LA Games Conference 2020: How Games and Interactive Entertainment Work with Media Franchises

by Neil Bui
Creating Blockbusters: The Role of Games & Interactivity in Developing Entertainment Franchises

The intersection of Hollywood and games was the focus on Day 2 of this year’s LA Games Conference, hosted by Digital Media Wire. At the heart of both film production and game development is telling stories. Not too long ago, a consumer would catch the latest film at the local theater or pick up the hot, new video game at a retail outlet. Now with technology, those lines have been blurred in more ways than you’d think. Streaming is possible for both gameplay and film viewing, and modern consoles provide access to the most popular streaming services. However, the virtual panel I attended explored how the two mediums work together for some of the world’s largest franchises.

NBCUniversal’s former EVP of Games & Digital Platforms moderated the panel, Creating Blockbusters: The Role of Games & Interactivity in Developing Entertainment Franchises, which brought together speakers from companies such as Blizzard Entertainment and Lionsgate.

Lydia Bottegoni, EVP of Story & Franchise Development at Blizzard Entertainment, described the co-creation efforts at her company as being akin to “sprinting on ice” — a fun, yet dangerous activity when working with so many diverse creative teams with their own personalities.

At Blizzard, storytelling crosses over from in-game content to external materials such as marketing and requires constant management and editing of the company’s lore.

Daniel Engelhardt, SVP of Interactive Ventures & Games at Lionsgate, explained what makes successful collaborations between filmmakers and developers.

For Engelhardt’s entertainment studio, the filmmakers own the vision for the IP and often court indie developers for their own voices, giving them the freedom to translate franchises into the gaming space. With a massive collection of IP to work with, Lionsgate has a lot of potential in adapting their most successful films for gamers.

“We’re lucky in that we have a big library to play with,” Engelhart said, mentioning films such as Blair Witch and John Wick.

For the John Wick video games, developers were invited to speak to the filmmakers who understood the DNA of the property and the creative thinking that went into it. It was key to allow the game studios as much freedom as possible in order to ensure a successful game.

“If we add restrictions, we’re not going to have a good game,” Engelhart said. “It needs to be a collaboration.”

Jeremy Padawer, Partner at Jazwares, comes from a background of successfully licensing game IP to consumer products such as toys. When he first started video game characters were not as popular in toy aisles as they are today, compared to the characters from Disney which have been around for as long as I can remember.

“You can’t fish in the same pond as Mattel or Hasbro when you start a toy company,” Padawer said. “There were so many organizations trying to go after the next Disney opportunity, that when it came to looking for the next thing, we didn’t swim with the other fish.”

That clever, divergent thinking paid off for Padawer when the toy company he started, Wicked Cool Toys, became the global master toy partner of game franchises Pokemon and Halo. By October 2019, Padawer became a partner at Jazwares, after the licensed products industry leader acquired Wicked Cool Toys.

“You start with where you can be competitive,” Padawer said. “ We became the expert at bringing digital to physical.”.

Being that expert has led the companies under Padawer to success with advantages such as the reduced seasonality from Pokemon’s fresh generations every few years that introduces over 100 new creatures. And in regards to Pokemon, it was never just for boys. It appeals to all kids, and that truth slowly became apparent as the products evolved out of the boys’ aisle.

Jeff Gomez, CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment, not only has the knowledge and experience of leading the expansion of entertainment IP from films to games but a multitude of different transmedia storytelling, such as improving the process and resources for Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean following a lackluster implementation of products and campaigns for the first Pirates film.

“A great world ought to be iterative into different forms of media,” Gomez said.

Gomez’s experiences working across different mediums helped craft a narrative across different platforms that not only succeeded in reaching fans but upheld the quality throughout.

Morgan Kruger, COO of MWM Universe (a division of Madison Wells Media), oversees the acquisition and enhancement of IP by “building out franchisable story worlds across film, TV, gaming, comics, books and beyond.”

When asked about the role audience feedback in the success of transmedia implementation, Kruger responded that it comes down to managing the consumer expectations of that property’s fanbase.

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