Big names and big budgets can produce big wins, but there are other ways to ensure games scale and succeed. In this episode, our host and Chief Content Officer Peggy Anne Salz catches up with Josh Blitz, Co-Founder & CEO of Cosi Productions, who offers top tips and advice to help developers get smarter about ways they reduce the risk and increase the benefits for their business.
MOBILE GROWTH: Today it’s all about perception of having a top name IP, and somehow resulting in a big-name game, or a big win. There are two schools of thought about this. There are people who say this will guard you from the hits and misses out there in the market and then there are other people who, based on first-hand experience, think very differently. And that’s our guest today — Josh Blitz, Studio Founder and CEO of Cosi Games. Josh, I’m talking about the amazing power of IP, but I don’t think you’re convinced. Tell me about your experience.
JOSH BLITZ: Yes, I’m not convinced. It could go both ways. I think first and foremost you must have a game that is good from the start without an IP. It needs to be a game that monetizes and something the fans would enjoy. There’s plenty of companies that have just slapped a good IP on a game that’s not that good. You see the results, it doesn’t work all the time. You could even look at the top companies, like Glu. You see they got a huge success with Kim Kardashian’s game, but then they tried to replicate that with Katy Perry and Jason Statham. Even if you look at Rodeo; they bought out Shakira’s game, which was meant to be a huge game. It’s not even around anymore. It can go both ways. I really think you need to have a game that’s a great game and that the fans would enjoy. Then think about the IP that will relate to it and that will work well with the game.
MOBILE GROWTH: It’s not just about the IP. It’s also about the deal that you cut. Now at Cosi games, we won’t dwell on the past, but you did have a first-hand experience that pretty much taught you the hard lesson that you really have to pay attention not just to the IP, but to the deal, because it may spin out of control.
JOSH BLITZ: Yes, but you know, it depends on the IP holder. Many of these top IP holders think that they have the gold and they want you to pay up for it. I would stress that you should never really guarantee revenue to these guys, because you don’t know if the game is going to be a success or not. It’s better to, in my opinion, give a bigger percentage of the revenue and not guarantee any upfront.
For the big IPs, they’re not going to go for that. They have top gaming companies to offer them massive, massive royalties. But there are IPs out there that you can find that are willing to work with you. I had this experience. We had this problem with a Muhammad Ali game that we had. Our timing was very hurt by his death. Unfortunately, he passed away as we were in soft launch. We’d been making the game for over a year and it just so happened when we launched the game a month after, he had passed away. The public got the perception that we were trying to exploit his death and make money off of it. And on the same hand, the IP holder, was in an awkward position, because they couldn’t really promote the game. Again, they didn’t want to be looked at in a negative way, promoting products just after his death. It was a risky decision for us to go with Muhammad Ali, with his health, as nobody knew he was going to pass so soon. I would just say, be careful and have that be in the contract. Agree on the amount of social media posts that you’re going to have and wherever else they’re going to promote the product, because it can be dangerous to get into a situation that we were in.
We also have another IP based game with Pele, which was going very successful. That gave us a little bit of comfort to get through that, but as a startup it can be very risky.
MOBILE GROWTH: We’re talking about that risk, and we’ll talk a little bit more about what you’re doing right now. But the interesting point about that risk is, not just what happened to you, but also the way you handled it. You had to be careful, you had to guarantee certain minimum guarantees. How did you bridge that gap?
JOSH BLITZ: We had the certain revenue that we were giving to them budgeted out. At the time, it was all going well. We didn’t see him as passing away. Everything was planned. But as the game got out there, it didn’t do what we wanted it to do. We didn’t get the downloads. Again, Apple and Google felt awkward about the featuring. We got some featuring. It wasn’t in the home pages; it was in the secondary pages, which is all great and we love that. But again, we were backing our marketing campaign to back up featuring, and it just didn’t go to plan. So again, it’s business decisions. You learn as you go. You take those on to the next one. And now we’re in a position that we understand that we will never, or highly doubt, guarantee revenue to an IP holder again. We have other IPs approaching us, and when I explain this to them, they completely understand. If you’re honest and open with the IP holder and tell them, ‘this is too much of a risk, we’re putting however much money to develop the game’, they understand.
You want them to be more as a partner, and we’ve got that now. We’re building another soccer game with David Villa. We’re speaking with the heavyweight champion of the world boxer to do a re-skin of our Muhammad Ali game. These guys all understand They’re all on the same page with us. They’re really a true partner and they’ll promote it, because they want more revenue. That’s the kind of relationship I would urge people to go for, if possible.
MOBILE GROWTH: Take a step back for a moment. We agree – tier 2, tier 3 IP, there’s a lot out there. It doesn’t always have to be tier 1. Tier 1 seems to be more a headache than it’s worth, most times, and you’re not even getting a highly engaged audience of fans and people who want to use the game as a result. Taking a step back, we agree there’s other places to look. There’s blue oceans we haven’t explored. How then do you vet it? Do you look at it and say, ‘this is interesting IP, I’m getting along with the licenser,’ or is it, ‘I’m looking at the engagement of the fanbase’? How do you pick that winning IP that can give you that first step into saying, ‘OK, now we’ve got the IP, let’s build the game’?
JOSH BLITZ: One hundred percent — you must look at the existing fan base and look at engagement and see if they’re a good fit for the game. But I think it’s the opposite to what you just said. You need to first have the game and understand exactly what the game is. Then you try to find an IP that will match up with the game. And yes, we’re you’re vetting out the IP, you look at everything — where their fans are based and if that your target audience — the age of those fans and if they are your target audience. How does their social media back up to get to other IPs? Are they appearing on TV? Are they appearing on other aspects of the news? You want to take all of that in and understand really what the reach is of the IP.
MOBILE GROWTH: So, evaluate that. I’m sure you haven’t cracked the code, necessarily, on calculating the commercial value of IP, but I would be interested in hearing how you do determine that.
JOSH BLITZ: It’s hard to crack. At the end of the day, it is a bit of a judgement call. But you have to look at everything. I’ve just seen an article in Forbes that Christiano Ronaldo gets paid 300,000 pounds per Instagram post, so that’s about $450,000. That’s great for a brand that has unlimited funds. But for an app, how many downloads is that going to bring? It’s hard to actually get a true understanding of the IP size. You just must go, put your best foot forward, and try to make your best guess on that. Hopefully, that is the right decision.
MOBILE GROWTH: That’s a great segue way to talk about where are you now. Where is Cosi games now? You were talking about the new IP that you’re experimenting with, games in soft launch. Give me an update on what’s next.
JOSH BLITZ: We took the success from our Pele game, understood exactly what our users were playing the most of in that game, and made a new soccer game. The intention was to get a big IP for the game. Now the game is in soft launch. We’re going to launch in mid-August. It’s a multi-player soccer game. We decided to not go with an IP, in the end, because the game was testing well. We looked at the different IPs that wanted to be involved with us. We got approached by some very big IPs in the software community. But we said, ‘you know what, by the time we ended up paying them the percentage – they didn’t want upfront revenue. But by the time we ended up paying their percentage, we didn’t think it made sense. The game’s got its own legs to stand on. So, we’re going ahead with releasing it as our own IP game.’
At the same time, we signed another soccer player, David Villa, who is at the moment the MLS MVP. He’s Spain’s all-time leading goal scorer. He won the World Cup with them and won the Euros with them. We are partnering with them on the development of the game. We think that will be a huge success as well, and we’ll launch that game around the same time as the MLS playoffs this year, on which New York City ST are doing well. He has a huge presence – over 25 million social media followers, very well respected – and we’re going to do some cool engagement campaigns with some of his ex-players in Barcelona playing each other to try to get the game going viral. So that’s the model that we love, because David Villa’s team are excited about it They want to promote it; they’ve reached out to his sponsors at Adidas, Gatorade, and they are going to get them involved to promote and sponsor the game. It’s an exciting time for us over here.
MOBILE GROWTH: And you make a point about being creative. Because this isn’t just thinking about the game first and getting the IP. You’ve also expanded your approach beyond that. You’re talking about influencer campaigns. There’s some branding in there; it seems to me that it’s part of a larger strategy. Would you like to take me through that? It seems to me that it doesn’t stop at the game and getting the great IP, but there’s a lot of aftermarket going on here.
JOSH BLITZ: Yes, you want to get engaged with the soccer community. We do everything from reach out to soccer camps that have a thousand students. We run competitions in those soccer camps to get everybody to download the game, share it, make it go viral. We do partnerships with the teams and give out some good prizes. We obviously engage the biggest social media soccer players in the world. In our past games, we’ve had players like Wayne Rooney and Cesc Fàbregas talk about our game online and Tweet about it. That was literally just from asking them. Some of these guys we spoke to askes us to pay 10 – 20 grand. Others were more than willing to send a little Tweet or post about the game which was great for us. I think it’s all down to hustle. You must get out there and put yourself out there. It’s a numbers game. If you start hitting the right people, and that one person Tweets about it, you can use that as ammo to go to the next one. Try and build a social media presence. We also have our own Facebook, Twitter pages, Reddit, and anything we can product hunt just to get the name out there. Get the game out there, get the community talking about the game, so they can be as successful as they can on launch.
MOBILE GROWTH: I couldn’t hope for a better way to get to the last part of my interview, which is basically that, Josh. How do the people listening in stay in touch with you? How do they keep up with you and maybe what’s going on over there at Cosi productions at Cosi Games?
JOSH BLITZ: You can check in with me, I’m always available. My email is email@example.com. Feel free to email me. You can check me out on LinkedIn, you can check our website out at cosigames.com, Facebook, Twitter. We’re always looking for feedback and beta testers on our games. If anyone wants to have a go at our games before they launch, they can shoot us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are currently in soft launch with this game. We look at every bit of feedback; we reply to every review on GooglePlay. We just want to build the best games possible.
MOBILE GROWTH: I have no doubt, because you’ve made it your business model to be everywhere. Thanks for joining me and good luck with your soft launch!
JOSH BLITZ: My pleasure, thank you so much.