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Let’s get emotional over licensed IP in games

The 90s revival is creating some interesting opportunities in the world of mobile games, says Exient’s Julian Jones.

Just over a year ago, we published the classic 1990s puzzle game Lemmings for mobile phones.

We always knew it was going to be an important game for us as a company, as it marked our first self-published release after building our name and reputation as a ‘work for hire’ mobile game studio, during which time we were lucky enough to work on market-leading IP such as FIFA, Angry Birds and F1.

Thankfully, the game-playing public gave our iPhone and Android version of Lemmings, originally published by Psygnosis for the Amiga in 1991, the thumbs up.

We think there are a couple of key reasons for that. The first – and this goes for any mobile port of a game that was originally created for PC or console – is that we made sure our take on this particular classic was optimised for the target platform.

As a development team, we play a lot of so-called ‘hyper-casual’ games (level 500 in Voodoo’s Castle Wreck anyone?), usually defined by a ‘tap to play’ mechanic that is easy to pick up for short bursts of activity on a tea break or train journey.

So, we fed all that retained knowledge into a Lemmings experience that offered what we feel is a familiar yet entirely mobile-optimised take on the game people loved 30 years ago on their Commodore machines.

And that brings us to the second reason we think the game works: Lemmings is what we’ve decided to call a ‘forever franchise’. That is to say, as a piece of IP it taps (no pun intended) deeply into the collective consciousness of 40+ year old gamers everywhere, but also carries enough historic resonance to appeal to younger demographics too.

As a brand it’s in a unique sweet spot that’s being amplified by the current 90s revival, not least in the context of PlayStation’s recent 25th anniversary year.

And here’s the thing – our management team are all of a certain age, so we started to look around and quickly came to the realisation that there’s a huge opportunity out there to create mobile titles for gamers who grew up with certain franchises, and who remain huge fans of those experiences.

We know that, like us, they are older now – and we know that (again like us!) they are time poor and will most likely be attracted to hyper casual mobile games for that reason. Even more so if the game is based on IP they are deeply and emotionally attached to.

We’ve decided as a company to double down on our Lemmings experience in order to create welcoming, humble, focused, mass market, fun and playful games – and we think there are myriad ‘forever franchises’ out there just waiting to be brought back into the roaring Twenties. All of which equates to a significant opportunity for the licensing community and some of the gems of dormant brands that we know are out there.

What’s more there’s nothing to say that a forever franchise begins and ends with video games IP either – toys and films offer an equally rich back catalogue of nostalgic memories for a generation now more pre-occupied with interest rates than kill streaks. Let’s evolve with them.

Julian Jones is chief publishing officer at UK mobile games studio Exient. You can find out more information by clicking here.

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