Beth Goss: Leveling up games for kids
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Beth Goss was recently appointed as the CEO of kid game company Outright Games. To do that, the former chief brand officer at 20th Century Fox had to relocate her family from the U.S. to London.
That tells you the nature of the opportunity. And now she is running a kids’ video game publisher behind the likes of Peppa Pig, Paw Patrol and Star Trek titles. Goss has held positions with some of the biggest entertainment companies in the world including Universal Pictures and Cartoon Network.
Goss wants to transform the family-operated publisher into a global player in the video games market, which has traditionally operated exclusively in games for young children. Goss is applying lessons and industry practices from her traditional entertainment background into gaming.
We talked about the new generation of kids and how to make games for them. We discussed gaming in the recession, education, the metaverse, user acquisition, Roblox and consolidation.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: What was appealing to you about taking this job?
Beth Goss: I picked up my family and moved to London, so a lot of things had to be appealing to make this massive change. I have a long history of working with brands. That’s my passion. I believe in that. We’ve seen what has happened in the worlds of brands and fans and how that’s changed so dramatically over the last 20 years. Gaming does it better than anyone now. They’ve built the communities. They work toward telling stories that the community wants to be a part of. To me it was a natural evolution.
I chose Outright for a number of reasons, but there were two things in particular that I really believe in. One is that kids in particular love storytelling and like to use their favorite characters to interact with stories in as many ways as possible. Managing how they do that and offering them all of that in the gaming space is really appealing to me. And then I’d add that no one else is doing it. I love that challenge. I love the amount of space. Knowing all the licensors, the space was desperately wanted. I’m going to keep it alive and grow it even bigger, even as the gaming business evolves.
GamesBeat: How big is the company overall?
Goss: Well, we’re currently well over 100 people, significantly over that. We have offices in the U.K., Spain, and the U.S. We’re still in expansion mode, so hopefully we’ll have a lot more to share about that over the course of the next six to 12 months. Our focus is console gaming. We have dipped our toe in mobile, and you’ll see us do more in mobile soon. By the end of this year, the company will be six years old, and we’ll have made 50 games in those six years. We do about a dozen games a year at this point, although that will fluctuate depending on the kind of games we do. Our focus remains very much in that kids and family category.
GamesBeat: What trends have been interesting in this market? I was following some companies like Byju’s, and their acquisition of Osmo in particular, for a long time. What do you see as the big players and the big trends?
Goss: The big thing that I’ve observed, the thing that’s most distinctive, is that this is the first generation of kids whose parents are gamers. Completely changes the model of how you bring kids to the gaming business. While things like Osmo in education-based games are very important, we’re talking about another side of the gaming business. Using education and technology and the way they merge – and they’re really one now – is as much because this generation of children are digital natives. It’s built into their DNA from when they’re still in the womb. Technology is driving them.
The gaming idea, kids playing games and the social aspect of gaming, hasn’t really changed that much. But what’s changed is this idea that parents are actually playing with them. Now an activation, an activity that used to be something you did at this age, now it’s something you do as much as a parent as you did as a kid. To me, what’s interesting, what’s the trend, is how do we bring those together?
Digital purchasing, that the primary place to consume games starts with a digital purchase–with kids that’s still not the case so much. The younger you go, the more likely it is that the activation is physical. You’re walking around in Wal-Mart picking up a stuffed animal. The younger you are, it doesn’t mean that you’ve eliminated that physical purchase. The difference now is that those kids do things that are digitally native, and yet their parents are doing everything almost wholly digital. How do we move more of that parent choice for their children to be a digital choice as well, a digital purchase choice? It’s really fascinating. How do you do that when all the platforms and all the mechanisms that we extend that communication through are digital? They’re regulated seriously for kids, and parents are sensitive to that.
What the pandemic has done is it’s changed this family purchase choice and play choice. Family time is becoming a more important part of childrens’ play time. That’s a real opportunity. Being a part of that, trying to make not only the games, but the point of purchase more of a family decision-making process, that’s crucial to how we move forward. When I don’t have some of the tools that all-audience gaming has–I can’t do social. There are things I can’t use. So how do I connect with my core audience?
GamesBeat: Where do you put the brakes on when you have economic headwinds, compared to when you press to the floor and keep accelerating?
Goss: Well, I’ll start with the latter. We’re going to accelerate bigger and better games with brands that we might look at as an all-audience brand, but they need a kids portfolio. What do I mean by that? It may not be obvious. There are lots of brands that make games for everyone. But am I going to have my six-year-old play a triple-A game from those brands? Probably not. One, because the game is way too hard for them. We press harder on making games that are appropriate for the age we’re talking about. A four-year-old is not looking to master something. He’s looking to just blow things up. It doesn’t matter if he wins.
We do more work in understanding the real game mechanics that work for our age and acting as an on-ramp. As that four-year-old ages up to six and nine, by the time he reaches a certain age, I’ve hooked him into the triple-A game, and I’m not eroding it. But I’ve created something for that start. Where I put the brakes on is trying to compete with the triple-A game. We don’t want to be that. That’s okay. There’s room in this marketplace for both of us.
Education is another part of it where we’re trying to figure out a balance. Does that happen on console, or on another platform? We need to look through that. We’ll do that in a measured way. For us, it’s being really clear about what we’re not. We’re not trying to age ourselves up too much because we think that will help keep our six-year-olds happy. It’s okay if our six-year-olds move to another game. The good news is that another six-year-old was born seven seconds ago.
My goal is the kid who keeps getting born, and making sure I know the licenses and the brands that are important to them. As Paw Patrol plateaus, what’s coming behind it? CoComelon? Right here. Bluey? Right here. I want to be the partner when everybody says, “We need interactive entertainment for these brands. We’re not going to make it for a 16-year-old. We need to make it for a three-year-old.”
GamesBeat: As far as organic growth versus acquisition, how do you feel about that right now?
Goss: I think it’s both. The beauty of what we know is–I think we have a very interesting USP. How do we expand on that USP? Some of that is going to be organic. We’ve been very fortunate to bring in some very good game designers and producers from others who have taken this theory and said, “We’re going to expand this to all audiences.” Our creative director comes from TT, for example. He really believes in kids games. He made great games with Lego. He knows the core is kids. But Lego games are for everyone. They do well all over the board. We like that way of thinking and we’ll continue to look for people like that to build internally.
Equally, we’re going to look outside, particularly on platforms where we’re not as strong. Whether it’s digital only or Steam games or things that we can learn from more, platforms like mobile and AR. Probably not VR, just because of the age range. And I’m fascinated with what the early stages of web3 look like for us. That’s going to be hard given the regulation issues that we talk about all the time, but we know we’re going to be that audience. These kids are digitally native, like we said. Transferable assets between games will become more important for a five-year-old than for a 25-year-old, because they don’t understand how all these different technologies work. They just expect it to work. Those are interesting growth opportunities that we can pursue.
GamesBeat: How do you decide where you want to focus on different regional markets and what you want to tackle? How important is the U.S. versus elsewhere, for example?
Goss: We’re very conscious of the U.S. and English-speaking territories. They’re a really important source for licenses. Because so much of our business is based on other people’s content, we look to where those strengths are. We’ve seen some great things from southern Europe in animation over the last 20 years, and we’ll continue to see that. So many of the characters from southeast Asia, Japan, and China are very specific to their regions. We need to be measured in how we approach them.
I’m curious how one attacks Brazil when the Switch is not in Brazil. We need to figure that out, because Brazil is a great market for brands. Comic-Con in Brazil is bigger than Comic-Con in the U.S. I’ve been to it. It’s insane. It’s amazing. But it’s so interesting to me that there’s this huge opportunity in Latin America and South America, and yet you can’t get a Switch there. What do you do? How does Pokemon continue to thrive there? There are ways to do it. We just have to figure out the right mix.
GamesBeat: What do you think about the metaverse opportunity?
Goss: It’s something I need to learn a lot more about before I say anything stupid. But it goes back to what I said before about web3. I think when it comes to metaverse, kids were the first ones to go there. Look at Roblox and Minecraft. Those are the precursors to the metaverse. Kids were there before anyone ever named it. The question is how you create it and make it viable for them without making the barriers to entry too challenging. They are not driven by the financial opportunities there. What we constantly talk about around Outright Games is playground capital. Our goal is to measure our playground capital. That’s what we look at. I don’t know how to measure playground capital for the metaverse yet.
GamesBeat: Have you done anything relative to something like Roblox yet?
Goss: We’ve dipped our toes. Again, the financial models–we don’t own original content. We’re a licensee. Our Roblox relationships are on behalf of licensors.
GamesBeat: Do you see patterns in how active brands are? If I look at sports games with the NBA and the NFL, they’re greenlighting far more games than ever before, especially in mobile and new kinds of platforms. In the older days they would just stay with someone like Electronic Arts. It’s interesting to see how diverse those brands are becoming. Do you see that on your side as well?
Goss: 100 percent. It’s what I said before about the onramp. There’s room for everybody. The problem has been taking this kind of single, ubiquitous approach, all scale under one idea. I’d say I’m doing a disservice by even labeling this “kids.” They’re co-play family opportunities. They’re single-player preschooler opportunities. They’re learn-to-read opportunities.
You can use so many different parts of interactivity to divide up what the license can do. The license enables you to tell stories in different ways. As long as you’re helping the licensor move the story along–I talk a lot about what I call the figure-eight approach to managing a brand. We’ve seen this change more and more, particularly with the rise of streaming. There’s a lot of direct-to-consumer relationship that the owner of the brand controls on their own, whether it’s a sports brand like the NBA or a storytelling brand like Princesses. The issue is, there are always going to be parts of that relationship that don’t exist within the controlled universe of that brand. Disney can only control so much. They control the theme parks. They control Disney+. But they aren’t making games themselves. They need someone to have direct relationships on the other side of that figure-eight.
The more things you can create on the other side of the figure-eight, you’re dividing up the brand, but you’re still moving a consumer along that race track. The beauty is, the ones you’re doing on the outside, that you don’t control, you’re bringing other people into the brand. All of a sudden, if you have an education game for four-year-olds and it brings them into the Incredible Hulk, you’ve now created an entry point. You don’t own that entry point, but you’re going to send them to the entry point that you do own and that you do have monetization around. That makes us an even better partner for the licensors, because you can think about how narrow you can go and diversifying your offerings outside of what you own.
GamesBeat: I look at Microsoft deciding to buy Activision Blizzard as something that breaks my imagination. I never thought that could happen. Do you see anything else on the horizon like that, anything you think about that way?
Goss: I don’t know if it’s breaking my imagination, but as someone who follows brands very closely, I’m surprised–my imagination is broken right now by how, if you aren’t a legacy brand, how are you building this diversification? I don’t think it’s strange that Netflix doesn’t have a kids brand. Or maybe I do. It never would have occurred to me that, at the scale Netflix is at, that they don’t have two to three competitive kids and family brands. Brands that compete with Disney.
GamesBeat: The opportunity is there, but they haven’t addressed it.
Goss: They have to figure out the other half of the loop. But Disney and Universal and Warner and the NBA and Nintendo have always known that there are places on the loop that they don’t control, and they’re going to monetize those places through licensing relationships, but they’re not going to–you have to recognize that there are things that aren’t your core competency, but still feed people back to the core of your business. There’s nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to be all things to all people in every part of your storytelling. You just need to have partners who understand how to help you move your story forward.
GamesBeat: As a game company, it seems like part of your pitch to those brands–do you really cover the entire gaming market just by giving one license to an Electronic Arts?
Goss: That’s right. You’ve got it. If you’re the NBA and you haven’t made a game for a six-year-old to play, are you going to get them into the Take-Two game as early as you could? Particularly now that you have to get them in digitally. Now they have to be on console, or they have to be on Steam. They have to be in a place where the distraction is even greater. I find it exciting. I don’t know if I’m right, but I sure hope I am.
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