Commentary

Do Apps Sell Movies? 'Dolphin Tale' Swims In Mobile Gaming Waters

Game-Fling-a-Fish

Yesterday we reported on a novel mobile app promotion for this week's premiere of "I Don't Know How She Does It," which targets a potential fashionista audience with flash sales. But what if your target is much younger and doesn't know a Nike from a Manolo? You make a game instead, of course. In advance of Alcon Entertainment's "Dolphin Tale" release, the film company partnered with entertainment marketing firm Trailer Park Mobile to create a cross-platform "Dolphin Tale: Fling a Fish" game. The app is available in both Android and iOS app store in free "lite" versions as well as an upgraded paid version.

Unlike the typical movie promo app, in this strategy Alcon and Trailer Park were looking to establish more enduring presence among a kid audience. "It is meant to create some buzz ahead of the release, says Geerlings, vice president of mobile, Trailer Park. "But it is less of a promotional app than a game that can stand on its own. It is getting away from the traditional movie marketing app where the sole purpose is to put butts in the seats."

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The app is supposed to extend the experience of the world of Winter, the film's dolphin protagonist, and the story lines. The simple mechanics of the game have a bit of an "Angry Birds feel. The player uses a cannon to aim and shoot a fish to Winter in its tank. "Users are savvy, and they don't want to think this is a cheap, quick version of the film," Geerlings notes.

Trailer Park, which built the game internally, needed to work on a tight turnaround for the game and so used the Corona SDK tool from Ansca Mobile to develop an app that could play on both Google and Android across both smartphones and tablets with a single build. "Getting on both platform is key," says Geerlings.

As for whether these torrents of mobile movie apps are really selling either tickets or the film experience effectively, "we're long past the point of figuring out 'if' mobile is a part of the media mix for theatrical motion picture marketing," says Noam Dromi of Alcon Entertainment. "When you're competing for mind share and market share in a highly fragmented and competitive landscape, you want to create cross-platform experiences that are resonant and relevant to your audience."

Which is not to say that all movies need to get app-happy. Geerlings says that most of the studios he works with are looking for apps to associate with tent-pole features or cases where a mobile iteration makes special sense. Dromi feels that "Dolphin's Tale" was a natural for this kind of treatment. "With a film like 'Dolphin's Tale' that is very kid- and family-friendly, a robust app with repeat playability made sense because it could connect with the audience as an organic extension of the film."

"Fling a Fish" has to fight against a long history of poorly executed games licensed from film properties. In the case of this game, however, the makers at least have fairly solid game mechanics working for them. In our own tests of the app, we found it remarkably challenging. Apparently Winter doesn't like to vault much for her dinner, so you have to be spot-on in your aim. Or perhaps we should hand it over to the nearest ten-year-old.

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