The Book of Life: Sugar Smash mobile game, which launched today, could become a model for movie-related titles going forward, with its potential to create years of income for Fox under its revenue-sharing deal with SGN Games, said SGN CEO Chris DeWolfe.
The title is available on the iTunes Store and, soon, Google Play, and is compatible with the vast majority of smartphones and tablets currently in use. As with most mobile games these days (Minecraft being a notable exception), the game is free to play. But free to play doesn’t mean free to win. The art and commerce in these titles is in getting players to try the game, getting them hooked on the game mechanic, then offering inexpensive upgrades that can help a player win more consistently and advance through the levels. The Fox deal can help a lot on the front end of that process, DeWolfe said.
“From our perspective, we get a lot of marketing from Fox,” DeWolfe said. “It reduces our customer-acquisition costs. We get all the amazing delightful art, animations, audio from the movie.”
Fox provided original art, story lines and voice talent from the movie, and is promoting the game as part of its broader marketing push.
“We believe a customer’s more apt to download a brand they’re familiar with,” DeWolfe said. “We get higher conversion rates.”
Once a player downloads the game, it’s up to SGN’s game architects to design mechanics that encourage players to keep playing, and keep making in-app purchases. In Sugar Smash, those in-app purchases buy various-sized containers of virtual coins. But anyone who’s played smash hits such as Rovio‘s Angry Birds or Zynga’s various Farmville iterations will be familiar with how varied the in-app items can be. Importantly, for even a moderately competitive player, the in-app add-ons can add up. With a big hit, all those little 99-cent purchases over weeks or months can generate millions of dollars for the game maker.
Under typical movie-related game deals, however, none of that matters to a studio. For decades now, studios have taken a big licensing fee on the front end, perhaps shared some film-related assets, and then largely walked away. The Fox-SGN deal could change that, because it directly benefits both sides in ways that may accrue for a long time.
“Not that the movie will come and go,” DeWolfe said, “but the game could be around for years. It’s a living, breathing organism. With all of our top games, we add new content every two weeks.”
Conversion rates – turning a shopper into a player, and then an in-app buyer – are one of the key metrics in the mobile game business. SGN, a rollup of several smaller game companies, launched in 2011 and since then has been busily trying to perfect how it maximizes those numbers. It’s paying off for the privately held company, which DeWolfe said will hit “nine figures” in revenue this year and has more than quadrupled in size since 2013. It already has hits such as Panda Pop and Cookie Jam and is hoping it has another with The Book of Life.
Fox executives also are hoping to win big with this game.
First there’s the marketing win. By the time the movie debuts Oct. 17, the game will have been available for 10 days, and seen by hundreds of thousands or even millions of mobile users. And when the movie leaves theaters, the game will still be promoting the brand, handy when players are casting about for something to watch on demand or through some other home-entertainment outlet.
“SGN has been a great partner in creating an enchanting game that maintains the integrity of the film’s storyline and unique style and tone,” said Rick Phillips, SVP, Fox Digital Entertainment, in a statement. “With this game we are able to broaden the film’s universe, enabling the audience to interact with the story long after they’ve left the theater.”
DeWolfe made his name in the tech world as co-founder and CEO of MySpace before selling it in 2005 to Fox for $580 million. DeWolfe’s long-running Fox relationship – co-founder Josh Yguado also worked there – came in handy when SGN went looking for new intellectual properties to build games around.
“Disney, they understand in some cases a game can be bigger than a movie,” DeWolfe said. “I think that’s how Fox really looks at it too. They licensed the Family Guy property. The Simpsons property has done extremely well. The interesting thing about the game is it will be helped by a good movie release.”
Now the company is hunting for more Hollywood deals, with studios, networks, celebrities and shows, DeWolfe said. The chances of a long-term win for everyone could make some of those phone calls much easier.