Game Designers - Tiger Got Your IP by the Tail?

Jump through the looking glass to a reality where a game franchise made a different decision. How is alternate reality Electronic Art's football juggernaut "OJ Simpson NFL 2010" doing?

This is the problem with having your Intellectual Property inextricably tied to a living person. People, upon occasion, do some rather unbelievable things.

Back in our reality, EA went with John Madden and thankfully for their marketing team, our garrulous gridiron guru seems to have no more damning foibles than a fondness for curly cheese fries and overly-enthusiastic onomatopoeias. The EA team never had to deal with the prospect of a multi-million dollar sports franchise suddenly finding itself in a potentially compromising position thanks to the actions of the celebrity face on the box.

Er, except of course, for that little Tiger Woods problem.

Not long after Tiger's fall from grace, the corporate sponsors started their mass exodus from Brand Tiger. Accenture, Tag Heuer and a host of other companies are either dropping Tiger or significantly downplaying their association with him. You can argue about the wisdom of this strategy given we live in the Post-Clinton Era (and that Tiger is for all intents and purposes, about 40% of the value of the PGA).

But what's really laughable is the specualtion that EA would drop Tiger Woods from their PGA Tour game. No consumer knows the game as 'PGA Tour'. When consumers are looking for the next version of that good game they played last year, they aren't looking for that PGA game or that EA Golf game - they're looking for Tiger. The game is Tiger Woods, period.  Drop Tiger and you are starting over from zero with your franchise. You might as well try and create a Fuzzy Zoeller franchise from scratch. It is perhaps the height of irony that EA and Tiger Woods will likely weather the storm as they're pretty much bound together - for better or worse.

Sure, EA needs to do the due diligence to assess how much damage is done. They've polled their customers to see if sales will be impacted - that's just seeing where you stand. But realistically, it's just a question of damage control - not whether they are going to sever ties to Tiger. EA is not selling Xbox and PS3 games to corner office executives with a fondness for the links. They're selling to young(er) golf fans who have been attracted to the game, at least in part, because they found somebody they could identify with. EA quite simply built their golf franchise on the back of Tiger's appeal and they never tried to make the brand at all distinct from Tiger himself.

And of course, that's the problem.

When you're creating an IP, you might want to consider developing it in such a way that it's not totally dependent on one person. In the movies, you're very tightly bound to Bruce Willis and his particular style of character if you want to do a Die Hard movie but Batman can be re-cast a half-dozen times and still work. But it's pretty hard to imagine "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater" without the Hawk.

One of the particular strengths of game franchises and virtual characters is their longevity. Lara Croft never has to worry about facelifts, Mickey doesn't get DUIs and the Simpsons's progeny can stay in the 4th grade for twenty years.

Celebrity is a powerful marketing tool. It gives you instant access to a mass audience. It's the reason you see so many games using famous actors in voice role cameos. Put that guy from TV in your game and you can get a lot of press. Or at least, you put a name on the box that people recognize.

The difficulty is when you tie your game IP inextricably to that celebrity. Then you are bound to their fate. If they decide to start showing up in public without their underwear, you might have a problem marketing effectively to your pre-teen audience any more.

This is why, if you are going to use the power of celebrity in your marketing efforts, you might want to find a way to ensure your product can be independent of the celebrity. Even if your celebrity doesn't publicly self-destruct, if you have a successful franchise you're going to eventually find yourself held hostage during the next round of license negotiations. It's interesting that Tiger Woods, back in 2004, brought in Cedric the Entertainer as a character in the game. Now, it's doubtful that Cedric can do the same heavy lifting Tiger can - but the idea of integrating a variety of well-known celebrity golfers isn't such a crazy idea. Celebrity Golf Tournaments create a brand by bringing in celebrities - not any one specific celebrity.

When it comes to intellectual property, control is power. JK Rowlings controls her creation which gives her power. If you are going to do to the effort to create a massive game franchise, you'd be smart to get control over it. Creating a brand that's distinct from the celebrity endorser or building up ancillary characters (whether virtual or not) at least spreads your risk around a bit. Licensed properties and celebrity tie-ins can be a short-cut to success - but ultimately, you'll just be a passenger while someone else is in the driver's seat.

And then, when they're about to crash into a tree, all you can do is close your eyes and hope they swerve.

Image by Brooke Novak by Creative Commons License. 

No comments:

Post a Comment