In this LevelUp episode, Melissa sits down with Josh Burns, Senior Director of Business Development at FunPlus. They get into the history of IPs in mobile games, what to look for in an IP, their role in 2023, Josh's advice for smaller studios looking to leverage them, and more.  

Tune in here or keep reading for the highlights:

A front row seat to the history of IP in mobile games

"After EA I worked at a company called 6waves, where we were focused on social gaming which basically means games on Facebook. Early on in the platform when it was very open. Everything was original. And then as the platform got more competitive and started to mature, we started seeing a lot more games using external IPs. We were a publisher, so we collaborated with companies who were making the games and focused on distribution. We started seeing a lot of IP games because that’s a way to create marketing efficiency with your creatives. IPs come with a built-in audience. 

I think that's obviously very attractive in a mature market. In terms of what I worked on, I saw a very diverse spectrum. We worked on anything from, you know, Dungeons and Dragons to Kobe Bryan and Extreme Makeover Home Edition. Some of the stuff that we worked on was more thoughtful than others in terms of how it integrated the IP. I think at that time, one key thing is the IP holders didn't necessarily see these games as a way to generate revenue like they do now - where you look at Marvel or Disney or all these companies have gaming people specifically focus on game licensing. But in the beginning, it was just basically a vehicle to engage their audience."

What makes a good IP for mobile games

"In IP selection, you really want to focus on IPs that have both a wide reach in terms of awareness and a really deep fan base that's super engaged. It's great for something to be familiar, but if you're building a game, you're investing millions of dollars into that.

You know, these licenses are not inexpensive. Marketing a game is not inexpensive. So you really need to both attract players and keep them engaged and then obviously monetize them to have the economics make sense. I think there was a period when people were making games around new movies or new TV shows and they were trying to ride the wave of the launch of those. And that just doesn't work.  

Our goal is to find IPs that theoretically can sustain forever. That’s what we look for even in the original IP we create in-house.

We focus on building one game and then continuing to build and evolve that game over time. I think for some of our original IPs, one of our oldest core products is 10 years old and I think if you looked at the game from when it launched to where it is now, it doesn't even look like the same game."

The role of IPs in 2023

"The main topic that comes to mind that's a change in the market is marketing.

I think as we lose some signal around marketing from a sort of data perspective, I think one of the benefits of IPs creating some efficiency. It creates efficiency on the marketing side, on the performance side, and even in marketing in general. We need to diversify our marketing mix and look at more traditional ways to engage the audience and IPs are a great way to do so."

New to IPs? Here's what you should consider

"The flip side of really strong IPs that have a deeply engaged audience is that they're also very expensive.

While there are definitely IP holders that have tried to become more flexible for mid-tier to indie studios to leverage their IPs, I think you have to do a pretty meaningful analysis around whether the economics are gonna make sense. Usually what you're looking at is some type of upfront cost to license the IP and a revenue share on the revenue for your game.

A lot of license holders, from my perspective, over-license their games. They make a lot from these upfront fees, but then all the games fail because there’s too much saturation around a single IP.

From that perspective, you should look at some of the smaller IPs that have a very engaged fan base that you think would align well with a game. They might be smaller and their reach might be smaller, but you might be able to collaborate better and get access to promotion for your game as well."

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