Above: The happiest place on Earth.
Image Credit: Frontier Developments
When the blockbuster film Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom debuted on June 22, it came with a bunch of Jurassic World games. Normally, based on video game industry history, that would be cause for alarm, as most movie games suck. But in this case, the games are turning out to be both profitable and a boost for the Jurassic World franchise.
That’s the view from Chris Heatherly, executive vice president of games and digital platforms at Universal Brand Development. He joined Comcast NBCUniversal after leaving Disney in early 2017, and his charter has been to build a game business based on Universal’s film portfolio. Heatherly has built the this team to 60 people, and they’re working closely with external developers on new titles.
“I was very fortunate to arrive when timing was good for Jurassic World,” Heatherly said in an interview with GamesBeat. “We saw it as a showcase for what we can do as an organization. We can show the company and gamers too.”
When Heatherly arrived, the company was kicking into high gear for the Jurassic World film, and he set a bunch of games in motion. They include Jurassic World: Evolution, a park building simulator that has already sold more than a million copies on the PC and consoles. The game is one of the top-selling titles on Steam so far this year.
Heatherly said that the company has also been successful as co-publisher with Ludia on the Jurassic World: Alive augmented reality mobile game, where you can wander the real world and encounter dinosaurs in the wild.
Above: Chris Heatherly, executive vice president of games and digital platforms at Universal Brand Development.
Image Credit: Dean Takahashi
Universal also commissioned two virtual reality experiences. It created Jurassic World VR Expedition for Dave & Buster’s restaurants, a location-based VR experience built by The Virtual Reality Company, VRstudios, Universal, and Dave & Buster’s. Heatherly said hundreds of thousands of people have already tried it in the 112 Dave & Buster’s restaurants across the country.
Oculus, Felix & Paul Studios, and Universal Pictures also created Jurassic World: Blue, an experience for home VR users on the Oculus Rift VR headset. Universal Pictures executive Austin Barker, who is working closely with Heatherly, guided the VR experiences.
In the experimental realm, Universal also launched Jurassic World Revealed, a voice-driven experience developed by Earplay (a maker of interactive audio stories) for the Amazon Alexa. And it created the Jurassic World AR camera effect for Facebook and the Rocket League Jurassic World Car Pack integration on consoles. NBCUniversal is tying everything together through its “symphony” marketing efforts, which is its own brand of cross-division collaboration.
That’s a lot of games, and they have expanded Universal’s digital footprint across a lot of platforms where modern consumers are engaged. It’s as big a broadside you’ll see from any game company these days, with the possible exception of what’s to come from the $71 billion Disney Fox merger, which will bring together brands like Toy Story and The Simpsons.
This is just the beginning for Universal, which has a couple of more games to come this year and four to six more projects in 2019. And it’s about time, as we are long overdue for a revival of movie games that aren’t shitty.
Above: David Braben is CEO of Frontier, maker of Jurassic World Evolution.
Image Credit: Dean Takahashi
The key to doing it right is gathering a team of veterans and working with seasoned developers.
“We’re not making low-quality licensing stuff,” Heatherly said. “We are going to make quality games, first and foremost, that are additive to the franchise and become vehicles for creativity. We absolutely achieved that with the games we put out there with Jurassic World.”
For instance, Frontier Development was ideal since it had already made a series of Planet Coaster park simulation games and its engine was ready. It was able to make Jurassic World: Evolution for under $10 million, even with a team of just under 100 people. Heatherly said Frontier was a “jewel of a partner.”
“I feel like we’ve brought back film licenses,” said David Braben, CEO of Frontier, in an interview with GamesBeat. “We’re seeing Universal and Comcast looking at the future a lot. If you look at the figures on how important games are within the entertainment industry, $116 billion revenue last year — we’ve overtaken TV by quite a margin. They’re looking and thinking they want some of that.”
He added, “One of the things that was important — the quality of what we could produce would be very close to what the film could produce.”
So far, the collaboration has been good with the filmmakers, as the games do not have to follow a strict canon for the Jurassic World franchise. Hence, Jeff Goldblum’s character, Ian Malcolm, appears as a voice of caution in the Jurassic World: Evolution game, even though he’s not there in the film timeline.