CLARENCE, NY -- Consumers' enthusiasm for downloading games to their smartphones and tablets shows no sign of diminishing, and these game applications have become ingrained in popular culture. With steady improvement in processing power and wireless connectivity, game developers have found a vast market, with hundreds of millions of best-selling games downloaded.
The amusement industry, which has a long history of licensing popular properties developed for other media, has jumped aboard the game app bandwagon, too. Almost as soon as the trend hit, the industry scooped up licenses to adapt smash-hit mobile games to both merchandise and coin-operated amusements.
One of the companies in the vanguard of this trend is Innovative Concepts in Entertainment. So far, the company has licensed two apps for merchandisers, with enviable success, and continues to look for more apps that might be translated into coin-op hits.
"We are fortunate to have secured the license for two of the world's leading apps in Cut the Rope and Doodle Jump," said Joe Coppola, vice-president of sales for ICE. "Both of these titles have had unbelievable success globally, and have shown no signs of slowing down.
"We have noticed that certain successful apps actually are more popular, and reach more demographics than some of the more traditional licenses in our industry," Coppola reported. "Typically, many of these apps are popular with many age groups, and are not limited to a particular small demographic."
According to Coppola, this is an important discovery, since redemption games typically cater to an entire family. A game familiar to both young children and their parents hits the demographic sweet spot. "One of the most important factors in selecting an app to license for a redemption title is that it has to be appealing and recognizable among many ages and demographics," Coppola noted. "When you have young children pushing their parents out of the way to play a game, then you know you are really onto something."
With Lima Sky's Doodle Jump closing in at 20 million downloads and ZeptoLab's Cut The Rope surpassing 100 million, it might seem that licensing games developed for portable devices would be a piece of digital cake -- just count the downloads and write a check.
If only it were that easy. While these games (unlike movies) are proven in the marketplace prior to licensing, the popularity of a game designed for download doesn't necessarily translate into immediate coin-op success. ICE is thoroughly familiar with this through its decades of experience.
"I think it's safe to say, when you look at our 30-year history in the coin-op business and especially the past 10 to 12 years, ICE has the largest lineup of licensed products in the industry," Coppola observed. "But we have been very particular with the licenses we selected and pursued over the years."
Coppola explained that the company does not have a specific formula or policy for licensing a game. As with licensing a movie, there is no hard-and-fast metric. It comes down to evaluating each game for its coin-op potential. "No matter what the game might be, we always try to stay true to the license," he said. "But at the same time it's obvious that there is a 'conversion' involved when taking a game that's an app -- essentially played for free, sometimes for hours, at home -- and make it a fun, exciting, 30-second to maybe two-minute arcade experience," he said. "That is really where most of the challenge lies for us."
The ICE executive pointed to the example of the company's highly successful Cut the Rope merchandiser that draws its characters and cabinet graphics from the app but didn't incorporate any of the video content. Instead, the firm combined the popular, instantly recognizable license with a unique skill merchandiser. "You can contrast that with Doodle Jump, which did incorporate the video into the gameplay," he noted. "Much of the credit for the success and design of that game play belongs to Raw Thrills; its team did an incredible job of taking that app and creating a fantastic redemption game experience that literally anyone can start playing immediately, with hardly any learning curve. Again, In the case of Doodle Jump, it has quickly become a worldwide hit."
How long these games will endure in their current form is anyone's guess. The downloads on the market now were inspired by a flood of new mobile hardware coming onto the market and into the hands of potential players. A few technological generations down the road that could change dramatically, but there's no doubt that companies like ICE will be there.