For making apps the new source for big entertainment franchises. The fowl-flinging Angry Birds game franchise, now with more than 1 billion downloads and counting, has helped Finnish startup Rovio build a $200 million empire with synergistic revenue streams. Its menagerie of merchandise–plush toys, clothing, candy, and so forth–helps to keep its apps at the top of the charts, and the apps, in turn, sell the goods. Up next are a cartoon series, a 3-D-animated movie, and playgrounds around the globe.
For leveraging its online distribution network and moving into content. China’s largest online company (its QQ gaming platform boasts 200 million registered users), Tencent is the natural go-to for deploying massively multiplayer games in the Far East. Take-Two Interactive partnered with Tencent for NBA 2K Online, which launched last fall. Earlier this year, a long-term partnership between Activision and Tencent came to fruition with the arrival of the free-to-play MMO Call of Duty Online in China.
For elevating physical and digital play with its Skylanders series. Spyro’s Adventure and its sequel, Giants, feature dozens of chip-embedded action figures that interact with whatever happens on the screen, whether it’s a TV, computer, or handheld. Activision sold more than 30 million toys since the debut of Spyro’s Adventure in late 2011, then added 16 new characters for Giants. This past January, the franchise reached a new milestone, with $500 million in U.S. retail sales.
For revolutionizing home entertainment. While iFans wait for an Apple TV, Microsofthas assembled a digital living room. The system connects Windows, Xbox, and Kinect via SmartGlass, a free app that debuted last fall, which turns a portable device into a remote control and second screen. More than 90 partners, including HBO, Nike, and Warner Brothers, have signed up to create content that takes advantage of the new technology.
For making the controller just as crucial to the gaming experience as the console and the Wii U. The device, a tablet-like motion controller, ushers in “asymmetric gaming,” which opens up the ways people can play a game on their own or with others simultaneously.
For electrifying gamers with a hackable console that features both a compelling design and an affordable device. The $99, Android-powered devicewill be designed by Yves Béhar and is scheduled for release this June.
For creating affordable appointment gaming. With The Walking Dead, Telltale has given gamers a way to play that’s amenable to busy schedules and with minimal upfront buy-in. The game, based on the comic series, was released in five episodes that included about three hours’ worth of play and sold for about $5 apiece for consoles and PC and via Apple’s App Store. The emotionally wrenching story line and choose-your-own-adventure style are what kept gamers coming back, not killing zombies. In all, says Telltale, 8.5 million episodes have been downloaded. A sequel was announced earlier this year.
For pushing gaming into the hands of everyone. In 2012, it released its Source Filmmaker moviemaking tool to gamers for free, enabling just about anybody to produce Pixar-quality animation. Through the program Teach With Portals, it offered Portal brain games to educators for free. And this August, Valve launched Steam Greenlight, its community service for game developers, which will let users decide which indie games should be distributed on the Steam service.
For pivoting into a freemium phenomenon. The three-person studio, headed by husband-and-wife team Keith Shepherd and Natalia Luckyanova, had the foresight to build an in-app purchase system into their game, Temple Run, which launched in December 2011 on the App Store. So when sales started to slump (it was originally a 99-cent download), they made the game free to play and reaped about five times as much revenue. The game has been downloaded 170 million times, and its sequel, Temple Run 2, launched in February, had 6 million downloads in the first 24 hours and broke the 50 million mark in less than two weeks.
For turning hardcore gamers into a gold mine. Kabam puts out games that are long, complex, and appeal to players who are willing to devote lots of time to them–like Kingdoms of Camelot, which in the three years since its release has reached $100 million in revenue. In 2012, Kabam started offering its games on Google+ and PCs in addition to iPhones and Android devices. The move is paying off. Every month, more than 4 million gamers in 100 countries play Kabam games in 16 languages.
[Image: Flickr user WastedButReady]