Movie-Based Games: Picking the Right Film

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What movies lend themselves to great free-to-play games? At Funtactix, we are in continuous discussion with film studios and TV networks about their upcoming slate of projects. The question often arises (or doesn't, but should):

  • What films lend themselves to great F2P games?
  • What is FTX looking for in a film or TV series?

As you'd expect, some properties lend themselves to games far better than others. We often lament that we don't have a recipe for the romantic comedy. Of the hundreds of films releasing every year, only a select few are suited for the free-to-play game treatment.
Free-to-play games monetize engagement. Long-term engagement. Pay-to-play games, especially those based on films, earn their money up-front. A game that generates a few hours of gameplay may justify a $0.99 purchase, but players typically invest significantly more time into a free-to-play game before spending.

For F2P games, film and television IP offer two key advantages:

  1. Reach
  2. Engagement

To assist with reach, the property needs broad familiarity and an existing fan community to tap into as your core/ early-adopter audience. "Evergreen" films like Mission:Impossible are broadly recognized. Players who see the game icon in their favorite App Store or portal are for more likely to click on a franchise they know. In the case of a property like The Hunger Games, the existing fanbase for the book series formed the first wave of game players (and opening-weekend moviegoers). The excitement these fans have for exclusive reveals (especially before the films' release) drive significant early engagement and monetization. Properties like Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Simpsons are all clear-cut examples.

But what about the 'universe' itself? How does a film's universe lend itself to a great F2P game?

Recognizable, Iconic Characters: A rich cast of characters is an essential ingredient. At Funtactix, we've measured the positive impact of integrating narrative characters into the introductory experience of a free-to-play game (we've also tested whether or not that character should necessarily be the protagonist.). The excitement of encountering new characters as a player progresses through hundreds of hours of content yields significant engagement benefits. Just like all free-to-play games have game loops that focus on optimal rhythm of reward, the timing of placement of recognizable film characters into a game is equally important in a successful movie-based game. This can be seen not only in adventure games like THGA, but in completely different genres like Angry Birds Star Wars. This is one reason why likeness rights are a crucial component in movie-based game deals. Superhero films that focus on one protagonist/antagonist, with 'standard' secondary characters (damsel, sidekick, butler) are far less conducive.

Recognizable, Iconic Locations: Gamers demand a dynamic, changing environment to maintain long-term focus on a particular title. Although the core gameplay mechanic is consistent throughout, achieving this 'variety' while maintaining authenticity can be tricky if the film or TV show doesn't provide the dozens of uniquely identifiable locations each with their own look and feel. Adding your own environments completely from scratch (especially if not even alluded to by the film or TV show) can easily break suspension-of-disbelief, especially if the recognizable content is spread too thin. Films like Mission:Impossible take place across the globe. The Hunger Games has 13 districts plus the capitol, each with their own look, geography, and character

Epic Story: You don't want to have to 'stretch' the universe to make room for the game. The game must exist within the universe of the franchise, and simply paint additional detail in the areas that are unexplored by the book/movie/show/comic. When I worked for LucasArts, every character/weapon/planet that we had in the game had to be run through the LucasFilm 'Archives' - a team of experts at SkyWalker Ranch who made sure that the entire Star Wars universe remained consistent.

Not every TV show or film lends itself to an awesome movie-based game. At Funtactix, we've been fortunate enough to work with some of the most talented creative teams in the industry on some of Hollywood's most epic franchises.