The Licensing Lookout: The name of the game

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes on the week which saw esports break into the wider consciousness.

This is more of a read all about it rather than a lookout observation.

The coverage in the mainstream media this week for the inaugural Fortnite World Cup was truly comprehensive. I read a lot about it, heard plenty of radio interviews and saw TV reports. The fact that the runner up in the ‘duos’ tournament was from the UK helped with the human interest reporting of this super-sized esports tournament. The competition was held in New York’s Arthur Ashe Stadium and attracted a large live audience. Gaming and esports have been on the licensing radar for some time and BLE has announced plans to focus on these categories at this year’s show. This is itself a recognition of the growing importance of the category in licensing.

The fact that The Times ran a full page story headlined ‘Teenagers hit $1m Fortnite jackpot’ is an indication that esports is now being taken more seriously by the wider community. Not all the commentary about the event and the competitors was complimentary, however, with some commentators raising concerns about teenagers earning a living from playing games.

The Times ran a full page story on the Fortnite World Cup.
The Times ran a full page story on the Fortnite World Cup.

Putting these concerns to one side, when an event gets the level of publicity that the Fortnite World Cup received this week it is clear that esports should be piquing interest in licensing and at retail. It is certainly a category that warrants further inspection.

Maybe because of the Fortnite tournament I noticed that my local Game store in Kingston has its own esports team – the Kingston Hurricanes. Interestingly in the context of a high street that is under pressure, Game has tapped into the community and the trend to create retail traffic.

This sense of supporting and creating a community could be an idea for other retailers and retail sector to consider. Retailers in areas like crafting and greeting cards run events for customers to try new products.

Retailer Games Workshop has community play at the heart of its retail offer. Consumers can play games in-store and become part of a game-playing community. Interestingly Games Workshop has just reported a 16% rise in sales to £256 million for the year to June 2. It has six million registered users to the Warhammer community website. While supporting its consumer community proactively is not the only reason for the success, it certainly helps that it knows its customers and that it has a positive relationship with them.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell was just one of the licensed board games in Waterstones Notting Hill.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell was just one of the licensed board games in Waterstones Notting Hill.

Outside of the esports arena I took a visit to Waterstones in Notting Hill. I have been very impressed by how Waterstones has developed its stores and the store offering in recent times. While books and book selling are at the core, Waterstones has dialled up and dipped into some emerging categories. It seems to have its finger on the pulse of what its customers are interested in.

A good example is board games and puzzles. Waterstones Notting Hill has a couple of tables dedicated to games and puzzles. There is a good mix of classic board games and newer games. Licensing features in the selection with products including a Friends version of Trivial Pursuit, a Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell board game and a Harry Potter version of Dobble. I chatted to the shop manager and she observed that there was a crossover between book buyers and game players.

Puzzle companies such as Gibson’s and Ravensburger were well represented in-store with licensed ranges featuring.

Waterstones has further scope to build on its board game and puzzles business, believes Ian.
Waterstones has further scope to build on its board game and puzzles business, believes Ian.

A good example of the link between books and games was the fact that Waterstones stocked a Ravensburger jigsaw puzzle featuring artwork from renowned bird illustrator Matt Sewell. Matt has a successful range of books in-store as well.

As the shop manager observed often consumers will buy a book, greeting card and a game/puzzle featuring the same artwork or brand to create a ‘super present’. It makes perfect sense, but it is another example of knowing your consumers and in this case staff taking some initiative to understand their customers and what they are looking for.

I think Waterstones has scope to build on its board game and puzzle business. I think it could develop board game clubs within store and potentially link with designers, artists and creators to run events. Clearly it knows how to run author events and using this skill to tap further into board gaming might be a development opportunity for them and a way of connecting further with their consumer community. But full marks to Waterstones Notting Hill for layout, presentation and for staff who were engaged in the art of selling. Waterstones in my experience are great stores to visit. And to buy things in!

Pink Panther is one of the characters which featured on hand painted baseball boots and sneakers.
Pink Panther is one of the characters which featured on hand painted baseball boots and sneakers.

Finally as I was strolling around Notting Hill I saw a shop selling ‘hand painted’ baseball boots and sneakers. Many of the shoes on show featured well known IP such as London Underground, the Pink Panther and Dr Who. I am not 100% sure of the status of these designs and their commercial usage in this instance, but what I did think was that it was a really neat idea and a further example of how well known IP can be used to create an added value and personalised experience for consumers. It was also a very clever design idea and style.

I am sure Jaden Ashman will be investing in a few pairs of hand painted Fortnite sneakers soon. Remember his name. It might be a quiz question one day…

Ian Downes runs Start Licensing, an independent brand licensing agency. His Twitter handle is @startlicensing – he would welcome your suggestions for what to look out for.

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