June 11th, 2007

Red Bull's Games Have Wings

By Tom Ivan
Business Week

Last Year it was Burger King. Now the Caffeinated Drink Manufacturer Wants in on the Gaming Action

FreeStyle’s commercial director Chris Lee says the Burger King deal was not the starting point or the inspiration for Red Bull tie-up. “It wasn’t a factor,” he said. “Red Bull is a brand and that is the only similarity. We have always been creative in terms of the way in which we approach game development, but also commercially creative, trying to understand who are our audience, how do we want to reach out to them. This is a part of that process.”

The Red Bull deal, like so many partnerships, germinated as something smaller. Lee says, “We’d been working with Red Bull for about two or three years.” The company’s game B-Boy features dancer Crazy Legs, a Red Bull sponsored act. Now the partnership has flowered into something “long term” meaning, right now, there’s no specific number of games planned.

He says, “This is something we expect to last over a number of years. It’s not a one-product opportunity, it’s something we’re going to work on in a number of different areas.”

Red Bull is one of the most aggressive marketers today, sponsoring sports, motor-sports, music and other areas of culture as well as bombarding traditional media outlets. It traditionally targets its efforts through college students and young urban professionals. The caffeine-drink was launched in Thailand in 1962, and brought to the West in the 1980s. Last year, sales tipped 3 billion cans.

FreeStyle was formed in 2002 and is best known for its game B-Boy, a hip-hop dancer that received middling reviews in Europe and has yet to be released in the US. But the intention to place the company at the core of now-culture is loud and clear. The UK developer says it wants to include leading creatives from other art-forms to explore gaming’s frontiers.

Unfortunately the direction the Red Bull games will take has yet to be announced. Lee said, “I can’t go into details about the games themselves but in terms of the repertoire that they’ve got and the resources for inspiration that they’ve got, it’s quite incredible. They’re involved in a whole range of activities whether it’s music or culture or sports. We have just started to unravel the myriad of things that they do and it just got more and more and more exciting from a games perspective.”

He insists that these games won’t be low-cost promo items a la Burger King or piss-poor license games. “These will be triple A complete original IP experiences. We’re not trying to produce mini-games. The bottom line is they will be innovative, original, next-gen games and they will sell and be successful based on that alone. We’re not trying to short-circuit the process by attaching a name or a brand or a license or personality. The appeal is going to be in the quality of the content and the quality of the games but the added benefit is that by working together we can more authentically represent some of the activities and some of the experiences we want to bring to market.”

Platform-wise, the firm is looking at all three consoles. “We would certainly like to explore all three and we’ll pick the most exciting platform or platforms based on the product that we’re doing. The idea is to be doing a range of experiences and then maybe they may have more options to market it on the platform or the distribution method.” This suggests, perhaps, some online distribution component to the plan. “We’re in conversations at the moment with various publishers and will follow a pretty traditional model in terms of any other triple A product. We will pick the right channel and the right market and the right opportunity based on the game.”

Some games are already in development and announcements are likely in the near future. 


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