Cirque du Soleil is pushing out from the big top into the digital world, launching its first video game in a bid to connect with younger people and generate new sources of revenue beyond its famed live entertainment shows.
The Canadian circus troupe, now controlled by a group of investors led by Toronto private equity firm Catalyst Capital Group Inc., is partnering with U.S. developer Gamefam Inc. to release the video game, Cirque confirmed Wednesday.
Called Cirque du Soleil Tycoon, the game allows players to build their own circus performance and access unique virtual items based on real-life Cirque costumes, including animal head masks. It will debut on the popular gaming platform Roblox this summer.
It’s the first initiative in a wider effort by Cirque to diversify beyond its live shows, which have been seen by some 180 million people since the troupe was founded in 1984. The idea, supported by market survey data, is to use its enviable reputation and significant intellectual property to engage with its fans more frequently and draw in new followers.
“What people told us was astounding. It was essentially that we had consumer permission to do things far beyond the live stage,” said Nickole Tara, a New York City-based sports and entertainment industry executive who leads the brand monetization strategy as chief growth officer. The message was “we want more,” she said.
Catalyst and some 15 other creditors took control of Cirque in late 2020, pulling it out of bankruptcy protection in a deal worth about US$1.2-billion. The company’s already stretched balance sheet had snapped after pandemic restrictions forced the cancellation of shows and wiped out its revenue.
Speaking to The Globe and Mail at the time, Catalyst managing director and partner Gabriel de Alba was already articulating a vision for Cirque that would build on its live performances, venturing into content digitization to extend the company’s brand and IP. He said he saw Cirque shows landing on streaming platforms. And he said Cirque could also partner on non-scripted reality shows along the lines of America’s Got Talent.
“There are a lot of options that were never explored outside the live event business as well as they could have been,” Mr. de Alba said at the time. “What we bring is … a fresh set of eyes to challenge the historical thinking and come up with more optimal ways to run the business while still protecting the creative core from Quebec.”
Those options are now taking shape under Ms. Tara, who leads a team of about 50 people. Her job description also includes developing Cirque’s partnerships, branded content, consumer products, social channels, in-house creative studio, music catalogue, film and television and immersive entertainment.
Roblox launched in September, 2006, and soared during the pandemic as players, especially kids, used it to connect with their friends while self-isolating. The platform currently has 66.1 million daily active users and more than 214 million monthly active users, according to marketing intelligence firm Demand Sage. Adopt Me!, the top game on Roblox, earned US$77-million in sales in 2021.
“It’s an audience base formed of Generation Z and a lot of Gen Alpha,” said Ricardo Briceno, Gamefam’s chief business officer. “This is where they socialize. This is where they form community. And it becomes increasingly hard to reach them outside gaming platforms, metaverse platforms, like Roblox.”
Cirque is betting the game will also be a bonding experience for parents and their kids. Its research shows its most fervent fans often have one or more children in their households.
“We want to create a world by which parents and kids can interact with one another and that it can be a shared brand experience,” Ms. Tara said. “We’re building an enduring universe.”
The company is bracing for what could be significant headwinds over the next 12 to 18 months as higher interest rates reduce the disposable income of audiences, Moody’s Investors Service said in a report on the company published in February. Still, the credit-rating company said the performing arts industry has demonstrated resilience to past downturns and that Cirque’s track record and unique brand should allow it to generate healthy ticket sales into next year.