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Why Cirque du Soleil Tapped LA Game Maker Gamefam for its First Virtual World
After almost 40 years since its founding, Canadian entertainment powerhouse Cirque du Soleil is embracing the metaverse.
The circus tapped Los Angeles-based Gamefam, which develops custom games for brands. Called “Cirque du Soleil Tycoon,” the game will come out this summer on Roblox— a sandbox-type title that allows players to create a number of public and private virtual worlds.
GameFam launched in 2019 and has created 30 custom games for brands eager to explore the metaverse as a way to reach more diverse audiences, including the BBC, Mattel, the NFL, Puma and Samsung. In addition to creating games in Roblox, it also has made custom programs for “Fortnite” and “Minecraft.”
Sébastien Ouimet, Head of Filmed & Immersive Entertainment for Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group, told dot.LA he felt the circus – which celebrates its 40th anniversary next June – could use a digital boost. “The idea was to bring a brand new perspective on our creative universe,” Ouimet told dot.LA. He added that “we can offer such an access to our fans that we cannot necessarily offer in the real world,” including virtual backstage passes, and behind-the-scenes looks at how the troupe trains, designs costumes and makeup.
“Cirque du Soleil Tycoon” is based on the troupe’s newest acrobatics show, “ECHO,” which is themed around the balance between nature and technology. Renderings of the game show a bright, cartoon-ish world. Players can make custom parks and big tops, choreograph their own shows and “hire” artists in-game to bring their shows to life. There’s also a suite of mini-games themed around the circus.
“It's important for us that when we transpose our creative DNA of ‘ECHO’ or Cirque du Soleil the mother brand, that we do it in a way where we just don't duplicate our creative DNA, we transform it, we adapt and change it,” Ouimet said. “[Our creativity] embraces everything that platforms such as Roblox have to have to offer.”
Cirque du Soleil does have nearly a million subscribers on YouTube, and while much of that behind-the-scenes content is perfect for a YouTube video, Ouimet said he’s keen for fans to experience the show in a more immersive way through the upcoming game – especially the people who might not have the funds to shell out for tickets or a show in Vegas. Ouimet added that he’s aware the audience for Roblox skews younger than the average Cirque du Soleil ticket buyer, but added that he hopes the game appeals to a wider audience of varying ages.
Recruiting a new audience is important to the circus’ longevity – though it’s unclear if the metaverse bet will pay off in dividends. In June 2020, Cirque du Soleil entertainment group laid off 3,500 people and filed for bankruptcy protection, citing mounting debt that piled up as a result of the coronavirus pandemic forcing it to cancel shows. By November 2020 Catalyst Capital Group bought the business for an undisclosed sum.
“What we're doing in the immersive space actually adds value to our live stage experiences,” Ouimet said. Going beyond the big top is key, Ouimet said. “For us, bridging the physical and digital world is quite important in terms of how we define success,” he added.
Gamefam chief business officer Ricardo Briceno wouldn’t disclose how much Cirque du Soleil paid the company to make the game. But, he said Cirque du Soleil actually reached out directly to Roblox first, which made the introduction.
In February, Gamefam partnered with another household name – the NFL – to create a similar game in Roblox called “Super NFL Tycoon.” The game has nearly 10 million visits to date and lets players create their own simulated NFL franchise, and was sponsored by Intuit. Around the same time, Gamefam launched what Briceno called “the first Super Bowl concert on Roblox,” where Warner Music rapper Saweetie performed a free virtual concert.
Last March, Gamefam raised a $25 million Series A to develop more in-game worlds for brands. Briceno said on average, there’s 12 million players around the world engaging with Gamefam’s content daily. He also noted that on a monthly basis, Gamefam players spend a combined 96 hours – four straight days – in its custom-made games.
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