Branded Games, Immersive Worlds and Francises

What are keys to creating compelling immersive games and experiences on console, VR and physical world, and cross platform franchises: games to film, TV, comics, live experiences and more.

The Look Club
6 min readMar 11, 2024

This post covers a panel that took place on Thursday, February 29 at Digital LA — Games Summit: LEAP @ Survios HQ. Below is a summary of key takeaways and a selection of relevant and insightful quotes from the fantastic panelists.

(L to R) Steve Huff, Stephan Bugaj, John Carle, Jeffrey Yohalem, moderator Kevin Winston.


In the gaming industry, adapting brands and franchises is crucial for success. Authenticity is key, as is understanding the audience’s perspective. Incorporating brands into games can be challenging, and focus testing can be a double-edged sword. Video games and their intellectual property (IP) have had an increasing influence on Hollywood; the success of Telltale’s Tales From the Borderlands is a great case study. IP is also significant when it comes to game development and marketing; it bring great value when it comes to securing deals and building trust with clients, and its relevant to mobile gaming, not just consoles and PCs. IP is also increasingly important in the marketing world and when it comes to multimedia applications.


  • Kevin Winston, Founder of Digital LA


  • Jeffrey Yohalem, Ubisoft, WGA-award winning writer on Assassin’s Creed franchise
  • Stephan Bugaj, GenVid, Chief Creative Officer. Leads creative expansion of franchise including DC, Justice League, Silent Hill, Borderland, etc.
  • John Carle, Super League, VP Creator Relations and Gaming Insights. Helped bring brands into game worlds including: Hamilton Simulator, Trolls Band Together and Migration movies into Roblox, Hi-Chew into Fortnite, and Nickelodeon into Minecraft.
  • Steve Huff, President of Scopely’s Midcore Division, responsible for Star Trek Fleet Command, Marvel Strike Force, WWE Champions, and more games.

Topic 1: Key things to remember or to do when working with a well- known, beloved brand.

John: “From the marketing side, the number one thing, it’s it sounds the most obvious, but it is the authenticity because if you are carrying out the wrong people or the wrong experiences with the brand, and it does not fit there, especially younger audiences in these virtual worlds will be the quickest to call you out on it and publicly call you out and repeatedly call you out all over the place.”

“The big problems that have happened when some people latch on to the mechanical experience of one medium, and are like, “Well, what people wanted was the mechanic of that medium. So we’re gonna bring the mechanic of that meeting over to this medium.” Like, that is the wrongest thing you could possibly do.”

“A lot of games are going to be fun. But whatever you’re working on needs to give you an emotion. Because otherwise, it’s just like, you know, an empty idle battle or something like that, which can work and people can make money off of it. But I’m not going to remember that 10 years from now. I was talking with somebody earlier about Telltale actually and talking about the end of season one of The Walking Dead. And that rates people. I met the voice actors on it. I was like, I hope you will you were the reason I cried once. Like, that’s the kind of stuff that’s going to resonate and keep it going for years to come.”

Jeffrey: “One of the major issues with Hollywood until Mario, you know, and The Last of Us was that they hired people who were actually kind of narcissists who wanted their own thing to be made. And they’re like, “We’re going to put this veneer of this video game IP on top of this, but I’m really making my movie.” And in fact, you see that happening with Marvel right now; like, Sam Raimi came in and was like, I’m going to make a Sam Raimi movie, but it’s going to be Dr. Strange and it was okay. But in some ways, I feel like that’s where Marvel really started slipping was it felt like these superstars were just using the IP as a veneer on their own stuff.”

“It’s somewhat like synesthesia. You have to have this like sense of the color of a brand.”

“When I hire people, I want to know that they played the games in that franchise that I’m working on. And I also want to know that they play games like they love the franchise because I guarantee you I think that Steven Spielberg is a great director because he loves things that resonate with a wider audience. And that wasn’t something he taught himself. He just is. And so you hire him when you want to resonate with that audience where you hire another director when you want to resonate with a different kind of audience, but don’t try to force a director who doesn’t love something to change their spots and date back because they will for money. You’ll end up with what you guys were talking about.”

Topic 2: The relationship between Hollywood and video games.

Jeffrey: “The industry has changed because Hollywood now respects gaming, which it did not literally just about 10 years ago.”

John: “Well within that 10 year timeframe was when gaming revenue overtook Hollywood revenue. So even if they didn’t want to, they became forced to respect that.”

Question 3: Focus testing.

Jeffrey: “I’ve worked at companies where they were obsessed with focus testing, and they did it every two weeks, and kill a bunch of great ideas in before they blossom.”

There’s a difference between focus testing, which is a very controlled environment managed by people with an agenda and Early Access. Early Access builds, whether it’s early access for a big drop or early access built into a live service. There’s a big difference between what you get from a focus test and what you get from actually engaging with customers in the wild who have come to this thing because they’re interested.

Question 4: Multi-Media.

Jeffrey: “It’s really blossomed into being multidisciplinary and multimedia. There are certain IP rights, like an IP like Hogwarts works really well across multiple mediums and works very well for game. You know, the same thing is true for something like Star Trek, you know, because its built to have endless worlds that are interesting and engaging, and some IPs are not built for that at all. And so I think the most valuable IPs now are multi media.”

John: “I would say IP can be a double edged sword. I think if it’s popular IP, it gets you through the door, but then you’re also going to be under the microscope because of the superfans. I’m self admittedly one of the biggest Hawkeye fans on the planet which is a rare event. But I love that show. Because they did right by the character. If they had ruined that show, that would have been my social media for a year and I’d be so mad at them for it.

And the same thing goes with games when you’re going in there and you’re touching something that somebody already is predisposed to whether they love it or just like it. You know, we recently worked with Hamilton, we created Hamilton Simulator. It’s a pretty standard gameplay loop that works well. But if we just called it just “music simulator,” I don’t think it would have had the same success as actually having IP from Hamilton, but like this is a win win there. Lin Miranda singing the song from Hamilton is what got people in and because it still worked in was a good gameplay experience that kept people in.”



The Look Club

Eve Weston and Jessica Kantor created The Look Club to discusses immersive media through their site and reviews of immersive stories.