Saara Bergström, CMO of Next Games, speaks with [a]listdaily about marketing a licensed IP with The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land and what’s ahead of the indie mobile game company.

Congrats on the launch of your second game The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land! How the heck did a little indie studio based in Finland manage to license the rights to create the official mobile game for one of the hottest TV shows in the world from AMC? 

saara bergstrom

It all started in 2013, the year Next Games was founded, when the first five of us  got together to crystallize the company strategy. It was clear that we wanted to work on both our own ideas and create our own IP. Since the world is full of fantastic stories and IP that people love – great platforms to build games on, we wanted to base the company strategy on both own and third party IP games.

When that was decided, we just simply went to the IP we loved and the world loves and the decision to go after The Walking Dead was done. We feel that it is imperative that the game team is passionate about the IP they are working on in order to make a good game.

We put a lot of effort to the concept, went through a lot of work to get through to the right people at AMC, and pitched hard. Us and AMC had very similar thoughts on how the show would translate into a game and what the experience should be. That was what in the end sealed the deal plus our 10+ years experience in the games business We like to think it’s the Finnish guts, “sisu,” that got us to where we are today.

Needless to say, we are extremely happy on how well the game has been received and grateful for the fantastic support from our partners at AMC. We accumulated well over 1 million downloads on iOS alone on the opening weekend with an exceptional rating of 4.63 out of 5. As a developer, it’s such a pleasure to read the App Store reviews.

There are two Walking Dead mobile games out there, with LA-based Scopely having the other one, The Walking Dead Road To Survival, based on licensing Robert Kirkman’s comics. How is your game different in terms of gameplay and how did you go about segmenting the market?

Guided by Daryl Dixon, the fan-favorite character from the TV show played by Norman Reedus, players are in charge of their own unique group of survivors and their fate. The game features very similar themes as the series. You will face hordes of walkers, there will be narrow escapes, and just like in the TV show, you will lose people to the walkers and sometimes have to let someone go if they don’t fit in with your group. There are also many details that connect the game to the TV show such as locations like Terminus and the Prison, signature weapons, and content coming up that’s unique to Season Six. We even have the original TV theme song!

Gameplay-wise we wanted to take a tactical approach to the game, to bring XCOM-style depth but rework it into an approachable, mobile-native environment. This worked well with us also wanting to highlight the drama and tension of the show where walkers closing in is always bad news.

This one is very different from your first game, Compass Point: West, which is an original IP. Is licensing IP’s a new strategic direction for the company If The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land continues to do well, do you see Next Games developing a diversified portfolio of both original and licensed IP in the future

Absolutely. We aim at strongly standing on both of the cornerstones of our strategy: licensed and own IP. Both ways of making games involve different risks and rewards and we feel like the balance is what matters.

Can you tell us a little about the marketing plan for The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land to date and how you’re integrating to maximize all the hype around the launch of Season Six of the TV series?

From the very beginning, we had a very similar vision with AMC of the game we wanted to make and how we would translate the TV show into a mobile game. This is a very important point and extends throughout every detail of the whole project, including marketing. We wanted to combine this great IP with deep marketing collaboration to find the best way to reach the show’s fans, focus on being on-brand and close to the TV show as well as involve the show’s talent to create an authentic experience for the show’s fans.

The Walking Dead fans are our main priority and target group. At launch we have been very focused on reaching them through a rich mix of various marketing channels and vehicles.

1) To tie the game and the TV show together, we created a storyline that has a starting point in the TV show, but the player takes control of their own fate eventually. Our cinematic trailer, which is also available in the game as cut-scenes tells this in a compact way:

2) We worked with Norman Reedus, New York ComicCon and Twitch to introduce the game live from ComicCon. This was a great opportunity to speak to both the TV show fans at the event and online as well as reach gamers on Twitch who may not even watch the show. Norman has been a huge supporter for us and we are very happy he likes the game and also talks about it to his fans.

AMC also put on a fantastic show at Madison Square Garden two nights before the TV premiere for their fans with an exclusive premiere of the first episode for 14,000 fans. We were lucky to be a part of that as well.

3) We have worked very closely with AMC especially on our social media plans and content strategy. We are taking a lot of elements from the TV show into our social media marketing and stay on-brand with our messaging towards the players. A good, simple example is for example, this Facebook post we did the after the first episode had aired.

We make a subtle reference to the episode that the fans who’ve seen the episode will definitely get this and this strategy seems to be resonating with the audience.

4) For advertising, we use a mix of mobile advertising and TV ads. Since the main priority is to reach The Walking Dead fans, we have placed ads strategically around the TV show air times. Our TV creative also has a very unique angle. Most mobile game companies opt in to make a polished TV version of their mobile ads. We wanted to go with a mix of high quality cinematic and gameplay. Here too, we wanted to stay very close to the TV show’s brand to the minute detail. Here’s one of our TV ads where anyone who has seen the show can instantly recognize what this is all about:

5) We’ve also integrated the TV show’s content in the game in other means, than just gameplay and visuals. Players will be able to watch short exclusive cuts from The Walking Dead season six episodes and behind the scenes. This is a great way to drive the TV show fans to the game where they can enjoy both the game and bespoke TV show cuts tailored for touch screens.

We have loads of ideas and new campaigns in works for the next game updates. The whole process has been a lot of fun. We’ve had the chance to visit the production team in Atlanta, we’ve worked with Norman Reedus on his character, we have gotten advice from Greg Nicotero even on details like walker blood pressure.

What’s next for Next Games?  

We are fully focused on working on our current live titles The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land and Compass Point: West. We have a ton of ideas and concepts though, so definitely will be looking forward to starting a third project at a point where it makes sense. The world is full of amazing stories and great IP’s, so we are always on the lookout for great partners for our next third party projects.

TWD NML Infographic