Don't put Trekkies in charge, Nexon's chief strategy officer says
Hit games don’t always work on the big screen, flopping when they are made into films. Remember "Assassin’s Creed" (2016), "Sonic the Hedgehog" (2020) or "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" (2010)? Probably not.
Nexon wants to avoid that fate as it works to leverage up its creative assets. To that end, the company will set up a new division dedicated to intellectual property (IP) expansion, led by a specialist with experience at both Burbank, California’s Disney and Irvine, California’s Activision Blizzard– two of the biggest companies in content creation and games.
Korea-founded and Tokyo Stock Exchange-listed Nexon announced July 16 that it has recruited Nick Van Dyk as the new Senior Vice President and the chief strategy officer of Nexon. Van Dyk will lead Nexon’s global corporate strategies, acquisitions, management development, IP management and partnerships.
Van Dyk will be leading Nexon Film and Television, a new division that will focus on the development of Nexon’s games, such as KartRider, Maple Story, Kingdom of the Winds and Dungeon Fighter, into film or television programs.
Van Dyk founded and served as president of the film and television division of Activision Blizzard Studios from 2014 to 2019. Before that, he served as the senior vice president of corporate strategy and business development at Disney for 10 years, during which he played major roles in Disney's acquisition of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm.
Van Dyk will take the knowledge he has gained from Disney and Blizzard Activision and start by building a team. His aim is “to replicate the greatest years of Disney corporate strategy” as Nexon’s CEO Owen Mahoney has “challenged” him to do.
From Los Angeles, where he will manage the new division, Van Dyk sat down with the Korea JoongAng Daily for a video interview on July 30 to talk more about his experiences at Disney, turning games into media content, and his plans for Nexon’s next chapter in the content market. Following are edited excerpts.
Q. What is the most important thing to remember when turning a game into a film or television show?
A. I think it’s almost impossible to say, “We have a good movie now we’ll make a great game out of it,” because the creative skills required to make a great game are much harder to predict than film.
The way a story is told in a game is very different than how it’s told in film and TV. In a game, you are the principal actor, you don’t really have any dialogue and you’re creating your own storyline as you move through the game.
That’s very different than sitting back and being entertained as a member of the audience rather than a participant. And because of that, the skills required to create a great story in a game are very different from the ones required to create a great story in film and TV.
The problem is that the people who make games really identify with the games they’ve created. They want to be the people to make the film and TV adaptations. And in most cases, they’re allowed to have a big say in directing the adaptations. I was hired at Activision to make sure that doesn't happen.
The CEO saw the “Warcraft” (2016) movie, which had been controlled by the Warcraft game designers, and he didn’t think it was very good. He didn’t want to repeat that mistake.
You need to approach it with partnership and understand what makes the game special and allow the game designers to be involved because their experience is important. But they can’t control the creative process or you will wind up with something that’s just not that good.
It must be hard trying to cater to both core fans of a game and new consumers who have no idea what it is. How do you find the balance between the two?
That is exactly right. And I think part of the mistake is that when the people that are very close to games make a movie, they’re only thinking about the players of the game.
And the example that I like to use is “Star Trek,” which has a very passionate fan base certainly in the U.S. We respect them and sort of laugh at them at the same time. They’re very dedicated, a lot in common with the most eager fans of the game. They're called Trekkies. And that franchise kept getting smaller and smaller because it kept appealing only to the fans of this.
And when film director J. J. Abrams was given that project, he said “I don’t care what Trekkies think, I care about what the movie-going audience thinks.”
Now that made the fans upset and then he went and made that reboot of “Star Trek” which the Trekkies said, “Oh all this is, this is just ‘Die Hard’ in space.”
I think “Die Hard” in space sounds like a good movie, because I’m also a “Star Trek” fan. I like Kirk and Spock as characters. If you take the characters and put them in that great story, then it becomes this very accessible thing. But at the same time, you need to have enough stuff in there that only fans know, like a joke from the original “Star Trek.”
So you need to know enough to respect the hardcore fans to give them a little bit of a wink there, while you make something that is accessible to other people. It has to be so entertaining that no one will be skeptical and that’s what you have to do. It’s not easy.
How did you come into contact with Nexon at first?
I became aware of Nexon back in around 2007 and 2008 when I was at Disney and Disney was looking to expand in games and looking to grow its presence in Asia. The more we looked at it, the more we liked it and we came pretty close to making an investment in the company back then. Ultimately it didn’t happen for a couple of reasons.
But I have known about the company for a long time and have watched it continue to succeed and grow. And I’ve known our CEO Owen for at least 10 years, socially. About a year ago I started consulting Nexon on film and television and Owen asked me to come in and build a strategic planning function similar to what Disney’s capability was when I was there.
It is a wonderful opportunity and challenge, so I’m excited to be here. I think the company is wildly successful in what it does in Asia. I think it has an opportunity to grow geographically and into new types of games and into new types of content broadly.
What are the goals of the new division?
I have two roles at the company.
The first is to run corporate strategy, which would include acquisitions and business development and partnerships. And the second is film and television, which is not building a new studio that’s coming up with its own original ideas, but working with proven game IP to broaden the audience for that IP and to provide new ways for people to engage with these characters and universes that our core business creates. Both of those will be located in Los Angeles.
The corporate strategy function obviously will have a global presence, so we’ll have, as we do today, people in Korea and Japan and China and Southeast Asia, and all of our markets. I think it’s important to have boots on the ground — people that understand local markets, what content preferences are there, how games and other types of content are consumed, what audiences look for and how technology is changing things.
But it does need to be coordinated with a global vision and a long-term vision for the company that really crosses geography, so I’ll build that globally and that will be sort of the nerve center in Los Angeles, but we’ll have people in every market.
What kind of companies would you be seeking to merge or partner up with?
Growth is the most important thing. Nexon’s already got a huge business in Asia, but there are still opportunities to grow the core business as well as to get into new businesses in Asia. There are many opportunities outside of Asia where Nexon hasn’t yet fully stretched, and again those opportunities can be achieved through organic investment and through partnership and acquisition.
So I would say M&A is certainly a tool that we will use. And if you look at what I did while I was at Disney and the projects I worked on there, they demonstrate the capability of acquisitions to really change a company and an industry really.
Not everything has to be as big as Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm, although Nexon is not a small company, and we have the resources to engage in large acquisitions if and when they make sense.
BY YOON SO-YEON [firstname.lastname@example.org]