When it comes to protecting intellectual property, few companies are as aggressive as Star Wars creator Lucasfilm. And for good reason: decades of merchandising revenue have helped give rise to an (ahem) empire worth billions. Series creator George Lucas is personally worth $3.3 billion, Forbes estimates.
Thus, if the Star Wars imagery appears in anything -- especially a promo video -- you know it's with the express permission of Lucasfilm, which wouldn't grant it without expecting a few fat checks to arrive at Skywalker Ranch. And that puts Finland's Rovio Entertainment, creator of the megahit mobile game Angry Birds, in rare company:
Nice, right? Forget for a moment that the game itself could set download records when it goes live on Nov. 8. For investors, the less-thrilling business details are what make this interesting. Lucasfilm and Rovio are also partnering on merchandise, selling a number of themed toys through Toys R Us. (Check out the samples Mashable previewed during the New York opening.)
Brilliant licensing like this illustrates a key difference between Rovio and rivals such as Zynga (Nasdaq: ZNGA ) , which hasn't done particularly well with generating supplemental merchandising revenue.
A better comparable might be Hasbro (Nasdaq: HAS ) , which is not only teaming up with Rovio and Lucasfilm to produce the toys based on Angry Birds: Star Wars, but which has a lot of experience extending its brands into other markets, like feature films. Hasbro and Rovio appear to be on a similar path.
And that's important: In May, reports surfaced that Rovio plans a 2013 IPO. Can the Angry Birds creator succeed where Facebook (Nasdaq: FB ) and Zynga have thus far failed? I like Rovio's chances, if only because merchandising revenue should create a buffer that would prevent a failed game from ruining the profit picture.
Zynga has a much bigger problem. Not only is it embroiled in a patent fight with Electronic Arts, but its customer base -- teens and twentysomethings, mostly -- are fickle users. Can Zynga rev its innovation engine as Rovio cranks its licensing machine? Will it make a difference over the long term?