iLogos has been developing games based on existing IP for the past three years on behalf of several big name publishers such as EA and Rovio. Our studio’s output is a mix of original projects, work for hire and working with existing IP. With over three hundred employees based in 7 locations to support, we pride ourselves on being flexible enough to work on a wide range of different games under many different arrangements.
Working with existing IP, while enjoyable, presents its own set of challenges, here’s what we’ve learnt over the past few years
- Learn from the Best
Before you start work on an existing IP, explore the market and play the most successful IP based games out there. Analyse what makes some good and others not so good. Encourage your team to do the same and try finding the connection with that IP in the smallest game details.
- Decide which business model will work for your studio.
When working with an existing IP there are three business models to choose from: full in-house development, licensing and co-production. Full in-house development is suitable when the IP owner has an experienced game development team. But this is usually the most risky option for the IP owner. In the case of licensing, the licensor has lower financial risks, but at the same time a very limited control of the final product. We, at iLogos, prefer co-production as the main cooperation model for our IP based projects. Co-production means that both IP owner or licensee and developer share the development costs, as well as the game revenues.
- Sort out the business stuff up front
It can be pretty tough to define a fair and mutually beneficial revenue share model, so what it should be based on? This must be decided before work starts and here are some issues to consider: What is the value of technologies and know-how provided by developer? What value does the IP add to the game? How much is the IP Owner/Publisher spending on marketing? Every case will be unique. Also ensure all responsibilities are clearly allocated with everyone doing what they are good at. For example, we created a game based on fighting movie IP and initially our co-prod partner insisted on creating all the art assets themselves. Within a couple of months it became obvious that they didn’t have any experience in art creation for games, we discarded most their work and remade the art assets ourselves. When two companies work together, you need the infrastructure and the people to make sure that everything goes smoothly. Working together on a co-production is a bit like getting engaged. You're married to each other for the time of the project and the IP is like your child, you both have to take care of it!
- Pre -production in this situation is even more important than usual
Always start with pre-production. It’s a golden rule for us at iLogos, especially for the big projects. In pre-prod stage you should define the final feature set, milestones, generate all needed documentation and create the first prototype. KPI - set your goals with your co-prod partner according to your analytics, marketing needs and so on.
It is important that TA of the IP and TA of the game genre should match. So, if match-3 audience is mainly middle aged female, it’s not a good idea to do match-3 game based on let’s say Terminator, having a mainly male audience Also research platforms and devices - make sure that your IP’s TA are users of these devices.
- Factor in a lot of extra time to cover the approval process
You should expect to have all IP related content approved during the production. Be warned, experience has taught us this always takes much longer than you expect! Multiple stakeholders and different priorities means approvals almost always take much longer than you anticipate. With our first IP based game we didn’t fully grasp how slow the approval process would be. We finally received feedback for our alpha build when we had the beta almost ready. Based on that feedback we had to go back and make changes and of course, even minor tweaks can affect the rest of the game and result in further work.
- Be aware of user/owner expectations
You have to look at the game from the fan’s point of view, and ensure that your game matches their expectations. Take a look at the social media relating to the IP and try and get a feel for who your target audience is and what they expect from your game. You can also expect that the IP owner is going to have some very clear ideas how their IP should be used and portrayed. The game you create should match the IP. For example, making a bubble shooter based on the Inside Out IP worked very well and making a citybuilder based on the Simpsons in Simpsons Tapped Out was inspiring. Equally its probably a very bad idea to make a fighting game based on My Little Pony IP or a Cooking Simulator based on Sherlock Holmes! Although this sounds pretty obvious there are an awful lot of mis-matched IP based games out there!
- Make sure your team buys in the project
It can sometimes be hard to feel the right connection for someone else’s IP. But it’s really important to get the entire team to be emotionally and creatively engaged with the IP. Ideally they should live and breathe what made the IP successful, it will show in the finished game if they do.
- There can only be one executive producer
An executive producer oversees all phases of development from the concept phase through release, identifies and communicates goals and risks on an ongoing basis. Someone has to have the final say to ensure the whole team is aligned and working on the same vision. The Executive Producer can be from the developer or the licensee side, but there can only be one.
- Art Bibles should be followed religiously
Art style is definitely one of the most sensitive issues for IP owners and so an art bible has to be followed religiously. We’ve been working on one 20th Century Fox IP for almost two years. When we started work on this game, we received a giant art bible. The team had to dive into the smallest details of the IP art style and now the art team feels and understands all nuances and the ins and outs of the IP. This connection started with our examination of that art bible.
- So why work with someone else’s IP?
An established and popular IP allows a game to stand out in the crowded app market. The competition especially in the mobile game market is tough and it is not getting any easier. Think about Kabam’s Marvel Contest of Champions, Glu’s Kim Kardashian: Hollywood and Zynga’s Wizard of Oz Slots these are all great examples of successful use of intellectual properties. Great in the sense that without an IP these games probably wouldn’t stand out but with a proper use of a brand they’re able to become super successful. You don’t need to create everything from scratch as you’ll have access to a huge range of assets and existing content. Don’t forget you already have a loyal audience; players are more likely to download the game if they are familiar with the IP. Moreover, the IP may have a huge fan base. One of the best examples is the hugely popular Star Wars franchise. The last movie didn’t need any promotion or marketing as it was a shoo- in to be the top grossing film in 2015. And all of this naturally leads to more traffic (more FREE traffic) - lower costs of user acquisition, higher virality, lots of additional opportunities to attract players (i.e. fan pages in social network and simply word of mouth), higher click-through rate and lower cost per install. Make a good game for the right IP and it’s difficult to see a downside for this type of project.
While iLogos can’t name names (that’s’ the other thing about existing IP – their owners are incredibly protective of it), the company has worked on several very successful high profile IP based games. We’ve learnt a lot about working on such projects over the past three years and hopefully can offer some useful insights and helpful advice on working with existing IP.