. “It helps improve your singing with live feedback rather than being (just) a drunken karaoke sing-along. But also the inclusion of music and music video from actual artists is a USP – so again the licensing element is intrinsic and essential and a large contributor into what makes the SingStar franchise so successful.

“Given that SingStar has been a pioneering product, the negotiations in the licensing of these music properties have been critical as they set a precedent for future discussions and the process has consequently been protracted – and not something readily understood by some of the fans of the series. But the beauty of the SingStar franchise is that it has a very large and passionate community that surrounds it. The response so far from that community to the announcement of SingStar ABBA, SingStar Sing Along With Disney, and the SingStar Queen songpacks has been very positive and supportive.”

Licensed games coming up soon:

SpongeBob Squarepants featuring Nicktoons: Globs of Doom (THQ) Wii, DS, PS2 – Oct 24th
Transformers Animated (Activision) DS – Oct 24th
Quantum of Solace (Activision) 360, PS3, Wii, DS, PS2, PC – Oct 31st
High School Musical 3: Senior Year Dance! (Disney) DS, PS2 – October 31st
Bratz Girls Really Rock (THQ) Wii, DS, PS2 – Oct 31st
Avatar – The Last Airbender: Into the Inferno (THQ) Wii, DS, PS2 – Oct 31st
Spider-man: Web of Shadows (Activision) 360, PS3, Wii, Ds, PSP, PC – Oct
Agatha Christie: Evil Under the Sun (JoWood) Wii, PC – Oct
Dora the Explorer: Dora Saves the Snow Princess (2K Play) Wii, DS, PS2 – Oct
Dragon Ball Z Origins (Atari) DS – Nov 5th
Dragon Ball Z Infinite World (Atari) PS2 – Nov 5th
WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2009 (THQ) 360, PS3, Wii, DS, PSP, PS2 – Nov 7th
Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm (Atari) PS3 – Nov 7th
Disney Sing It (Disney) 360, PS3, Wii, PS2 – Nov 7th
Kung Fu Panda: Legendary Warrior (Activision) DS, Wii – Nov 14th
Shrek’s Carnival Craze (Activision) Wii, DS, PS2 – Nov 21st
Barbie Fashion Show: An Eye for Style (DS) – Nov 21st
Barbie Horse Adventures: Summer Camp (Wii, DS, PS2) – Nov 21st
Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe (Midway) 360, PS3 – Nov 21st
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (Activision) 360, PS3, Wii, DS, PS2, PC – Nov 28th
Hello Kitty: Big City Dreams (DS) Empire – Nov
Deal of No Deal (Deep Silver) Wii, DS – Nov
Golden Balls (Mindscape) Wii, Ds – Nov
Magic Roundabout (Game Life) Wii, DS – Nov
Bob the Builder: Festival of Fun (Blast) DS – Nov
Casper Scare School (Blast) DS – Nov
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Sacrifice (505 Games) DS – Nov
Hasbro Family Game Night (EA) Wii, PS2 – Nov
Tamagotchi Connexion: Corner Shop 3 (Atari) DS – Nov
Scene It? Box Office Smash (Microsoft) 360 – Nov
Mr Bean’s Wacky World of Wii (Blast) Wii – Dec
SingStar ABBA (Sony) PS3, PS2 – Christmas
Star Wars: The Clone Wars (LucasArts) Wii, DS – Christmas
Monopoly (EA) 360, Wii, PS2 – TBC


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