Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Inside Nickelodeon’s Subscription Gaming Strategy

The kids broadcaster has a unique take on using subscription services versus driving people to its proprietary apps.

It’s strange that in 2019 we’re not all playing games on headsets or via a microchip embedded in our brains, like so many movies made us all believe would happen.

Actually, gaming in general has progressed a lot more slowly than everyone in the '80s thought it would. (Marty McFly, we're looking at you.) That’s not to say that developers haven’t tried—just think of 2013′s Google Glass, and how the technology company claimed that everyone would be walking around with goggles within a decade. Or look at Virtual Reality (VR), which continues to fight for relevance with the masses, even as its adoption remains niche.

To entice users away from the cotton candy of gaming (sugary, sweet, not a lot of substance) Google created Stadia, a subscription-based cloud gaming service. The 4K-streaming paltform will launch in November, the tech giant says.

Microsoft, meanwhile, is diving into the interactive and eSports space with Mixer, a video game live-streaming site. It recently lured the internet’s most-watched streamer, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, away from Amazon’s Twitch, where he was the first (and only) star to hit 10 million followers.

Not to be left behind, Apple—arguably the primary purveyor behind the free-to-play movement—is rolling out Apple Arcade in fall 2019. The aim of the service, which will launch in 150 countries, is to bring ad-free subscription gaming to the casual user and meet them where they’re already playing with exclusive original titles from the likes of LEGO, Cartoon Network and Disney.

But with all of these new pathways opening up, no one is quite clear yet what will take off, particularly with kids. So companies, such as Nickelodeon, are putting their eggs in different baskets to see what approach draws young players in and expands their brands to keep ahead of the competition.

This week, Kidscreen has been looking at different company’s video game strategies, including Cartoon Network’s virtual reality plans and Aardman’s way of blending story and gaming. Now, Kidscreen are looking at why Nickelodeon is betting on subscription gaming.

There’s a subscription in my boot

Nickelodeon prefers to put its existing titles on third party subscription platforms.

Nickelodeon is seeing a way forward for gaming by betting on subscription services, after it saw how the model took off in music (Spotify and Apple Music), and content (Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu).

“Games are that natural next frontier,” says Francis Dahl, director of international games and apps at Nickelodeon. “I think all of these different avenues offering kids access to games is great. It provides more opportunities for people to play.”

Nickelodeon’s strategy is a cautious one: It’s testing third-party subscription services such as GlobalFun (available to more than two billion Android users in 120-plus countries) with pre-existing titles such as SpongeBob SquarePants: Bubble Party (pictured), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Brothers Unite and Sky Whale. And Dahl will take a similar approach to Stadia and Apple Arcade. Instead of building out originals for third parties, Nick will dedicate resources to its standalone and Nickelodeon-branded apps (such as Nick Play or Noggin).

That’s not to say this will always be the case—the benefit of ad-free subscription models is too great to ignore.

“The problem for kids is that a lot of free-to-play games are designed in a way that continually asks users to pay for more content,” says Dahl. “But with subscription services, you don’t need to build games around constantly trying to monetize [the game]. If there’s no in-game transactional downloads, it creates a better experience for kids.”

Nickelodeon will also be delving into VR and AR (Augmented Reality) with Meet the Voxels (working title), an original TV, virtual reality and augmented reality series conceived by Chris Young, Senior Vice President of Nickelodeon’s Entertainment Lab. The animated sitcom, created in a game engine, marks a first for Nickelodeon in its use of cutting-edge virtual cinema technology, including real-time full body and facial performance capture, bringing an innovative approach to immersive storytelling.

Nickelodeon Africa are also developing NickX, a kid-focused competitive gaming eSports platform, with Emerge Gaming Limited (ArcadeX).

Meanwhile, in Asia, Nickelodeon is on the verge of launching Nickelodeon Pixel Town, a brand-new game app featuring a variety of Nickelodeon properties, in partnership with goGame.

And in the U.K., Nickelodeon has just launched its Living Loud: The Surprise Party, it's multiplayer digital game inspired by Nicktoons' hit animated series The Loud House.

Keep checking into Kidscreen to learn where LEGO lands on the gaming subscription issue and the what the Danish brickmaker sees as the future of gaming.

More Nick: Nickelodeon and Emerge Gaming Partner for 'NickX', a New Kid-Focused Competitive Gaming eSports Platform!

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