If we've written about it once, we've written about it a dozen times; the Burger King advergames seemed to have changed everything. Their success seemed to swing open the jarred door between games and advertisers, marketers and brands. Moving through that door is FreeStyleGames and ubiquitous energy drink brand, Red Bull.
While it might appear that FreeStyle is attempting to follow in the footsteps of Burger King advergame developer Blitz Games, it's worth noting that FreeStyle and Red Bull collaborated on a 'non-advergame' title long since before the Burger King games were released. So it doesn't look like this alliance will produce Red Bull Sneak Racer any time soon.
To get the real story on the situation, we chatted with Chris Lee, Commercial Director of FreeStyleGames, and talked about why Red Bull is such a great partner.
Getting energy from a brand
It was not sheer coincidence that FreeStyleGames and Red Bull signed this collaborative deal. FreeStyle worked on its first title, a break dancing game called B-Boy for PSP and PS2, with Red Bull. FreeStyle's positive relationship with the energy drink maker and their experience working with the brand in the past made them a natural choice.
"We've been working together for over 3 years," detailed Lee. "We got started on B-boy and that really established the relationship. We worked with Crazy Legs, who's a Red Bull styled athlete. So that was the introduction initially and since then we've learned more about the culture of Red Bull, be it in music or athletics, and now we're looking how it could be used as a medium for gaming."
This sort of deal seems to be a real acknowledgment of the importance of branded experiences in games. Consumers are becoming much more mercurial in their entertainment hobbies, spending increasing amounts of time with interactive mediums such as the Internet and video games. When asked if he thought that this was part of a larger trend of new methods being used to "find" consumers in the modern marketplace, Lee answered, "I would completely agree with that. We've already had discussions with many different brands and they certainly view consoles like the Xbox 360 and PS3 as media devices as well as video game platforms. They're excited about reaching that new audience and we're going to continue to highlight that."
"As indie developers we can invest time with brands like Red Bull to go in-depth with them," he added. "It really is an exciting period for video games in this field, since TV is becoming a more difficult medium to expand into. There are a lot of old channels that aren't hitting people the right way and there's just super potential with interactive content, be it games or web or videos."
So what about those different brands they've had discussions with? Lee elaborated, "The great thing about Red Bull is that they are already working with other brands with a number of sponsored athletes. So as part of our relationship, we're making sure that we develop something that does credit to all the brands. It's not one athlete, or branded event we're working with, either. They appreciate that we seek to do things authentically."
The many faces of Red Bull
Red Bull fundamentally is an energy drink company. It is also, however, associated with numerous other sporting and musical events through its sponsorships. This includes conventional sponsorships, like various racing teams and an MLS team, to more extreme sports and their Flugtag sponsorships.
"The games that we're working on are 'AAA' next-gen games. They're not going to be games we're looking to attach a brand to. We're looking to make them fundamentally good games first," said Lee. "With Red Bull's resources, it gives us a rich archive of content to create the games around. They did not approach this as a simple branded experience."
"It's best to ignore the fact that Red Bull is a brand," he continued. "They have a large repertoire of activities that they're involved with and many of those have great potential for game IPs. It's a great collaboration to deliver game content. Outside of sports, they have the Red Bull music academy, which works with signed and unsigned artists. There are three or four hundred more potential opportunities. We actively seek out untraditional roots and that's great, because will Red Bull, there's a never ending potential source of content for games we're developing on any number of platforms. Having an intelligent partner is a dream come true."
Where to fly to?
Unfortunately, even though FreeStyleGames could potentially take these Red Bull titles in hundreds of directions, there not ready to detail what form that will take just yet. It is not going to be similar to the relationship that Blitz Games has with Burger King, claims Lee. "[The success of the Burger King advergames] really didn't factor in. The relationship is very different; the only similarity is that Red Bull is a brand. Like I said, this is a creative relationship," he stressed.
"We're looking to announce more detail in the coming months for games and platforms," disclosed Lee. "There's been a history of non-video game partners getting together with developers and not having great results. What we're shooting for are titles that will be compelling games in their own rights."
Given the history with B-Boy, will there be another break dancing game? "There's every chance," he answered. "We have such a great relationship with that community and we still work closely with the B-Boys. That gave us such an interesting look into the culture and we were able to expand on it, like launching the soundtrack through Universal. We have a lot of design ideas and it's definitely an option."
"The industry is an exciting place to be right now, with lots of non-traditional experiences to have. Hopefully there'll be more of these partnerships in the future and add to our expanding portfolio," he concluded.