With over 1 million episodes, 4 billion pageviews, and 2 mobile games under our belt (all while looking to greenlight more!), it’s pretty safe to say the Tapas webcomics and novels platform has seen its fair share of original and emergent intellectual property (IP). Some even finding significant success, racking up tens of millions of views, and allowing their creators to do what they’ve always dreamed of -- creating stories and building worlds full time.
This op-ed is a little peek into that world with insights gained through my experiences here at Tapas as an Executive Producer as well as my time as a Producer of licensed games and even in edtech where I worked with major global IP such as Batman and Pirates of the Caribbean. And no matter what your current role in the games industry, hopefully by learning at least a little about the criteria a publisher uses to gauge IP, it will help you as you develop or access IP yourself.
And so it’s from the perspective of someone currently in digital publishing that I'd like to cover what we’re seeing as success levers for IP as well as what we're doing as it relates to games and emergent transmedia IP.
So let’s get started!
What we’re seeing:
Here at Tapas, we spend a lot of time swimming in original stories. Each day we have roughly 900 new webcomic and novel episodes uploaded to the platform. Now obviously we can’t read and review every episode, but we do make it a point to constantly review new comics, novels, and stories for multimedia expansion, including potential game production. These decisions are never cut and dry though, and when we do make them, these are 4 of the key factors we assess:
1. Consistency over time - Although everyone would love to have an overnight success, very few stories actually succeed that way. For example here at Tapas, two of our most popular series, Silent Horror (over 85 million views!) and the GaMERCaT (over 45 million views!) have been at it for quite some time, consistently publishing for years. Silent Horror started on Tapas over 4 years ago while the GaMERCaT has been at it for almost 5. Both Darkbox (Silent Horror) and Samantha Whitten (the GaMERCaT) have done both themselves and their stories a great service by giving them not only time to find their audience, but also time to build their global brand as well.
2. Authenticity - Recently Tapas optioned a series for possible production into a major motion picture. Rufio, Inc. optioned the rights to the comic Kids Being Kids with Rufio, Inc. founder Dante Bosco stating “I’m excited to work with Tapas, bringing this unique story and these honest characters to life as well as representing my community in a way that I feel hasn’t been done yet.”
So what did Rufio, Inc. see in Kids Being Kids? What drew them, and hopefully someday millions of others, to the world of Kids Being Kids? It was the genuine “voice” of the artist aiyem, and her authentic story of youth culture in the Philippines.
3. Quality, quality, quality - So what happens when you bring together a #1 New York Times bestselling author and an award winning illustrator? Good things. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing from the series Cheshire Crossing here on Tapas. With a story by Andy Weir (The Martian) and illustrations by Sarah Andersen (Sarah’s Scribbles), Cheshire Crossing was licensed for print publication in 2017 by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House, and will be released this summer. The point here is that Cheshire Crossing has a lot going for it. The writing, art, and coloring are all superb. And it’s this level of quality that attracts not only readers but also potential transmedia partners.
4. Uniqueness - Back in early 2018, I was contacted by the game studio Palmstorm Inc. who wanted to create an experimental mobile game that no one had ever seen before. And after a few discussions, I suggested they take a look at a unique and socially relevant comic here on Tapas called Demon House. Their reaction? They loved it and immediately licensed the rights to do a mobile game (releasing March 27th!). So what’s so unique about the Demon House series and upcoming game, Joanne Kwan’s Demon House of Dates? Some would say the art. Others would say the characters. But really you’ll just have to find out for yourself. But here’s a hint: If you try the game, don’t lead with the eggplant. More on Demon House later.
What we’re doing
Tapas’ mission since its inception has always been to create the best platform in the world for content creators. And while there are many factors that go into an effort like that, such as creating a robust and free publishing platform, there are other efforts as well.
Some of those efforts include facilitating print deals, movie deals, and more. But since this is Gamasutra after all, I’d like to discuss our first two transmedia properties involving games and why we’re excited based on the criteria above.
Dungeon Construction Co. (our first born)
Chances are good you’ve never heard of Dungeon Construction Co. (DCC); a webcomic created in 2017 with a companion mobile game that launched in Aug 2018. And you know what? That’s ok. It’s perfectly fine.
Now why would that be ok? Shouldn't it be considered a failure that DCC isn’t neck to neck with Candy Crush Saga as a top-grossing game? Well, yes and no. You see while the dream of every creator might be to have their creations recognized globally while negotiating their 4th feature film, the reality is most IP, even extremely successful ones, usually don’t reach that level.
So why are we excited about the prospects of DCC as a transmedia property? And what did Red Kraken Studios see that made them sign on for the game? Let’s take a look:
a) Consistency over time - DCC may not have been around as long as some of the others, but everyone involved with the property is highly committed and in it for the long haul. The webcomic series is ongoing with readership numbers continuing to go up and the Red Kraken team is currently hard at work on a PC port of the mobile game. So things are just getting warmed up for DCC and the team’s commitment over time will only benefit the brand and increase its chances for success.
b) Authenticity - 100%, grade A. Dad puns and cringe. All wrapped in a blanket of dungeon crawl and pop culture. The DCC guys know the genre, love the genre, and it shows with every line Jose Rojas writes and every panel Enzo Comics illustrates.
c) Quality - Quality is always subjective, but there is no doubt the art has evolved and become more polished over time. Additionally, the mobile game has received extremely positive reviews with many praising Red Kraken's faithful rendering of the series.
d) Uniqueness - DCC and uniqueness? Two words: Sabreteethed Koala Owl
DCC has a strong foundation to build on, and pun-loving, fantasy fans can look forward to a long, healthy run of Gossip and co’s adventures in Aufcentre.
Joanne Kwan’s Demon House of Dates
Next up for us is another transmedia webcomic-to-game project that we’re all really excited about. Let’s see how it stacks up.
a) Consistency over time - Demon House has been an ongoing weekly webcomic for over 4 years. Yep, that’s right. Joanne has been updating Demon House consistently week after week for over 4 years. And that consistency has paid off. By allowing time for fans to find the series, and by giving them a reliable story to latch onto, her fan base has grown to over 25,000 subscribers.
b) Authenticity - Demon House definitely has an authentic feel. The characters feel just familiar enough to be genuine yet otherworldly enough to keep you guessing and coming back for more. And a big part of that is because Joanne created Demon House with only one audience in mind; herself. Joanne's refusal to write in order to satisfy others has helped her stay true to the story she wants to tell and it shows.
c) Quality - Once again, quality is subjective. However what is not subjective is that over the years, and with very little marketing, Joanne has been able to organically grow her series to over 6 million views. So whatever she’s doing seems to be working and we can’t wait to see how her fans react to the game.
d) Uniqueness - Since I actually used Demon House as the very example of uniqueness above, you’ll just have to trust me and make sure to download the game on March 27th!
So again, the question arises: Will Joanne Kwan’s Demon House of Dates be the next mobile game sensation? I simply don’t know. However independent reviews have been overwhelmingly positive and we are all excited for both the future of Demon House and Joanne Kwan’s Demon House of Dates.
In closing, although there is no formula which guarantees transmedia success, I have outlined four important criteria as a jumping off point. And if in creating and/or managing your own IP you’re able to focus at least a little of your attention on the criteria mentioned above, then I believe you’ll definitely be doing yourself, your team, and your IP a huge favor. Good luck!
Oh, and if you're interested in chatting more about IP and games feel free to ping me at [email protected] or join the Tapas Games Discord channel over at https://discord.gg/8dkcYq.