Making Online Play: Scott Humphries, Disney Interactive executive producer and production leader for the Frozen Free Fall game, at Disney’s headquarters in Burbank.

Making Online Play: Scott Humphries, Disney Interactive executive producer and production leader for the Frozen Free Fall game, at Disney’s headquarters in Burbank. Photo by Ringo Chiu.

“When I started at Fox, the revenues were small, but then it grew like a weed,” Stalbow said.

Brand awareness

But money isn’t the only reason studios are betting heavily on mobile. Whereas television commercials and print ads were once the main ways to build buzz in advance of a film’s release, nowadays mobile is often the first touch point for many people.

The nearly 37 minutes a day Frozen Free Fall players spend on the app appears modest when you consider that Android and iOS users in the United States spend nearly 52 minutes playing games on their smartphones and tablets each day, according to numbers released in April by San Francisco mobile analytics firm Flurry. That kind of engagement lights up the eyes of movie studios.

Before leaving for Rovio, Stalbow inked a deal with the company to develop Angry Birds Rio, a game tie-in with Fox’s animated film “Rio,” released in April 2011.

When Fox conducted exit polls of “Rio” viewers at movie theaters across the country, individuals in the studio’s most coveted demographics responded that they first heard about the movie after downloading and playing the game.

It was then, Stalbow said, that the studio fully realized the marketing potential of mobile devices.

“At that point,” he recalled, “Fox knew a mobile product could really cut through and be a main awareness driver for one of their movies.”

Different models

Though it handled publishing in-house, Disney Interactive co-developed the “Frozen” and “Maleficent” titles with Genera Games of Seville, Spain.

Other studios choose to license their properties out to third-party developers that develop and publish the game themselves and share revenue with the studio.

Humphries, the Disney Interactive executive producer, described the company’s model as a hybrid approach that benefits both sides.

“We can work with some of the best developers in the industry to make games on Disney properties,” he said. Plus, “it empowers the developer to work with Disney properties that they might not be able to afford from a licensing scenario.”

One gaming studio active on the licensing side is San Francisco’s Kabam Inc., which worked on the recent mobile spinoff of “The Hunger Games” film franchise produced by Santa Monica’s Lions Gate Entertainment Inc. Kabam has also created game tie-ins for “The Hobbit,” among several other film properties. The company has received funding from both Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

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