The Transformers franchise — which spans toys, movies and TV shows — will be adding a brand-new game to the mix next year.
Hasbro, owner of the Transformers brand, has pacted with game developer Kabam for a massively multiplayer mobile game featuring the alien robots. Set to debut worldwide in the second quarter of 2017, the free-to-play app will let fans enlist Optimus Prime, Megatron and other Autobots and Decepticons in battles with role-playing game and strategy elements.
The Transformers game has been in development for just under a year at Kabam’s Vancouver studio, which among other titles created “Marvel Contest of Champions” for Disney and “Fast & Furious: Legacy” for Universal. Paramount Pictures has greenlit three additional “Transformers” movies, with Michael Bay’s “Transformers: The Last Knight,” slated to bow June 23, 2017, with Mark Wahlberg reprising the lead role.
“Fans of all ages engage with Transformers,” said Kabam COO Kent Wakeford. “With the theatrical films coming, it’s truly global (intellectual property).” He noted that Transformers is hugely popular in China, where it’s among the most recognized entertainment properties.
The deal extends Kabam’s strategy centered on games based on tentpole entertainment franchises. In June, the company announced a deal with Lightstorm Entertainment and 20th Century Fox to create a game based on James Cameron’s “Avatar.”
“Lots of game developers do singles and doubles but don’t hit major hit status,” said Mark Blecher, senior VP, digital gaming and corporate development at Hasbro. “What impressed us about Kabam is they have always had one home run in their portfolio at any given time.”
“Marvel Contest of Champions,” currently Kabam’s biggest hit, continues to be top-grossing game since its December 2014 release. To date, it has grossed $325 million and has more than 80 million installs.
The Kabam-developed Transformer game won’t be Hasbro’s first for the franchise, but it will be “substantially different” from predecessors, Blecher said. Prior titles include combat city-builder game “Transformers: Earth Wars” from Backflip Studios, majority owned by Hasbro, which launched in June.
Although separate from the Transformers films and TV shows, Kabam aims to leverage buzz around the Paramount movies and “Transformers” television series, which in the U.S. include “Robots in Disguise” on Cartoon Network and “Rescue Bots” on Discovery Family. “We’ve created a multiyear plan to tie into all those big cultural beats,” Wakeford said.
Like Kabam’s other releases, the Transformers game will be free with in-app purchases and no advertising. The game developer is fronting the up-front budget for the Transformers game, and Hasbro and Kabam will share revenue generated from the app.
The fast-growing mobile gaming sector will hit $36.9 billion in revenue this year worldwide, up 21%, according to research firm Newzoo. The overnight blockbuster success of Pokémon Go has spurred new interest in augmented-reality games. While Hasbro and Kabam say the new Transformers game doesn’t lend itself to AR, both are exploring augmented-reality opportunities; Blecher said Hasbro games like “Monopoly” could lend themselves to location-based gameplay.
Kabam has said that moving forward, it will focus on fewer, big-impact games with an average development budget of $14 million per game. Earlier this year Kabam laid off 8% of its staff as part of the refocused strategy and sold several older games including “Kingdoms of Camelot” and “The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth” to China’s Gaea Mobile, after spinning off management of its web-based games including “The Godfather” to RockYou.
Privately held Kabam, with 700 employees worldwide, is backed by investors including Alibaba Group, Google, MGM, Intel, Redpoint Ventures and Warner Bros. Alibaba in 2014 invested $120 million in Kabam giving it a valuation of more than $1 billion.
Pictured above: Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots faction of Transformers