Savvy broadcasters are in the early days of exploring gamification and second-screen experiences. When ITV cancelled the latest series of Love Island, extra resource went into its mobile game as the brand’s lead channel of continuity, engagement and revenue (it has delivered £25m in two years). We catch up with Wil Stephens, the chief exec of Fusebox, the developers behind the game, to find out where video game adaptations sit in the modern entertainment mix.
Love Island, ITV’s cash cow, is an enviable hit that brings young audiences into a TV-viewing environment once assumed lost. Last year it doubled down and launched a winter edition – more of a good thing. It was lucky it did. The pandemic canned the summer edition, and the winter follow-up is up in the air. The situation was desperate and ITV rumoured to be considering shooting the summer series in isolation in Cornwall. It chose not to.
Back in May, Simon Daglish, deputy managing director of commercial at ITV, explained to The Drum how the broadcaster was courting new means of revenue as ad spend took a dive. Around Love Island in particular, huge opportunities in sponsorship were already being exploited. But there was growth to be had in e-commerce and gaming.
The Love Island mobile game launched in 2018 and is now on its third season. The role-playing game hooks players (some 13 million so far) on the drama of the show. They are tasked with creating contestants, playing through scenarios in the Love Island villa and coupling up with fellow Islanders. It’s all about the drama.
The title has been growing its installs at a rate of about 500,000 a month in lockdown. Almost 90% of players are female and a huge majority are in that lucrative 19-24 age range. But, most valuably for ITV, it is a global audience. Only 30% of them actually watch the show, however, which ITV would like to see that change.
The game is a huge media property in its own right, says Fusebox Games’ Wil Stephens. “The figures are significantly higher than any single version of the show by quite a long way. For context, the July 2019 UK Love Island live final was aired to 3.63 million people.”
Unlike many mobile games that create artificial difficulty ramp-ups or ad interruptions, Love Island instead focused on selling optional cosmetic purchases. Keeping users engaged is the key here, and aggressive monetization efforts would strangle that.
“In terms of improving the game, this will be a continuous process with a renewed focus on more activations and ways of engaging users,” says Stephens.
In its lifetime, the game has delivered a sweet £25m total revenue – $8.7m through the sale of digital clothing items alone. Right now, the average revenue per daily active user sits at $0.88, with around 17% of players converting to paying customers.
Furthermore, the app helps to grow the Love Island audience. “The Love Island game is now a global product in its own right. While it’s disappointing to see the show in the UK cancelled, the UK only accounts for 15% of the game’s players so it has a limited impact. Our plans haven’t changed and we’re pleased to launch a new ’season’ of the game this year.”
In lockdown, ITV has “doubled down” on the partnership. It sees value in the extension and has tapped show host Iain Sterling to create an exclusive YouTube series. It has also “invested heavily” in TV and digital advertising to promote the game.
“ITV realises that we bring versatility to the Love Island franchise, as we bring a way of generating returns even when there isn’t a show to air,” says Stephens. But there are benefits when the show does air too.
“Before the show launched in the US last year on CBS, the game already had 2 million players in that market,” he says. Users were notified when the live TV experience was being broadcast. “This gave CBS a head start with a ready-made and highly engaged audience waiting for the show to land, an invaluable asset to any broadcaster.”
Fusebox is looking at driving greater benefit for IP holders, using the game as a marketing tool to drive audiences and TV viewership.
“There’s a space for ‘companion’ games and there’s a space for games that build upon the core value of the IP. We’re in the business of the latter where the interesting opportunity lies in flipping this relationship on its head and asks the question: ‘what can the show do as a marketing channel to drive the game?’“
But there’s a greater ambition beyond the TV series – that the game can be a home for its commercial and e-commerce activities. It’d be best to keep an eye on the next season for that as, currently, all items and cosmetics are virtual. It wouldn’t take much to start selling exclusive merch through the app, however.
“Lockdown has unquestionably helped us grow much faster than anticipated at the start of the year, with people having more time to immerse themselves in games. There is certainly a real appetite for escapism right now and the game delivers the closest thing to a sun-soaked holiday experience that many of us will get in 2020.”