Crossing the road didn’t go precisely as he expected it to. The trucks were moving faster than he thought, there were too many alligators, and he never saw that car coming. Frogger, known for his work in the Frogger classic arcade game, wasn’t crippled in that accident back in 1981, at least not physically. He’s been held back for years by self-doubt, never as big a hit as Pac-Man or those pesky Super Mario Bros. He tried to get a role in Activision Blizzard‘s (NASDAQ:ATVI) Call of Duty, but he got passed over for characters with opposable thumbs.
A few years back, Frogger figured he’d change direction, give up the video game ghost and go get his MBA. Now, on his 30th birthday, things are turning around. Frogger’s back on the scene, connecting with the kids via a new game sold in Apple‘s (NASDAQ:AAPL) App Store. Everything’s going to be different now.
Heartwarming return aside, the release of a new edition of Konami Corp.‘s (NYSE:KNM) Frogger series on the App Store to celebrate the game’s 30th anniversary demonstrates just how much the game industry has changed in recent years. Even five years ago, this sort of brand would see its anniversary used to leverage a fleet of retail products, $40 retail games for Sony‘s (NYSE:SNE) PlayStation 2 or Microsoft‘s (NASDAQ:MSFT) original Xbox system. Now it would be impossible for Konami to make money on a disc-based retail game of Frogger; it’s too insubstantial as a game and too unfamiliar to young players to capture the crowd still buying games for Nintendo‘s (PINK:NTDOY) machines. The $1.99 Frogger Decades in the App Store is perfect, though. It was undoubtedly cheap to make and it’s the sort of flotsam that iPhone owners will happily download and amuse themselves with when they have a few idle minutes.
It ultimately will be interesting to see how well this game performs alongside perpetual hits like Rovio’s Angry Birds. Leveraging classic brands is the oldest marketing strategy in the book — just look at the number of television and movie remakes from the past year alone. Video games have especially exploited audience nostalgia. Nintendo’s New Super Mario Bros. Wii, a game released in 2009 but modeled after a game made in 1985, has sold more than 22 million copies.
While classic brands have sold decently on mobile devices, they haven’t seen nearly the success of newer titles like the aforementioned Angry Birds or others like Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:ERTS) subsidiary PopCap’s Bejeweled. A perfect example is Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog 4. Released at the end of 2010, the company developed the game — the first numerical sequel to the classic series since 1994 — for Apple’s iPhone first and other platforms like the Nintendo Wii second. It failed to break into the App Store’s top 10.
The bottom line is that new intellectual property tends to sing on mobile platforms. That’s good news for businesses heavily invested in the industry, as well as investors following companies like Zynga and Rovio who stand to go public in the next year. It’s also great news for creativity. Any sign that original work is more profitable than rehashes and nostalgia cash-ins is a good sign indeed.