Being a relative newcomer in kids and family entertainment, the video game industry is inherently trendy and relatively free of classic properties. But even as licensees jump on the bandwagon of the industry’s newest characters, such at Laura Croft and Pokémon, certain veteran properties that were around at the industry’s inception maintain a strong presence. How is this achieved?
Very carefully, according to Cynthia Wilks, director of licensing at Sega of America. ‘In our industry, technology changes so quickly that you have to find a way to freshen the whole theming of a character.’ Sonic the Hedgehog, one of Sega’s flagship characters, was rejuvenated when DIC Entertainment produced a related cartoon series spin-off. Classic characters are still very important, despite new product launches. Referring to Sonic, Wilks notes, ‘He’s like our Mickey Mouse.’
‘Right now, we’re ready to launch another series [in which] Sonic plays in a band-he plays guitar,’ Wilks notes. ‘For us, there are two very strong avenues for keeping the character fresh: the updating of video game technology and having an entertainment property attached,’ she says.
Licensing is a key factor, as well. ‘Licensing not only gives the manufacturer something to look forward to, but [it provides] new characters that the consumer looks for,’ she notes. Each time a game platform is introduced, updated versions of the game introduce new characters.
George Harrison, VP, sales, marketing and corporate communications for Nintendo, says keeping the 12-year-old Super Mario Brothers video game characters alive would be impossible without licensing. ‘One of the things we have to consider is characters tend to show up only periodically as [new] games. How do you keep interest in that character up during that period of time [in between launches],’ he asks?
Indeed, with the game makers’ current focus on new releases of ‘The Legend of Zelda: the Ocarina of Time’ and ‘Pokžmon’-which is being launched in the U.S., with a full-scale licensing program already in place-new licensing ideas to maintain interest during the sometimes lengthy periods between releases, would seem to be an older property’s sole chance at survival.
For example, Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers family of characters recently underwent new licensing incarnations as beanbag toys. The purpose of programs such as this are ‘to keep interest up when the game is out,’ Harrison stresses. ‘We recognized that families wanted more than just one [beanbag character],’ he notes. ‘We’ve had a great deal of success with character licensing that resembled the [game] logo more than the actual character.’