NBCUniversal sees a potential $200 million-plus jackpot in adapting some of its old TV and movie franchises into an interactive storytelling game.
The company’s Universal Games and Digital Platforms group on Thursday is launching a new, free-to-play mobile game, “Series: Your Story Universe” that lets players pick an avatar and play through different episodes of original stories in which they make choices that affect the narrative.
It’s your chance to star in brand-new stories alongside the ’90s high-schoolers from “Saved by the Bell,” and a range of other characters from NBCUniversal’s TV and film catalog, including reality TV personality Lisa Vanderpump, the NYPD’s Olivia Benson and Fin Tutuola from “Law & Order: SVU,” and Xena, the famed warrior princess.
Out of the gate, “Series” will include episodic series based on seven NBCU properties: “Vanderpump Rules,” “Saved by the Bell,” “Law & Order,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Bridesmaids,” “Sixteen Candles,” and “Xena: Warrior Princess.” The iOS and Android app also will include original stories, starting with rags-to-riches tale “Legacy & Love.”
The “Series: Your Story Universe” app will be updated with new episodes each week, with additional shows also in the pipeline. The stories are adaptations, rather than retellings of the originals, said Chris Heatherly, EVP, Universal Games and Digital Platforms: “We tried very hard to not make you sit through the movie or show you’ve already seen.”
The new game is the biggest initiative NBCU’s games group has ever undertaken. The Universal Games team’s big launch last year was “Jurassic World Alive,” an augmented-reality game tie-in with the movie. “That alone required a ton of work but, this is that times seven franchises,” he said.
To promote the global launch of the game, Universal Games has enlisted talent from the shows tout the “Series” app in video spots. Mario Lopez, who starred as A.C. Slater in “Saved by the Bell,” invites fans to play the game while wearing his Bayside High letterman jacket, while Lisa Vanderpump, Ariana Madix and Tom Sandoval from Bravo’s “Vanderpump Rules” must make a critical decision to “whine or wine.” The promo videos will run online, and Bravo will feature the “Vanderpump” spot on-air.
Lopez, who currently hosts syndicated entertainment show “Extra,” said he continues to be surprised that the ongoing fandom for “Saved by the Bell.” “It was a Saturday morning show for young kids,” Lopez told Variety. “It still kind of trips me out as to why it continues to resonate with people,” he said.
The “Series” app take on “Saved by the Bell” is pretty true to the show, Lopez said, but “at the same time, there’s a little bit of tongue-in-cheek liberty taken with the characters.” He’s planning to talk about the game on his syndicated radio show and is likely to mention it on “Extra.”
“It’s a very clever way for people who have an affinity for these shows get immersed in the world,” said Lopez.
According to Heatherly, Universal Games decided to get into the storytelling game after seeing the success of other apps, including Episode Interactive’s “Episode” and Pixelberry Studios’ “Choices: Stories You Play,” both of which have generated over $200 million in revenue to date, according to research firm Sensor Tower. “Episode” has been downloaded by 139 million users, who have spent approximately $256 million so far in the game. “Choices” has approximately 63.5 million installs globally and has raked in around $231 million since launch, Sensor Tower estimates.
“We looked at the portfolio of IP [intellectual property] we have at NBCUniversal, and we thought it made sense for us to build an app and to bring a lot of that together in one place,” Heatherly said.
Heatherly also saw the results of NBCU’s deal to license “Pitch Perfect” for an Episodes series two years ago. “It’s reaching a demographic that isn’t what you would think of as your traditional gamer,” he said, noting that an estimated 60% of mobile game players are women.
The “Series” app, which launched in a beta-test last fall, is free to download and play. Like other titles, users can opt to make in-game purchases (of “gems”) that can be used to accelerate a player’s pace through a story or buy bonus content. Individual purchases in the app may be 50 cents to $1 each, according to Heatherly.
The app was developed by Endless Entertainment, an interactive storytelling company with offices in New York City and Oakland, Calif., which provides a platform that lets artists and writers iterate the branching narratives quickly. “That’s part of the magic trick of being able to deliver this content at high volume,” Heatherly said.
“We’ve really had to put together, in a sense, a content factory to do this thing,” he added. “It’s almost like running a television network.”
In selecting the initial lineup for “Series,” Heatherly and his team gravitated toward titles that skewed toward young audiences and had sizable online communities following them. The stories can’t be too character driven, he said, “because then there’s no place for you entering that world. But they’re not just one-note characters. Your choices are actually going to matter.”
Universal Games provides more info on “Series” at seriesthegame.com.