GAMES FOR TV: Shine Group bought UK games start-up Bossa Studios at the end of last year, before the firm had even debuted its first title. Bossa gamer-in-chief Henrique Olifiers tells Jonathan Webdale about the plan and why ‘gamification’ isn’t on the agenda.
Shine Group is no stranger to receiving awards from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta), but usually it’s for the work of its TV production companies, such as Spooks producer Kudos Film and Television.
In its heyday, Spooks once even received a gong in the short-lived Bafta Interactive Awards. But Shine has never received a videogames prize before. Why would it? It’s in the TV business after all.
At least that was the case until September last year, when it acquired a previously unheard of social games start-up called Bossa Studios, which was named winner in the online browser category at the 2012 Bafta Video Games Awards.
Bossa, set up by former Playfish studio director Henrique Olifiers and Roberta Lucca – an ex-colleague from time spent on the digital side at Brazil’s TV Globo – came out with its first game, Monstermind, not long after the Shine buy-out.
Monstermind has nothing to do with television. Olifiers describes it as “the first real-time multiplayer game on Facebook.” Set in 1950s America, it encourages players to build up their own virtual cities, while at the same time fending off attacks from B-movie monsters trying to destroy them, launched by their friends. What on earth would Shine see in such a property?
In some ways Monstermind is a good analogy for the way in which the games industry is eating into TV. Just as Kudos, say, is trying to build another hit on the scale of the now-cancelled Spooks, it is doing so in an environment that’s constantly under attack from a growing range of entertainment options that threatens to take away the audience.
Not only does TV have to compete with the traditional console-based videogames market – which according to some counts has already eclipsed Hollywood in terms of value – but it also faces the spread of the internet and the rise of Facebook as a games platform, with titles like Zynga’s FarmVille taking up more and more of people’s time.
Then there’s mobile- and tablet-based app games like PopCap’s Plants vs Zombies and, of course, Rovio’s Angry Birds, all of which has made gaming a more mainstream activity than before. Hence the reason TV companies like Shine are buying into the space.
“Halfway through the production of Monstermind we started to talk a lot about social games with various media companies in London – people who wanted us to develop games for them, who wanted our advice and consultancy in how they should go about social media. One of the companies was Shine,” says Olifiers. “We found out we had a lot of interests in common so it became natural for Shine to invest in us, and now we work on their properties as well.”
Olifiers is keen to point out that the kind of work Bossa is doing with its new owner doesn’t fall into the category of what some refer to as ‘gamification.’ The phrase has developed negative connotations in some quarters, denoting a degree of desperation in trying to turn every TV show, for example, into the next hit gaming franchise.
“When we try to pick an existing brand and turn it into a game – gamification of that brand, as people call it – we usually find that those brands and IP don’t lend themselves to it, or at least not with the level of quality and engagement that we look at,” says Olifiers.
“You can pick any TV show and make a game out of this or that interactive aspect, but if you really want to make a game that’s successful it’s a very defined type of entertainment – a medium in its own right.
“Imagine you have an old radio show and you want to televise that format. It won’t necessarily work. It’s not just because you have images that all of a sudden something that was taking place on the radio will be successful on TV, because the medium of TV is completely different from the medium of the radio. It’s the same with games.”
It happens that the first game to come out of Bossa since the Shine buy-out will be based on a piece of Shine’s existing intellectual property, but the others in development are original.
“For us, the Holy Grail is to sit down with Shine, with a good producer, and conceive something together from day one that lends itself to a cracking TV show and an awesome game,” says Olifiers. “They both work together to enhance every aspect of the whole experience, from engagement to monetisation and from involving the players with more emotional cycles from both aspects of that brand.”
Bossa expects to bring out “three or four” new titles this year and then scale up from there. Not all these activities will be focused on Facebook, certainly in the longer term.
“You don’t want to be tied to just one platform. If anything changes you don’t necessarily have control over it and that can come back to your bottom line,” says Olifiers.
Zynga recently started offering games via its own website in a bid to reduce its reliance on Facebook. “I can see where they’re coming from totally,” Olifiers says. “If you look back two years ago on Facebook, the organic distribution, the virality of the games there, worked in a completely different way to how they do today. That change was originated at Facebook and that affected how the social games were made ever since. So as a studio, you want to be on as many platforms as you can possibly be.
“For us it’s more than just spreading risk, about reaching people where they are. They will move away from desktops and laptops to tablets in the upcoming year. Although Facebook is already quite strong there, there are a lot of players coming up so we should work with different people in that area.”
For Shine, too, the acquisition of Bossa is about more than spreading risk. A recent report claimed that Angry Birds maker Rovio turned down a US$2bn bid from Zynga. Shine is placing its bets on where it expects the next hit entertainment franchise to come from – and it isn’t necessarily from TV.