Midverse Studios exec explains how Invest+Publish program will pair developers with the best branded IP

with Jim Rainey, VP of Growth at Midverse Studios

Jim Rainey

with Jim Rainey, VP of Growth at Midverse Studios

There are no "sure things" in mobile gaming, but creating something on a story or concept that has been a blockbuster in other mediums is about as close as you can get. That's the thinking behind Invest+Publish, a developer program launched last month by Mountain View, Calif.-based Midverse Studios. The company, which was co-founded by the creators of Tap Fish and the early team at Tapjoy, said it is looking for innovative mobile game studios whose games have potential to leverage existing well-known Hollywood and new original intellectual property. 

The program components include an investment in the developer, a multi-game publishing deal that makes use of Midverse's cross-promotion technology and assistance in licensing the intellectual property (IP) of Hollywood properties to match with their games. Those interested can contact [email protected]. FierceDeveloper talked with Jim Rainey, Midverse Studio's vice president of growth, to get more details. The following interview has been edited and condensed. 

FierceDeveloper: What's the primarily value your program is offering to the developer community today and how do you see it evolving and expanding over the next year? 

RaineyWe've done ad networks before, we've done development studios before, and I think it gives us kind of an interesting perspective to help other smaller and medium-sized developers with their needs in a very competitive market. We've seen first-hand how difficult the user acquisition and marketing challenges are. We also understand all the challenges involved in doing game design and product development and production work.

Another piece of the puzzle that's coming up as we see the mobile gaming market get really competitive is that when it comes to more traditional publishing solutions, we've gotten feedback from people who have tried those and found they don't always work out very well. If you don't have a really good, hit game, the partnership ends up fizzling away sometimes. Of course, if you had a hit game, you'd have less need for a publishing partner. That's where we take a different approach in terms of partnering with the company, as opposed to just deciding we're going to spend money marketing one specific title that a studio comes up with. The second piece of it is the branded IP--we're looking to leverage existing brands and known audiences, then try to come up with brand-new hits from scratch. 

FierceDeveloper:  How do you go about identifying the kind of mobile game developer that's right for this program? 

Rainey: We know a lot of people in the space who wanted to partner with us even before we came up with this program. Now, it's more like we're casting a wider net, we have a pipeline of folks that we're talking to. We're looking for shops that have proven themselves, either in terms of having a game that they've already built, or having an engine or a platform. Or, if they're in an earlier stage, showing that they have proven people with a track record of building stuff or getting stuff done.

We also are looking for specific engines to look at specific types of IP. If you look at all the different categories of branded IP, you can imagine the matrix of all the brands across the top and a list of all the different types of game engines. You might have a Match 3 game, or a tower defense game. It's not the case that any single permutation is going to be a hit. You're not going to be able to take any engine, slap IP on it and it's going to work.

I think there are certain combinations of IP that tend to work with certain types of game engines, and we're doing that matchmaker job of trying to find the right IP that's going to go with the right game engine. We're starting with more of a categorical focus. Some of our early deals were centered around fantasy, horror, all that stuff. As we build out our network, we'll look at a broader set of IP across that dimension. We're talking to small and medium-sized shops, good developers who are really trying to break through and take it to the next level. 

FierceDeveloper:  How are the terms of the program set up for various developers that get involved, such as the size of the investment and so on? 

Rainey: I don't want to say it's entirely a case-by-case basis, but so far it has been, because it's been hard to sort of "templatize" this. If you want to look at a range, on the smaller and earlier-stage end of things, we look at a $50,000 investment, but in the high end it may be more in the realm of seven figures. Those larger investments are about larger opportunities, more of a strategic partnership.

We've really been talking with everyone in the pipeline based on the unique things they bring to the table. Every studio is a little bit different, every opportunity's different. What stage their gaming engine might be at is different, and the type of IP that we'd like to plug in might be as well. 

FierceDeveloper: Developers typically struggle with discoverability, engagement and/or monetization. What elements of your program help address these pain points?

Rainey: If I had to pick one, I'd say the branded IP is something we're super-excited about. There was a Star Trek convention a couple of months ago, where Disrupter Beam (one of the first developers in the program) came on stage and announced their upcoming game that's in development. And clearly Trekkies are a more extreme example of a pre-existing large audience that spans decades, and they have an incredible intensity of commitment to the brand. Not everyone has that depth and breadth to it, but if you have a brand with fans of a TV show, a movie or a comic book and you can bring passion and love for the characters and plotlines, it becomes a really exciting dimension we can bring to game development in terms of the number of people we can expose their game to, and to help drive all the other engagement and monetization metrics as well.