Licensee: University Games
Location: Headquartered in San Francisco, California, University Games has operations in over 28 countries, including offices in Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, the Netherlands, the U.K. and Sydney, Australia. The company recently established a University Games Europe subsidiary complimenting distributor operations in the U.K., Canada and Australia.
Company background: Founded on April Fool’s Day in 1985 by Bob Moog and Cris Lehman. The duo’s first board game release, Murder Mystery Party, generated US$385,000 in the first year.
Product Range: The company has four divisions producing its range of proprietary and licensed product: Games (board games/travel/card games), Great Explorations (science and learning/novelties), Bepuzzled (puzzles) and Colorforms (stick-on play sets, floor puzzles).
Retail channels: Product range is available in mass, specialty toy, gift, discount chains, museum shops, school supply stores, gift catalogs and on-line at www.areyougame.com.
Licensing contact: Bob Moog, president, 415-503-1600
Property portfolio: Dr. Seuss, Harry Potter, Bob the Builder, Blue’s Clues, Maisy, Little Bear, The Grinch, Curious George, Pippi Longstocking, Brain Quest, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.
The latest: University Games recently welcomed Cartoon Network properties Dexter’s Laboratory and Johnny Bravo to the class, with product slated to ship in August.
Licensing philosophy: According to company president Bob Moog, University Games has a lot to offer a licensor over the competition in its product category, including strong distribution in both mass and specialty and an emphasis on learning products.
‘If a licensor is looking for someone able to put out great product that will not just entertain but also help children developmentally, then we’re typically the best bet,’ says Moog, pointing to the company’s Blue’s Clues and Harry Potter licenses as recent coups over the Mattels and Hasbros of the games industry.
When it comes to what licensors can offer University Games in return, a property with longevity is the largest piece of puzzle, with global impact and line extension possibilities filling in the holes. And from Moog’s point of view, longevity is often synonymous with literature. ‘We prefer licenses based on books and traditional characters over things that are focused around one movie or one season,’ says Moog.
Thus, the company’s first license, signed in 1989, was an evergreen rooted in comic books. ‘Batman had been around for nearly 50 years at that time, and while there was a blockbuster movie coming out, we were also sensitive to the fact that kids also read the comic books and watched the cartoon series on TV, so we thought that it was a great mix between event marketing and something that would last for many years.’
Indeed, University Games’ strategy is not to maximize revenues in the first year, but to build a brand that will last anywhere from three to 10 years, and most of the company’s licensed products are kept in the line for a minimum of four years.
As to what’s next, Moog will roll the dice in hopes of landing a book-based license for the eight to 14 set that will allow the company ‘to get older kids playing games and puzzles.’
Credit Check: In his quest to find quality partners for Cartoon Network’s roster of properties, VP of off-channel commerce Jamie Porges looks at both big and small players. But ultimately, the choice comes down to licensees who ‘really understand our properties, like our properties, and want to have fun with them,’ says Porges. ‘And if they do a great job [developing product], we’re confident that it will sell.’
University Games stepped up to the plate and delivered on all of the above requirements after being granted licenses for Dexter and Johnny Bravo. As the next two up-and-coming properties from the Cartoon Network Originals lineup, Porges thinks the market is ready for licensed product based on them. ‘It’s very important to us that everything we produce has the look, taste, smell and feel of the character in Cartoon Network,’ says Porges. ‘And all of us who grew up with Colorforms wanted to see Colorforms for these properties, so it was a nice fit.’
Yet it was University Games’ understanding of the properties that really clinched the deal and got Cartoon Network fired up about the new licenses. ‘We’re excited about the product, we’re excited about the license, and we’re really excited about the category because we’re picky about the categories that we’re in,’ says Porges. On the wave of that excitement, Porges claims he would ‘absolutely’ consider granting University Games future Cartoon Network licenses based on the work they’ve completed on the Dexter and Bravo licenses to date.