Why A&E's History Channel Is Venturing Into the Online Gaming Biz (Q&A)
The SVP of games reveals why the cable network is embracing social games beyond Facebook with new strategies that include a dedicated online games channel.
The History Channel is developing its latest Facebook game, a first-person shooter based on its “Top Shot” TV series. The cable network released a playable demo of the game today. This marks a new social gaming genre for the company, which saw its game based on “Pawn Stars” played over 200 million times on Facebook. At the end of February, A+E Networks is launching the History Games Channel, which will feature multiple games based on TV series across social, mobile and other platforms. Kris Soumas, senior vice president of games at A+E Networks, talks about this latest gaming venture in this exclusive interview.
The Hollywood Reporter: What have you learned from past videogames over the years with Kuma Games and Shootout that you're applying to this new shooter, Top Shot?
Kris Soumas:We have worked on war games in the past and we recognized that our audience gravitated towards simple but social aspects of shooter games, which works for the Facebook platform. Looking at the success of shooters on other platforms, we realized that we had the ability to fill the current vacuum for shooters on Facebook. Top Shot is the perfect property to translate into a social first person shooter game because the show already is a game in its own right – with self-taught marksmen testing their skills with weapons from all eras of human history in different historical themed challenges. The show is like a shooter brought to life – now were bringing that experience back to gaming but in a social setting.
THR: Can you talk about the demographics of who's playing these games and how long?
Soumas:In general, our social games tend to attract a demographic that skews more male than many other social games. Our first social game, Pawn Stars, which we launched in 2011, has attracted a really dedicated audience that is still strong today – in fact we just celebrated the one year anniversary of the game and it has been played over 200 million times. We see that the core audience playing that game is males between the ages of 18-34. They check in nearly three times a day and play for about 15 minutes per visit. It's a very engaged audience.
THR: How have you seen this audience evolve with Facebook, especially with Pawn Stars: The Game?
Soumas: We’ve been pleasantly surprised by level of engagement with Pawn Stars: The Game. Where many social games start off strong and then fade after a few months, our audience grew fairly quickly and our daily active users have stayed strong ever since. Having a game based on a popular TV show helps drive check-ins – the game fuels interest in the show and the show reminds players to go back and play the game. We’ve also continued to invest in the game by adding new challenges, thus keeping it interesting for our most dedicated players.
THR: What impact have these branded TV games had on the success of the shows, themselves?
Soumas: It's impossible to directly correlate game play and linear ratings, but exposing a property like Pawn Stars, for example, to hundreds of thousands unique visitors per month can't help but raise the profile of the show among new audiences and different age groups.
THR: What's a typical rollout for your games, like Top Shot?
Soumas: For Top Shot, we are launching a web version of the game at History.com and a sneak peek of the Facebook game – both coincide with the show premiere. Then in about month’s time we will release the Facebook game in its entirety followed shortly by a mobile game. We’ll have cross-promotion activities to link each of the games and the show.
THR: How often do you add new content to games once they're established and how do you connect the game worlds to new seasons of the shows?
Soumas: In many ways, Facebook games are like a TV series. We don't exactly create new episodes weekly, but we do roll-out new content that helps extend the experience for the player. The releases often incorporate elements from the show, so in the case of Top Shot the daily challenges will be based on or inspired by challenges that have appeared in the show. Once we launch the game we pay attention to the data. What do the players like, what are they rejecting, what do they want more of, etc. Often this will influence or inspire new directions and new updates for the game.
THR: What are your plans with the History Games Channel?
Soumas: We will be releasing a much more robust games channel on History that allows visitors to the site to earn badges and achievements for playing games on the site. The platform also will allow us to gamify other aspects of the site when we desire. So ultimately users can earn rewards not only by advancing to the next level in a game, but also by watching videos or reading articles on the site. The games platform is being rolled out across the entire A+E Networks sites. We believe by unifying a feature set across all of our Games sites we will be well-positioned to offer advertisers unique ways to engage with our active and growing game community.
THR: How will this impact your Facebook games?
Soumas: By expanding the games platform on History.com we believe all our other game initiatives will benefit. As people have a reason to check in to their games on a regular basis in order to earn rewards and advance to new levels on History.com, they will be exposed to our many new game launches whether on Facebook, iPhone, PC download, etc.
THR: How do you decide which series will get a videogame tie-in?
Soumas: History has so many attributes that make it a prime target for gamification. Before we select a show we look at the ratings, the audience engagement, the show premise and decide whether it is a fit. But as it turns out, most of the shows on History revolve around subjects which are a natural for games. Ice Road Truckers, Pawn Stars, Top Shot, Swamp People, American Pickers, the list goes on....we have show properties which are innately interesting to game developers -- so we have a lot to choose from.