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Battle Bears is the story of a band of teddy-bear soldiers that roams the galaxy on a quest to rid it of danger — most notably Huggables. Bright pink and cuddly on the outside, Huggables just want to smother your character — literally — with love.
When Huggables are shot with any of the wide array of Battle Bears weapons, they burst forth with rainbows rather than blood. Each Battle Bear has a distinct personality, and the characters have real-life alter egos. Oliver, who is the type who leaps before he looks, is based on creator Ben Vu. Riggs, the more disciplined of the bunch, is precise and serious — much like Vu's older brother Hoa.
There are five games in the Battle Bears series, with the sixth, “Battle Bears Zero,” coming soon. Titles are available in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store for Android-based phones.
After three years, the Battle Bears are finally ready to go big-time.
Developed by Omaha-based SkyVu Entertainment, the Battle Bears mobile gaming franchise (think smartphones and iPads) could be coming to a television or toy department near you.
SkyVu, which was co-founded in 2009 by Ben Vu and his brother, Hoa, recently signed a development deal with Los Angeles-based Wildbrain Entertainment to turn Battle Bears into an animated television series plus create a new line of merchandise and toys. SkyVu has tallied more than 19 million downloads for Battle Bears titles and hopes to use that popularity to fuel the TV series. And that's been the plan all along.
While some game developers focus first on the game and then capitalize on any further opportunities, Ben Vu focused first on the story behind the game. Battle Bears was originally conceived as a screenplay by the CalArts-educated Vu. From there, he thought about how to maximize the audience for the lowest possible cost. The introduction of the Apple iPhone in 2007 provided a clear path forward.
“I had this feeling that if I could get enough fans on mobile, the brands I would create could establish enough traction to work their way back through traditional media,” Vu said. “That's happening, but it took a little longer than expected.”
According to Jon Jordan, editor-at-large of PocketGamer.biz, a U.K.-based website that covers the mobile gaming industry, deals like this will likely become more common in the future.
“Given that the time spent watching TV has been dropping — with games viewed as one of the key reasons — it makes sense for TV production companies to link up with game makers,” Jordan said. “Of course, in this area, scale is very important. Rovio got so big so quickly that it bought its own animation studio to work on Angry Birds.”
SkyVu isn't quite that far along yet, but its team of 30 employees at the company's Aksarben Village headquarters is hard at work on the TV series. Should it get picked up by a network, the 28-episode series would likely debut at some point in early 2014.
In Battle Bears games, teddy-bear soldiers roam the galaxy to rid it of danger — namely the Huggables, who are bright pink and cuddly on the outside but try to literally smother your character with love. The TV series' story arc is expected to start at the beginning and eventually cover all of the games' story lines.
Because most SkyVu games are free to play, the company relies on a number of different revenue streams. In-game advertising accounts for about half of the company's revenue, while in-game purchases like virtual goods and virtual currency account for the remainder. In-game purchases include weapons upgrades, different “skins,” which change the bears' looks, and power-ups and speed-ups to enhance game play.
Since 2009 SkyVu has experienced an annual average revenue growth of more than 200 percent. The company recently secured a round of funding to help it expand its marketing reach and push its brands in other parts of the world, especially Asia.
Vu himself first realized Battle Bears' time was coming while at Comic Con, the annual comics, animation and pop-art convention in San Diego, in 2011. The SkyVu booth was placed between comics titans Marvel and DC, which meant lots of traffic and lots of eyes on the giant pink teddy bear stationed there. Conventiongoers lined up for a photo with a character like Batman, then migrated over to the Battle Bears booth.
“That really got me thinking,” Vu said. “We walked the characters around the floor and we would steal traffic from 'Star Wars.' That turned on a light in my head: Maybe we really do have something capable of going big.”
From there, Vu and his team worked with their agent — a person they met at Comic Con — to identify potential partners who could help them take the next step. Wildbrain, which has had success in both the TV and merchandise realm, was the top candidate.
“Getting a company that gets what you're creating makes it much easier,” Vu said. “Wildbrain was our No. 1 choice because they have a very sincere appreciation for the brand of comedy that Battle Bears is. It's action, comedy, adventure. If you think about it, it's a bit wild. We hope to bring the wild into Wildbrain.”
Wildbrain itself sees Battle Bears as an up-and-coming property, fully capable of becoming the next big thing for boys ages 8 to 14.
“Battle Bears has enjoyed worldwide success as a mobile game,” said Wildbrain President Michael Polis. “Between its built-in fan base and the expandable universe that lends itself to consumer products and character-driven extensions such as series, Battle Bears has the potential to become the next big boys' action comedy brand.”
As the TV show develops, Vu and his team — along with writers from Wildbrain — will have an opportunity to reboot the Battle Bears story for a new audience. Along the way, they'll tone down some of the wilder aspects of the narrative to make it more appropriate for a younger audience.
Despite those changes, SkyVu will maintain full creative approval.
“It's a different medium,” Vu said. “That means we tone down the edginess a bit and we just bring forward the wacky-wild weapons and scenarios that the characters are in. It's a creative challenge that I welcome.”
Should the Battle Bears find success away from mobile gaming, SkyVu has other titles that could easily follow suit. All of its games are built as stories first, which helps them resonate more deeply with fans. Building it that way guarantees it has the elements to make it appealing to a wider audience, and it also makes SkyVu's titles different from those of other studios.
“Most other game developers view TV deals as just one of the options to explore — alongside merchandising, graphic novels and the like — when their game franchise gets big enough,” Jordan said. “Ben's somewhat different in that he comes from an animation background, and so he's developed Battle Bears in that direction.”