Award-winning immersive attraction MONOPOLY LIFESIZED is the subject of a not-to-be-missed keynote at this year’s BLE, presented by David Hutchinson, founder and ceo of LBE specialist The Path Entertainment, and Hasbro’s vice president of LBE, Matt Proulx.
David sat down with LicensingSource.net to tell us how Hasbro got on board with The Path Entertainment’s concept for a “holistic” experience of the classic game, and why developing LBE experiences is now a top priority for brands.
MONOPOLY LIFESIZED has been a huge success. Can you briefly outline the gameplay for us? And what’s your core demographic?
MONOPOLY LIFESIZED is an 80-minute curated experience, complete with actors that play the classic MONOPOLY tokens; you get partnered up with a Scottie dog, a battleship, an iron, and so on. It’s a group-based game that takes all the fundamentals of MONOPOLY – in that you’re out there purchasing properties and building your assets via houses and hotels, while trying to avoid going to jail – but every element is a ‘level above’. For example, each property is actually a small room that offers a two-and-a-half-minute game-in-a-game. It might be testing players’ physical skills, logic or world knowledge, but participants have to work as a team to complete the challenge in order to buy the property.
The jail is a proper jail with actual bunk beds and toilets; the community chest is a giant chest with trivia, other activities and all sorts of fun… We’re giving people the opportunity to ‘competitively socialise’ and play some really fun games, while also giving them a whirlwind tour of London. Every property in the game has a story to tell about that part of London and what it’s famous for, so if it’s a property in the theatre district, there might be a theatre-based challenge attached.
At the outset we thought our majority audience would be families, but our core demographic is actually 25 to 45 year olds – young professionals, corporate teams on strategy days… The audience definitely skews younger than our theatre audiences. Now that Covid restrictions are finally over, we’re starting to get quite a lot of tourism, which has made us start thinking about how we make the experience more accessible when it comes to language, so we can be open to as many different demographics as possible.
We do approach brands, but in this instance, Hasbro came to us. They have a roster of incredible, legendary properties, like MONOPOLY and Cluedo, and they asked if we’d be interested in licensing them for the stage. We thought the games are so interactive that an immersive experience might be a better fit, and they ran with it.
As a partner, they’ve been fantastic. They’re managing a nearly 90 year old iconic brand with more than one billion players in 114 countries across the globe that has been developed in hundreds of different country, city and cross-IP versions – and given all that, they gave us a lot of rope to develop the concept.
What we didn’t want to do was offer a carbon copy of the game everyone can play in their living rooms, because that’s adding zero value. We wanted to give visitors that famous iconography but allow them to do so much more in that 80 minutes, so the game becomes a holistic experience. That bled out into other areas of the experience, like our Top Hat Restaurant & Bar, which offers cocktails named after some of the iconic properties, served in little tokens; there’s even Electric Company lighting in one corner. There’s obviously a retail store, too. All of it allows visitors to immerse themselves in that brand, both during the game and afterwards.
Why do you think MONOPOLY LIFESIZED has resonated so strongly with consumers?
We’re incredibly lucky to have a brand behind us with a quality legacy going back nearly 90 years. The game has a place in everyone’s heart. I love standing outside the building and watching people notice the venue as they walk past, because I know if I asked any of them, they’d have a MONOPOLY story to tell.
There’s also the fact that during Covid, one of the things we did a lot of was play board games – consumption flew up, and many of us associate board games with getting through tough times. Understandably, people are prioritising what they’re spending their money on right now, but we aren’t seeing a drop in visitor numbers at MONOPOLY LIFESIZED, which is great.
How did it feel to win the Best Location-Based Entertainment Award at The Licensing International Excellence Awards?
We weren’t expecting it – everyone says that, but it’s true. Compared to the competition, we were definitely the new kids on the block. We had no expectations that our project on Tottenham Court Road would make an impact in Las Vegas. When we won it was incredible – we were really, really chuffed. We were delighted for Hasbro, too. It was like a thank you to them, that this major company based in the US had shown a huge amount of confidence in us, even when the Covid travel restrictions were in place and they couldn’t come and see the progress for themselves first hand. We’re a relatively new company, and it would have been easy for them to ignore us and work with someone they already knew, but they totally got behind us.
What do you think is behind the huge growth we’re seeing in the LBE space?
Location-based entertainment is growing faster than other areas of the live entertainment sector. Covid suddenly took away the opportunities for us all to come together and share experiences with friends and family, so coming out of the pandemic period, the demand for those experiences is significant.
Also tied up in that demand is the fact that so many great IP owners are now looking to utilise their brands in this way. Over the past few years we’ve seen studios and IP owners tooling up to put more emphasis on location-based entertainment. Initially, when trying to get licences, we might have been flung around different departments, but now IP owners have dedicated, really amazing people who concentrate on LBE; it’s a priority for them. And of course, audiences are growing on the consumer side as well.
Changes in the retail sector are a big factor. We’re all shopping in a different way: we can click and collect, or get something delivered in 24 hours. City centre stores will no longer need huge stock rooms, and so high streets are becoming more receptive to ideas as to how leisure and cultural experiences can drive people into the city centre. Consumers can do a bit of shopping, they can go and play some MONOPOLY LIFESIZED, go bowling, play mini golf – there are so many cool concepts popping up.
What’s next for MONOPOLY LIFESIZED? Will you be expanding into other territories?
We’ve always looked at London as the flagship, but our business model is to invest in property in landmark locations, and that means the wider world. MONOPOLY has international resonance. We did our first franchise deal for MONOPOLY LIFESIZED in Saudi Arabia in November 2022, and now we’re looking at North America and Asia Pacific. As we expand we will obviously localise the experience in terms of local places, local stories and local iconography.
What other key IPs are you working with? Can you tell us about your other live experiences?
For just under a year we’ve been running an escape room experience based on the brand Saw, in partnership with Lionsgate, who we absolutely love working with. It’s perfect for horror fans. And this December, we’re launching The Paddington Experience at London’s County Hall, also in association with Lionsgate, and with The Copyrights Group and StudioCanal. It’s a 40,000 sq ft experience aimed at kids aged 4–9, based on the David Heyman films, which are just insanely good. We try to make sure we don’t get stuck in one bucket, we want to be a company that can work across diverse genres for different audiences.
Thanks, David. Anything you’d like to add?
I have to mention that behind The Path Entertainment is an amazing group of highly skilled and super-dedicated people. We’ve got people from a publishing background, from theatre, from membership clubs, and we all pull together because we’re excited by what’s happening in the LBE space. It would be completely wrong of me as founder and ceo to say that our success so far, even a small portion of it, was just down to me. Everyone works really, really hard and they give a lot, and I really appreciate them for that.
Brand Licensing Europe 2023 runs from 4-6 October at London’s ExCeL. The online Meeting Platform is now open, with registered attendees able to search the exhibitor list, brand directory, send meeting requests and plan their calendar by adding sessions by clicking here. Visitor registration is now open. Simply click here for further details.