FoxNext’s mission is to take 20th Century Fox and Fox Television intellectual properties to the next level with memorable experiences. Some of its most prominent creations include the Alien Covenant VR experience In Utero, where viewers witness the birth of a neomorph from the creature’s point-of-view. Earlier this year, the group formed FoxNext Games as the company’s first in-house game development division, which acquired Aftershock Studios (the studio that was created after Kabam was acquired by Netmarble) in June.
Headed by Amir Rahimi, vice president and general manager of the Los Angeles studio for FoxNext Games, the studio is currently developing a number of mobile games. Most prominently, it is working alongside Lightstorm Entertainment to create a mobile MMO based on James Cameron’s Avatar universe.
“The current focus for us is to build games that we can legitimately have over 100 million people play,” Rahimi told AListDaily. “That’s the scale, scope and opportunity with Avatar.”
Rahimi was joined by Aaron Loeb, president of studios at FoxNext Games, as the two discussed the how the close relationship with other branches of the media company could redefine how we think about entertainment in the future.
Whether you’re talking about Fox’s film, television or gaming side, “the appetite is there from all of the creators to figure out how to reach fans and audiences in ways that they are being entertained today,” said Loeb. “If fans want an experience that exists on a different screen or collaborates across multiple screens, then everyone here is excited about figuring that out.”
What led FoxNext Games to acquire Aftershock Studios?
Loeb: FoxNext is a next generation storytelling company, formed in January this year as part of Fox. Its mission is to bring the best possible storytelling to different media. It has location-based entertainment, a VR studio, and a games group. That games group, under my co-president Rick Phillips, has been primarily focused on licensed games with partners to make incredible games like The Simpsons: Tapped Out and Family Guy: Quest for Stuff. The company recently wanted to expand into first-party game development—working directly with creators to make the amazing worlds that are part of the Fox family. Aftershock was a company that was formed when Kabam was acquired by Netmarble. It comprised of a bunch of great teams that have been working together for years—industry veterans who have made some the world’s greatest video games for over a decade. Similarly, we have a team in San Francisco that has been working together for a long time, making beloved games. So, these are the kinds of people we’ve brought together—great video game creators that fit in the FoxNext vision.
Is FoxNext focused exclusively on mobile games?
Loeb: FoxNext as a group has a portfolio that is mostly mobile games when you look at the licensing and development, but there are also PC and console games. Aftershock is currently working exclusively on free-to-play mobile games, but never say never about other platforms.
Rahimi: One of the things that I really like about this group is that we’ve been successful on just about every platform—console, PC, web, mobile. We view mobile as a great platform because you can reach tens of hundreds of millions of people with the right type of gameplay, IP and social mechanics. It’s the best place for us to be today, but we have confidence in being able to branch out to lots of different platforms.
What are the benefits of having in-house studios compared to licensing IPs?
Rahimi: There are both creative and business advantages. If you’re a studio and you’re giving up a certain percentage of your revenue for licensing, then that makes it more difficult to do things like user acquisition. Being one team and keeping an entire chunk of money for pouring back into more effective marketing is awesome. From a creator’s perspective, there’s an enormous wealth of creative talent at Fox. So, to be within the same walls and have access to the luminaries that exist here creates amazing opportunities for collaborations. I think the next generation of entertainment is going to come from people who are not just game developers or storytellers, but people who combine the two in fascinating ways.
Loeb: This is what Amir and I and our teams are most passionate about—joining a company of game developers where we are able to partner with people who have mastered the storytelling craft across other media. They’re looking to us in the game space to figure out how we’re going to partner together as we create games that live within the worlds that they’ve created. Amir and his team are working very closely with Lightstorm on Avatar. To partner with them, learn about their world, and work that closely is an incredible gift. It cuts straight through all kinds of communications issues because we’re there together. It’s almost impossible to overstate the advantage of that direct collaboration.
After licensing IP for some very successful games, does FoxNext essentially have a head start in the mobile gaming space, as opposed to having to establish the brand from scratch?
Loeb: I believe that whether people have heard of FoxNext Games or not, they’ve certainly heard the name 20th Century Fox and Fox Television. These are known entities that have brought some of the world’s favorite entertainment for 100 years. So, it definitely has a leg up, especially if we say we’ve partnered directly with the creators their favorite show or movie. We’re partnering directly with the creators to make a game that really lives as part of that world. There are very few companies that can—or are even trying to—give you that.
With that relationship in mind, is FoxNext focused on creating games based on existing IP or are there plans to create all original games?
Rahimi: I think we’ll strike a healthy balance of both. One of the exciting things about joining Fox is working on IPs that make for very compelling video games, but our approach is not to think about it as a license or as something that will give us a leg up in any way. We look at the IPs and choose them based on what we love the most and think will most naturally translate into a compelling mobile game experience.
Loeb: Right now, we’re working on a slate of games, and one of them includes one of the biggest properties in the world. However, I think everyone at FoxNext shares a vision of how worlds and intellectual properties are going to be defined across many different screens and media simultaneously. So, having people who are great storytellers, whose preferred canvas is video games, partnering with people who prefer movie screens to figure out how to make worlds together from the get go—existing on both the movie screen and on the game—that’s where the opportunity lies.
Rahimi: We’re excited about Avatar, not just because it’s the top-grossing film of all time, but because James Cameron has created a world that is so expansive and perfect for the type of game we want to build made it a natural marriage. Moving forward, there will be opportunities to team up with people from Fox and build something from scratch. One of the most thrilling highlights of my career was working on a game called Boom Blox (2008) with Steven Spielberg where we did exactly that. He had an idea that he wanted to express, talked to us about it, and we collaborated for a year-and-a-half to bring it to life.
The next Avatar movie isn’t expected to release until 2020. Will it be difficult to keep a mobile game at the top of mind for that long, or does it make planning cross-marketing opportunities easier?
Rahimi: Honestly, the world is so rich and perfect that I don’t sit and worry about when the movie is going to come out and what sorts of cross-marketing opportunities there are. We should definitely think about that at some level, but we’re just focused on creating the most authentic and incredible experience we can. When we talk to our partners at Lightstorm, we see enormous interest in the things that they’re doing today like the Cirque Du Soleil show and the Avatar Experience at Disney World. It might not seem top of mind on a day-to-day basis, but there is a huge amount of interest out there that’s hungry for new experiences. So, whether the game launches well ahead of or right along with the movie, we know that the audience will be there when we do.
What do you hope will be the defining characteristic of the FoxNext Games brand in the crowded mobile space?
Loeb: There’s one answer that towers over all the others, which is really high quality. We will require the highest standards of ourselves to make sure our players are experiencing the worlds and stories of the games in ways that are unique, exciting and thrilling to surprise and delight. The reason we joined this company is because it has defined itself as creator first, quality first, and one that took a chance on The Simpsons. It’s a company that has made sure that whenever it releases something, it is of an uncompromising quality level. That’s where we start, and that’s the expectation that we place upon ourselves.
Moving forward, what will be the relationship between television, movies and video games?
Loeb: What we’re seeing emerge across the media landscape is that you have franchises—although we prefer to think of them as universes worthy of devotion—where something like Avatar lives as an incredible event of a movie. But when you hear James Cameron and other people from Lightstorm talk, it also lives in many other forms. We’re seeing this in all of the great creative minds now. A movie might also have an expression on television, giving it regular touchpoints through those episodes every week. Then you also have games, which is the part we’re obsessed with. With games, you can engage with the most devoted fans, who can play every single day. It becomes an intimate part of their world. Through their smartphones, they have that universe in their pockets along with other players that they can interact with and talk to every day. They all live in that world together, and ultimately, it all ends up being interconnected. You see characters that might show up first in a game and then on a TV series before possibly being in a movie. You could have storylines that cross all of these [media]. When people love a storytelling universe like Game of Thrones, Star Wars or Avatar, you can’t have too many ways to be a part of that world, and having all these different mediums is very powerful.