The relationship between games and animated films and videos has always had a close relationship, and animated shorts have proved to be an incredibly effective way to engage fans with their favorite game characters, as evidenced by Blizzard’s Overwatch shorts.
Mobile game developer Seriously, which makes the Best Fiends puzzle game series, has taken advantage of that trend and released two original animated shorts on YouTube over the past months to extend the Best Fiends world, where cute little Fiends battle against Slugs.
“At Seriously, we try to create worlds on mobile,” Matt McMahon, senior vice president of business development at Seriously Digital Entertainment, told AListDaily. “What that means is that we are trying to create intellectual properties and entertainment brands that have great characters, stories and worlds that happen to come to life first as mobile phone games.”
The first short is “Boot Camp,” which involves two Slug army cadets named Hank and Roger, who end up getting a lesson in defeat. The video took in over 6.4 million views when it released in May, and it boosted profits for Seriously in the months following the launch.
The second one was “Visit Minutia” and features an all-star voice cast that includes Pamela Adlon (Better Things, Californication), Mark Hamill (Star Wars), David Herman (Office Space), Maurice LaMarche (Futurama, Zootopia), Kate Walsh (13 Reasons Why, Grey’s Anatomy) and Billy Dee Williams (Star Wars, Batman). In it, the Fiends go on a vacation and discover that Slugs are the worst tourists in the world. “Visit Minutia” got over one million views within two weeks of launching.
McMahon explained how Seriously loves the direct connection mobile games have with their players, and the company fosters engagement through frequent updates, push notifications and social media. Seriously puts a great deal of focus on the characters from its games, and it decided to extend that theme beyond mobile games to original scripted videos—giving the characters a chance to come to life and speak while showing more of the world.
“We have a lot of stories to tell in Best Fiends,” said McMahon, describing how the company decided to produce an animated series to deepen the experience with the brand and its characters. “The game is only the tip of the iceberg, and you can only tell so much with it, and we think there’s a ton more to tell with the epic struggle between the Fiends and the Slugs on Minutia. There’s a lot more material behind it that underpins the games but are hard to express there. Videos are great because we can introduce new characters, new parts of the world and hopefully make you laugh.”
The series is being released on YouTube, but players are made aware of them through the Best Fiends games. McMahon said that partnering with animation studio Reel FX to make high-quality shorts helps these animations stand out against competing content. Seriously has even promoted them like movie premieres, complete with teaser videos on social media. Quality also encourages players to share the videos on social media, extending awareness of the brand, and McMahon confirmed that the videos successfully brought in new players.
“We’ve had over 1.2 million shares from the game to users’ Facebook pages via the YouTube link,” said McMahon. “That’s phenomenal. That’s our fans telling their friends that this is something that they’re passionate about, and it’s recommended content because it’s on their Facebook pages.”
According to McMahon, there was a huge spike in both engagement and monetization during the months of June and July following “Boot Camp,” which released just before Memorial Day. Even though he admitted that it’s hard to directly attribute that rise to the video, the developers know that—based on fan reception, comments and shares—the video was driving new people to the game while re-engaging old fans through corresponding in-game events that were timed with the video release.
Meanwhile, the related in-game events help drive monetization. For example, players who play the “Boot Camp” event have an extra emotional connection if they do so right after watching the video.
“I think there’s an emotional connection when you watch a video that’s of feature quality and looks like it could be a movie. You say to yourself, ‘all this time and love I’ve put into this little mobile phone game—there could be something more there. The people who make that game love their property as much as I do. They love it enough to make these great videos, and clearly invest a lot of time, effort and love into them.’ I think it just makes our core fan base feel really good about the whole experience, which might lead them to spend a little more time and money.”
McMahon said that these in-game events can pay for the production of videos, which was the case for “Boot Camp,” which brought in revenue that exceeded the budget of the short. Given their success, Seriously will continue to release more videos on a regular basis, although the exact details such as the release schedule, how they relate to each other and their overall length, are still being worked out.
“Suffice it to say, we’re going to take video as seriously as we take games,” McMahon explained. “We see it as a great channel to build out the IP, complement the game and tell more stories.”
One of the lessons Seriously learned from the first videos is that story needs to come first. McMahon said that the company will be ambitious with its video plans, but it needs to ensure that the stories are right first—featuring subversive comedy that’s appropriate for families from around the world to enjoy.
Although Seriously plans on sticking to short-form animations for the foreseeable future, it is exploring the possibility of longer-form animations and different distribution channels.
“I think now is a time in Hollywood where that’s a very fertile ground,” said McMahon. “There are a lot of dynamic players in that space and there are a lot of folks looking for new content, and we think our content, world and IP stack up very well to a lot of what’s out there. Like I said, we want to take the video business as seriously as we take the games business, and we think there’s a lot of opportunity there.”
McMahon commented on whether Seriously saw itself competing against Angry Birds creator Rovio—which launched its IPO in September and also has roots in Helsinki, Finland—in becoming a full media company. He acknowledged the similarities between the two companies, but there are key differences as to how Seriously approaches its stories and how the animated shorts tie in with the game.
“I think we’ve always seen ourselves as a media company,” said McMahon. “IP, brand and story creation has always been at the heart [of what we do], and that’s been in the DNA of the company from the start. Mobile games are the ways to get our properties out first and foremost—it’s where we have great expertise, and we have world-class people. We have world-class people now attacking the video business, doing our brand marketing and our influencer marketing, but games will always be the core hub of opportunities for the brand.”