As creators, we love turning bold ideas into reality, just for the sake of telling the story and exploring new concepts. And as media content professionals, we know that every piece of content has to fit inside our larger business and brand strategy. Finding that balance between unbridled creativity, building our brand, and reaching business goals is exactly what’s allowed the Talking Tom and Friends brand to keep growing for almost 10 years, while similar game-based brands have long since stopped getting traction.
This approach – along with the culture of creative collaboration we’ve built and our dedication to only putting out the highest possible quality content – is what has allowed us to reach millions of views with each video we produce, resulting in billions of hours of playtime across our channels.
Outfit7 started as a gaming company over a decade ago and video joined the mix later on. Today, video content isn’t just complementary to our games, it’s an important part of our brand and a business in its own right.
It starts with simple ideas, then we dig deeper
The responsibility for producing our media content falls to a relatively small core team – as part of which Kevin writes the scripts and Alex oversees the creative and production process from start to finish, acting as a supervising director. As a team, what keeps our creative ideas consistently fresh is that we encourage everyone else to contribute too.
For example, one of our animators on the Talking Tom and Friends animated series had an idea he thought could be really funny – a goldfish falling out of a window and into someone’s smoothie. The idea had a fun visual hook that was born out of the animator’s visually-focused creative mind; a writer may never have come up with it. We decided to run with it and started looking for ways the setup could let us explore one of our characters’ personalities.
We decided that Talking Hank would adopt the goldfish from the smoothie. At the time, we were looking for new things to do with the character. The tricky thing was that he’s not someone who takes initiative, he’s just an unmotivated dude. So giving Hank the responsibility of taking care of a pet – but in a way that literally fell into his path – felt like a nice, in-character way to push him out of his comfort zone and give him a funny story.
This openness to ideas and our focus on cross-department collaboration is actually how we get a lot of our best content ideas. Our entire company is structured around the concept that ideas can come from anywhere and that diverse viewpoints are essential for creating a living, breathing, and evolving universe around our characters. Part of that is achieved by giving everyone the opportunity to share their ideas, even if it’s just a fragment of a story or a fun moment with no context. The other part is for us to take those ideas and build them into something that makes sense for our brand, our audience, and our company goals.
It works because we’ve managed to build a culture that’s focused on the final product, not on who does what. Writers’ rooms can often get bogged down by big egos, which rarely leads to big ideas. But at Outfit7, we’ve gotten good at listening to each other and giving feedback in a constructive way. We certainly have strong opinions and, while we do voice them, the power of argument always wins over the argument of power. Ultimately, this leads to the best possible end product.
We approach video as an opportunity to expand the stories from our games
Our video content is often structured around expanding on concepts from our games that we want to dig deeper into, but can’t due to the limitations of the platform. A great example is a pool from My Talking Tom Friends. The pool is a popular feature in the game and for good reason! We felt like there were more stories there.
We tried to imagine what could be happening in the pool, beyond the mechanics of the game. That’s a common thought process when we’re planning our video content. What else could our characters be doing there? When we turn off the game, what shenanigans do they get up to? To give us a chance to explore all the fun possibilities, we created a series of Talking Tom Shorts episodes. These dialogue-free videos gave us the chance to explore concepts from our games in more depth.
Our “Breaking the Pool Rules” episode is one of the best examples of this in action. It allowed us to expand a story from the game and it became a massively successful piece of content in its own right, with over a hundred million views on YouTube. Check it out!
We’re successful because we don’t take shortcuts
On the surface, expanding on ideas from our games might seem straightforward. It would definitely be easy for us to come up with a few gags, throw them into an episode, and say OK, we’re done. But that’s just not how we do things at Outfit7.
The process might start small, like asking ourselves what our characters would do in the pool when we weren’t looking. But then we’d ask ourselves a hundred questions to discover exactly how the idea might fit into our wider universe. How can we build a dramatic arc centered around the pool? Can we tie it to one of our characters’ personalities? What message do we want to send through this episode? Can we introduce any additional concepts from the game in addition to the pool? How will it fit into our product roadmap, release schedules, and contribute towards KPIs?
But that’s just the beginning. When it was time to start animating we’d dive into a whole new extreme level of production detail. And once all that’s done, we’d start the review process. We polish every single piece of content for as long as it takes. In the end, we want to be able to look at it and say “this is as perfect as it can get”.
All of this extra effort translates into billions of views, as well as a lot of engagement and interest in our other products, from games and TV to merchandise, etc. One of the main reasons for this success is that we’ve constructed an environment that supports cross-department collaboration and true dedication to our craft.
Working on video content at Outfit7 can be challenging, and we’re certainly no strangers to tight deadlines. But even in the busiest of times, we respect each others’ ideas and work in an environment of genuine support. Just as importantly, we’re encouraged to respect ourselves, our needs, and our work/life balance. We work hard, but we also find moments to take breaks and hang out.
Even while working from home during Covid-19, we’d get together online for wine tastings, game nights, karaoke battles, and other fun activities. In the end, taking the time to build these connections doesn’t just lead to happier people, it also leads to a better final product. It’s about taking the time you need to get into the creative zone and into the right headspace to come up with something that’s world-class. Because even the best content strategy in the world won’t help unless you give yourself (and your team) the right conditions to deliver work you’re proud of and love. If you can achieve that, it’s almost guaranteed that your audience will love it too.