Immersive play | Fanattik on why creativity is running wild in video game licensing

It’s odd to think of the video game licensing sector as one that is still in its relative infancy. There’s a maturity to many of the partnerships that circle the market and its audiences that would suggest the experience and wisdom of one established decades ago, when Pong’s first pixels flickered to life and into the homes of 1970s America.

Perhaps it’s a manifestation of an industry’s self-assurance? The video games sector has the charisma of an entertainment sector that not only knows its worth, but enjoys the fact that you know it, too. And it’s one fuelled by a fandom so immersed in its narratives, that when it comes to licensing, the consumer products space is a playground in which it can have a lot of fun.

That’s precisely what Anthony Marks, managing director of the pop culture specialist, Fanattik is doing right now. Having a lot of fun. Because gone are the days when games publishers would lean into the ‘bare minimum assets and a logo’ kind licensing, and here to stay is an era in which licensing is being given the chance to explore a game’s terrain, reach into its DNA and pull from it elements that reverberate with fans around the world.

And if you’re not buying that, then there’s at least some cool collectables being made.

Here, catches up with Fanattik’s Anthony Marks to talk about the health of the video game licensing sector, the creativity that surrounds it, and why he’ll be shipping the entire development team off to the states come next year…

Hello Anthony, and thanks for taking the time to talk video games with us this week. Fanattik’s video game IP portfolio is continuing to grow, with some exciting titles added recently in Sea of Thieves. What do you and the team make of the health of the video games licensing space today?

Video games are the healthiest part of the licensing world in my opinion. It’s no secret that when Covid hit, it super charged what was already a fast growing sector. This is a huge market which a lot of retailers haven’t picked up on yet and that is why there is still so much opportunity for growth in this sector.

How do you think video games licensing has changed in the last few years? What are consumers and fans demanding from the video games merchandise they buy today?

When we first started signing up video game properties, merchandise was the last thing on the brand owners’ mind and you were lucky to get just a handful of assets along with the logo. Now it’s a very different picture as it’s not just about generating income for the brands anymore. The merchandise is an extension of their marketing activities and a way to further increase brand loyalty.

What is it about the sector that excites Fanattik? What level of creativity with licensing does today’s fandom around video games lend you guys when it comes to developing concepts?

The possibilities feel endless with gaming, whether it’s an upcoming big budget game or an evergreen title, the developers create such an immense backstory to each title it really does give us the opportunity to dig deep and create some really interesting pieces.

The creators know every nook and cranny so we work hand in hand with the studios. Next year we are sending a team to the USA to sit with one studio and immerse themselves in just one particular title. Whilst it could have been done over video, I believe you need to commit 100 per cent to develop concepts the fandom will truly appreciate, so we need to be face to face with their creative team.

Looking at the Sea of Thieves collection – from Doubloons to limited edition art prints – it appears to draw directly from game play or intricate components from within the IP. Why does video game licensing lend itself better to this level of immersion than other entertainment medium?

Unlike a film, where a fan walks out of the cinema and a few days later possibly only remembers the ending or the big action scenes, with games the fan can be playing the same part of the game over and over again for days to get to that next stage. They have to pay attention to every aspect of each part of the game they are in to learn how to progress and that, for example, is why the in-game replica’s we create for video game properties are working so well for retailers.

What are Fanattik’s plans in the video game licensing space? How will you continue to innovate and push the boundaries when it comes to immersion and linking IP with the merchandising?

Now is a great time to ask that question, we are in the final stages of renewing and expanding our licenses with two of the world’s biggest video game studios. We will be further focusing on in-game replica’s, luckily where I am a fan of the retro titles we have a great team of designers who are all avid gamers and you need that when you are trying to create something special, video game fans will pick up straight away if you are trying to wing it.

What do you think the future holds for video game licensing? What is exciting you about the scene right now?

What has always excited us is that this is still a relatively young industry, one where the consumers are happy to pay for an item with a retailer and wait three to four months until they receive the product without batting an eyelid. It’s also an industry where the brand owners encourage you to be as quirky as possible and create products that will stand out which suits Fanattik.

What would you like to see the licensing industry do with video game IP? Where do you think video game licensing should be heading?

I think it’s already happening and that is the studios putting more resources into promoting their retro titles and not just the latest release.

So, what’s the next step for you guys? 

Export, export,and export. In all license negotiations now we are aiming for, if not a global license then, as much territory as possible. The team put so much effort into each and every product it makes sense to get that product to as wide a range of fans as possible. So in 2022 we will have a presence at Nuremberg Toy Fair, New York Toy Fair as well as the Las Vegas Licensing show.

Thank you Anthony. Before we let you go, is there anything you’d like to add?

Only that we know it can be tricky for gift retailers who are new to this sector. They have to work out which gaming property to support and don’t want to risk shelf space on the latest game release if it may not be as well received by the fans as they had hoped.

On the other hand I can imagine a buyer trying to explain to their senior team that they want to allocate shelf space to merchandise from a 20 year old game. We are on hand to sit with buyers, show them our case studies and help them select a range that is going to work for them, after all it’s in our interests for them to sell as many pieces as possible!

SEGA gears up for 30 years of Sonic the Hedgehog with special virtual Sonic Central event

SEGA is gearing up for the 30th anniversary of its most iconic Blue Blur, Sonic the Hedgehog with the launch of a special virtual event called Sonic Central on the brand’s official YouTube and Switch channels this week.

The event, taking place on Thursday, May 27th at 9am Pacific Time, will see SEGA’s own Sonic team joined by a cast of special guests to reveal a whole plethora of new partnerships, events, and upcoming projects spanning the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise and beyond.

The virtual event will be just part of the celebrations surrounding the 30th anniversary of the company’s flagship character, an icon of retro video gaming that has built out a successful global franchise that over the course of its 30 years has spanned entertainment formats such as TV series, comic books, video games, films, and more.

Sonic the Hedgehog will be marking its official 30th anniversary on June 23rd this year. Ahead of the big day, SEGA has paid tribute to the brand’s legacy among a generation of fans with the launch of a new fan-appreciation video, showcasing a nostalgic look back at the franchise, as the Blue Blur ‘speeds forwards to inspire future generations.’

Developed by the creative agency Liquid+ Arcade, the Unstoppable campaign follows the experiences of several young Sonic fans throughout the decades – from the early ‘90s SEGA Genesis era to today, as Sonic ‘encourages them to reach higher, go faster and become a hero.’

Head down memory lane with Sonic and check out the new fan appreciation video below:

Antstream Arcade strengthens exec team in move to be at the forefront of video game streaming

The video game streaming platform, Antstream Arcade is continuing on its path to alter the way people play games, with the appointment of the games industry veteran Mike Rouse to lead its production team and build its internal studio. The move comes amid a period of record user growth for the company and its world’s first free-to-play game streaming platform.

Rouse joins Anstream from 2K’s Brighton based Hangar 13 where he was head of production and responsible for developing and co-ordinating strategy across the studio’s four global locations and 400 employees.

He brings with him over 20 years’ experience in the games industry, having worked with major companies including Microsoft, where he worked on projects including Hololens, and Sony. He brings his experience in pushing the boundaries of how players interact with games to his new role at Antstream Arcade, as it continues to expand its offering.

Rouse said: “As a lifelong fan of what we now have to call “vintage” games, working at Antstream Arcade represents the perfect combination of my passion for retro gaming and changing how players interact with games themselves. I think it is very likely that we are nearing the end of physical consoles – with physical media losing relevance to the rise of cloud-based gaming, it is all but inevitable.

“As the first company to successfully launch a free-to-play platform with thousands of games, Antstream is well placed to be at the forefront of this change.”

Steve Cottam, CEO of Antstream, added: “Between our new licensing partnerships with the likes of Disney and Bandai, and our decision to adopt a free-to-play model, we’re in a period of immense change here at Antstream. Bringing on someone with Mike’s expertise and experience in altering how people play games is a huge boost for us as video game streaming continues to drive the game industry forward as a whole.

“We look forward to working with him in taking our library of iconic video games to the biggest audience possible.”

Mike’s love of retro gaming is on full display on his Retro Gamer Boy YouTube channel, where he posts weekly unique videos delving into his own extensive retro gaming collection, and discussing the best retro games and consoles ever made. His retro gaming goal is to collect every SEGA Megadrive game, with only a few notable holdouts like Pirates of Darkwater standing between him and the holy grail of completionism.

Game streaming platform Antstream adds retro Star Wars slate in new Disney partnership

The retro games platform, Antstream Arcade has struck up a partnership with Disney to add its portfolio of classic Star Wars titles to the extensive library of fully licensed games.

The games slate will be made available on a single platform for the first time and will include the entire Super Star Wars series for the SNES and Star Wars for the NES. Adventure games like Grim Fandango and titles from the Monkey Island series will also be joining the platform.

Starting from today, however, games and subscribers to the Antstream service will be able to play classic Super Star Wars titles: Super Star Wars, Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

All the games available via Antstream Arcade’s cloud-based streaming service are available using any 4G connection or better, and are playable on almost any device for the cost of a single flat monthly subscription. Expanding Antstream Arcade’s library of classics and curios, this will take the total number of licensed games to 3786, with five to seven new games being added to the platform every week.

Steve Cottam, CEO of Antstream, said: “We are absolutely thrilled to be bringing the retro Star Wars series to customers, taking us one step closer to delivering thousands of iconic games to the global gaming community through the power of streaming technology.

“The fact will be able to play Star Wars for the SNES on their laptop, Grim Fandango on their TV or Day of the Tentacle is a massive win for both existing and new audiences.”

The Disney partnership follows recent deals struck with retro gaming giants Taito, Atari, and Bandai Namco – making Antstream Arcade’s library the largest collection of retro games in the world.

Thanks to Antstream Arcade’s streaming technology all these games can be played on TVs, laptops, desktops, tablets and of course mobile phones, bringing more iconic games to a wider audience than any platform ever before.