It's all in the name: a licensed game is something based on someone else's license, someone else's idea. On the surface it might seem like they're less creative, less interesting as entertainment products and as interactive experiences and less enjoyable for developers to work on. But according to Montreal studio Behaviour Interactive, this is far from the case.
Behaviour Interactive recently celebrated its 20th birthday. The studio has worked on its own original IP like WET, Assault Heroes and Naughty Bear, but it has built much of its success working on licensed games. With a team of more than 300 developers in Montreal and Santiago, it has created more than 100 licensed titles across all major platforms like High School Musical, Monsters Inc., Happy Feet, Club Penguin Puffle Launch and Temple Run Brave.
Speaking to Polygon, Behaviour's senior creative director, Stephane Baudet, said that the idea of a licensed game being less interesting to work on and requiring less creativity is a common misconception.
"In my career, I have made many games, both license-based and original IPs. They each have had different challenges, but both have been exciting and have allowed creativity," Baudet said.
"It is a hard and long process to create a new IP as it is an iterative evolution, which is sometimes perceived as frustrating because of the constantly changing vision. A team has to work many years on the same game, which heads in multiple directions during early development as the IP gets defined. During this phase, only a few people are really involved in defining the new IP."
"I have made many games, both license-based and original IPs ... both have been exciting and have allowed creativity."
In comparison, Baudet says that it can be easier and more creative for a development team to take on an existing brand because they don't have to struggle with defining what it is before they can start making the game.
"The brand owners are often not from the game industry, and it can translate into freedom to transpose it into a video game," he says.
Baudet explains that when a studio is coming up with original IP, often they will take orders from an art director or creative director and it is usually those in higher-up positions who determine what the game will be. When it comes to licensed games an outsider has already determined who the characters are and the kind of universe in which they exist, which leaves the developer to focus on the game itself. Developers can then use their creativity to determine the game's mechanics, its levels and the experiences they want to provide.
Baudet believes that aside from the handful of people who have the opportunity within a studio to create new IP, the scope of creativity is the same between licensed and original game universes.
"Translating family brands into interactive experiences became part of our DNA."
For a studio that excels at developing licensed games, Behaviour Interactive's CEO, Remi Racine, admits that it was never the studio's intention to go down this path. Racine tells Polygon that when Behaviour opened its doors 20 years ago, its goal was to create "edutainment" for kids and families. After releasing an original game, Jersey Devil, for the original PlayStation, publishers began approaching them to do licensed titles because they had shown that they understood how to make games not just for kids, but for families. They were given the license for Bugs Bunny, The Grinch and in 2001 their take on the Monsters Inc. universe sold 2.6 million copies.
"Translating family brands into interactive experiences became part of our DNA," Racine says.
Racine believes that Behaviour's commitment to approaching all their games with creativity has been the key to the studio's longevity. In an industry where studio closures and mass layoffs are the norm, Behaviour has weathered most game industry storms to enter its 21st year in the business.
The studio currently has four original IPs in development and it plans to continue putting its mastery of licensed games to work. Behaviour Interactive recently released Naughty Bear: Panic in Paradise for Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, Wipeout 3 for Kinect and Goldrun for iOS. It currently has games in production for the Nintendo Wii U.