To License Or Not To License – An Indie Game Developer’s Guide

Posted on October 22, 2014
By Kaavya Kasturirangan

As the mobile gaming ecosystem gets more crowded, game developers are seeking newer ways of grabbing consumer attention and eyeballs. Besides creating differentiation and credibility in the app market place, gaining new users is another challenge indie game devs face early on.

InMobi recently hosted a super interesting panel discussion on how developers can leverage well-known and popular intellectual property (IP) – personalities, fictional characters, brands, themes from television shows, films and even the real world like the retail industry - to give their games a little something boost. Here are some of the considerations to weigh before jumping on the IP bandwagon -

Golden Rule #1 - IP is really expensive to develop in-house.

Neil Haldar from GREE International weighed in that GREE loves building games from scratch since it is the purest way of building IP. He did acknowledge that this route however requires deep pockets. GREE thanks to its Japanese heritage is often able to build quickly, test small and then quickly improve game mechanics and the revenue generation engines before launching formally.

Golden Rule #2 - Licensing is often an easier route to monetization.

Andrew Green from TinyCo Inc countered that building a game and creating a new niche often takes years to get "exactly right". The game then has to be fresh to create and retain connections. Whereas, Green believed, licensing was easier. At TinyCo, they layered the game mechanics of their ‘Family Guy’ app on the television show that has a cult following. Green confirmed they got 20 million installs without spending anything on UA. However he cautioned that any third-party licensed game must be an extension brand of the original across all aspects else the app will end up funneling users out.

Golden Rule #3 – Licensed content should mesh with the app.

Randy Lee from Crowdstar cautioned that with games that already exist, it’s not easy to just slap IP on top of it. Crowdstar had to restructure itself completely when they pivoted to Covet since they needed to balance the efforts of developers with the fashion curators and content creators. Bottom line, introducing licensed IP into a game isn’t the same as just buying another game and introducing it into your studio.

Golden Rule #4 – Licensed content can work even beyond UA.

Paul Thind from InMobi gave a great example of how Temple Run has introduced new characters into its running game. This addition of licensed content, without doing much code development, worked very well to build up excitement for an already popular title plus it was a great tactic for re-engagement.

Golden Rule #5 – However, licensing isn’t the only route to monetize. Think advertising.

Ads are not all bad was how Martine Spaans of Tamalaki Publishing put it. In her experience, there have been instances where gamers, who had paid for upgrades, still requested video ads so they could earn more coins. Her only suggestion was for the ads to be synchronized with the mechanics of the game. Likewise, Randy Lee added that there was a particular weekend when Covet drove 50% of the weekend shopping of an eCommerce advertiser. All the panelists concurred that brand ads do so much better than game ads within games.

So there you have it folks, the five golden rules to be considered when debating whether to acquire licensed IP for your app. Personally speaking, I love extension products. I also love mythology particularly Indian mythology. Ergo, I cannot wait to see someone create a strategy game based on the Mahabharat!