Catch up TV: How do you break the curse of television IP video games?

The Endemol Shine owned game developer, Good Catch is seeing some big successes with television IP video games, so where so many have stumbled, what are its secrets to success in this notoriously tricky sector?
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Good Catch is a London-based game developer wholly-owned by Endemol Shine Group. Where other TV companies have ventured into game development and failed, Good Catch reaches its second-year anniversary this month with a number of successful licensed titles under its belt and original IP. 

Licensing.biz talks to the outfit's managing director Anil Mistry about how it has managed to break the mould.

"A NUMBER of TV companies and broadcasters have attempted to crack the video games market in recent years without success – ITV most recently and, before them, Channel 4. While I’m not privy to the ins and outs of why they failed, with two years under my belt at Good Catch, I can shine a light on what you do need to be in with a chance of succeeding. 

In a nutshell, I’d say it boils down to time, space and the commitment to stay in it for the medium to long term.

Number 1: Time 

To start with, you need people at a senior level who accept gaming is a different business model to that of TV companies. Yes, there are parallels – they are both hits driven businesses, they can both work with scripted dramas that take two to three years to develop, and they can both spend a bucket load of money developing one show or game that could flop – but that’s where things end.

What some have failed to grasp is that, even with the best IP and will in the world, succeeding in games will never be a quick win. It could take five, six, seven years to get right and it’s essential that the board understands this and has an appetite for the long game.

Building a successful studio takes time to get right; games require significant investment, marketing is a huge necessity (not so with TV companies where it’s the broadcasters who normally pick up the cheque). So, there is a disconnect. They are different industries. It’s a risk and you can’t just dip your toe in for 12 months and then go, ‘ooh, I don’t like this’…

You need to keep building and keep investing. With Endemol Shine, once a new show is pitched successfully to a broadcaster, the production costs are covered by them. It doesn’t work like this with games, you have to have deeper pockets before you see the return.

Mr Bean - Special Delivery icon

Number 2: Content 

When translating licenses to video games, you obviously need to have good IP. But you also need to understand which IP will translate best and how to work with it respectfully.

For us, we’re looking for IPs that have a global resonance – we want to build once and distribute everywhere with good localisation. We want to use brands that resonate with gamers – it doesn’t make sense to shoehorn a brand into a game, cross your fingers and see what happens. 

The brands we work with need to lend themselves to good game mechanics. We’re really picky and that does significantly reduce the number of IPs we can work with, but I think that’s a good thing.

Number 3: Audience appreciation. 

You may think you know your brands. And when they’re huge TV shows, that’s understandable. But that’s a mistake. Never assume you know a brand’s audience without doing due diligence first. It sounds dull, but it’s key. I guarantee, once you start digging into data, you will realise that audiences skew and there are a lot of surprises to be found. 

Things are never quite what they seem, demographics especially. If you don’t understand your audience, you will either make a game that doesn’t sell, or make that one that doesn’t sell as well as it could. Either way, what’s the point?

With Simon’s Cat, we did a lot of research into our audience and then built content around what they loved. Believe it or not, they really are massive cat lovers, so we invented loads of cat personalities to tap into that.

With Mr Bean, the fan base really loves the slapstick humour of the TV show. We missed this element in the first two games and have now fixed it with our upcoming title Mr Bean - Special Delivery. As a result, we’ve got a much better game and content that’s truer to the brand.

Number 4: Don’t be scared to go outside your own IP.

We are currently talking to people outside of Endemol Shine about working with third party IP. It’s not a slight to Endemol Shine, it just makes good business sense. 

When you have a solid game mechanic, game engine and execution, it’s only sensible to look for other IP outside the group that would give them extra life for relatively little investment. Think commercially, and you will keep the shareholders happy and have income to invest in bigger ventures.

Simons_Cat_Dash_Splash

Number 5: Be as independent as you can

Endemol Shine has always operated as a kind of hub of independent production companies operating independently, so it made sense for Good Catch to also work like that. 

We all share a centralised infrastructure (which saves time, money and allows us to focus on what we’re good at), but we have our own team of creatives and production methodologies, and we run Good Catch as our own business with our own support network.

That way, our management board is happy to let us get on with it. They have input into our overall strategy, but they really don’t interfere too much on a day to day basis. Of course, they love us working with Endemol Shine brands, but they are also supportive of us working with external IP and creating original IP like Black & White Bushido in parallel.

Number 6: Be focused. 

We’re really lucky at Endemol Shine in that we have access to thousands of brands we could work with – uber brands like MasterChef. But it’s important to realise that you can’t work on everything so, if you’re only making one or two games per year, choose carefully, choose the best and stay focused.

Number 7: Look ahead. Be ambitious. Always think, what if? 

We have created some fantastic titles over the last two years, working with brands like Simon’s Cat and Mr Bean. Because of the shows’ audiences, these have translated best onto mobile. But we’ve also developed for console and Steam with Black & White Bushido.

Being a multi-platform developer was always our dream – we’re releasing a version of Black & White Bushido for Nintendo Switch in November – and we’re now keen to take the step from free to play and casual games, to more ‘grown up’, narrative-led games, inspired by some of Endemol Shine Group’s amazing scripted drama. 

Endemol Shine Group is behind scripted hits such as Black Mirror, Peaky Blinders and Humans, just to name a few and our ultimate dream would be to develop narrative driven game experiences with our scripted brands. 

The pressure with these globally successful brands, of course, is could we make a game that’s good enough for it, that’s not going to upset the entire fan base of the TV show? I believe we absolutely could.

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