Naz Amarchi-Cuevas, from SYBO Games, discusses licensing the endless-runner game Subway Surfers

SYBO Games’s Naz Amarchi-Cuevas reveals why Subway Surfers brand extensions will run and run…

Naz Amarchi-Cuevas, you’re Chief Commercial Officer of SYBO Games Subway Surfers. For the uninitiated, what is that?
Subway Surfers is a worldwide mobile phenomenon and one of the most downloaded games in the world. You play as a crew of rebellious teenagers running from a subway guard, dodging trains and collecting coins to spend on new characters, outfits and hoverboards along the way.

Just like my actual youth…
No doubt!

And where’s this set?
Actually, Subway Surfers pays tribute to a number of world cultures and diversities… Players explore famous cityscapes, sports parks and museums, as well as each locale’s distinct urban vibe. The game’s visited more than 43 destinations, across six continents. That includes repeat stops to many fan favourites including Paris, Tokyo, Rio, Las Vegas, Sydney, Miami and Mumbai, just to name a few.

How long has this been a thing?
This month the game celebrates its tenth anniversary! Even after a decade, the mobile game continues to top the charts, boasting more than three billion downloads! It holds the title as the most downloaded game in Google Play’s ten-year history – and the first game to cross a billion downloads. It’s also the most downloaded endless-runner game in Apple’s app store’s history.

Naz Amarchi-Cuevas, SYBO Games
Wow. That’s phenomenal. So tell me, Naz, what is it – as Chief Commercial Officer – that you do?
I look after business development and cultivating co-branded partnerships that resonate authenticity with our massive global community. On top of that, I handle all marketing related activities, including app-store relations and optimisation, community and player experience. There’s also the creative and performance marketing… I have a really great team helping with all this, though!

I was about to say, “let me ask you a tricky question…“ But I’m not sure it is a tricky question! What’s the appeal of endless-runner games, do you think?
I don’t think that’s too tricky! The way I see it, we live in the age of the smartphone and snackable entertainment. Endless runners are a perfect fit, providing players with that quick, “pick-up-and-play for a few minutes” satisfaction. At the same time, they’re offering more competitive players challenges in the form of leaderboards… Subway Surfers itself takes those attributes and more, creating a worldhood that mirrors our global community, diverse characters, street art and music.

A worldhood! I’m writing that down. I love a new word! Tell me, what’s your background, Naz?
My background exposed me to new cultures, places and people, which is one of the reasons I’m truly connected and dedicated to the brand. I was born an Indian refugee in South East Africa, raised in Europe and the United States!

Naz Amarchi-Cuevas, SYBO Games
Oh, wow…
I’m an entrepreneur at heart, an advocate for equity, and a champion for individual growth. I studied Communication Studies, Consumer Behaviour, International Business Law and General Management, and am a Harvard Business School Graduate, as well as a certified NeuroLinguistic Programming and Neuroscience Practitioner.

Really? Well, I don’t want to hijack this interview, but we could talk about that for hours… I love to hear about NLP!
Really? Another time, then!

But you were telling me your background…
Right. So I also co-founded 212 Degrees Strategy Consultancy with my then- tween daughter, dedicated to mentoring and coaching up and coming executives.

This is a very rich background; very varied.
I like to think so! Today, my purpose is to shape the future generation of leaders in the gaming industry, so I’m in the perfect position to live my passion while I live – and Coach – leadership and business strategy at SYBO… Meanwhile, I’m making sure we have great commercial opportunities that amplify our enterprise value. It really is all about VALUE creation. Maximising our potential by enabling our teams to make great decisions on our behalf.

Naz Amarchi-Cuevas, SYBO Games
Great answers. And how, then, did you come to be in the industry? And specifically this role?

Before joining SYBO five years ago, I spent several years at Rovio where I worked with the leadership team to build Angry Birds into a $4billion-plus global franchise. I was instrumental in combining the digital world of gaming with traditional consumer products at retail, helping to define how entertainment and Consumer Products merged.

“Even as we’ve expanded – from licensing, animation and brand collaboration – we’ve kept a keen focus…”

Prior to that, I was at various entertainment-based companies where I gained hands-on experience managing consumer portfolios of various brands incorporating a unique approach to licensing via cross promotion with internal divisions such as Live Events, Production and Branded Entertainment.

And looking at Subway Surfers now, in what ways has the brand been extending?
The Subway Surfers brand was purposefully created with the worldhood global backdrop – I know you like that word! – where one makes their own choices; where one’s taste and preferences mean more than where you come from. Even as we’ve expanded – from licensing, animation and brand collaboration – we’ve kept a keen focus on staying true to this thinking. Whether it’s in game-to-brand partnerships with the NFL Players Association, Born this Way Foundation, Ecologi/United Nations or Walmart, our goal is to extend the experience while staying true to our core values.

Can you give us some examples of licenses you really felt excited by?
Brand collaborations that reward our players are the most exciting for me, as you can truly feel the buzz generated throughout our communities. Our collaboration with the NFLPA was one example where players were able to unlock and play as six of the biggest football superstars in the world… Specifically: Tom Brady, Lamar Jackson, Odell Beckham Jr., Patrick Mahomes, Saquon Barkley and Dak Prescott. Needless to say, our sports fans were hyped for this one.

Naz Amarchi-Cuevas, SYBO Games
I’ll bet!

It was a brand exercise, and so we truly rewarded the fans with the experience, versus the traditional revenue-only-driven opportunity. It’s very important to our brand ethos to be inclusive and allow all our players to have an amazing experience while playing Subway Surfers, regardless of backgrounds or financial reach.

You mention your values… How do you know which opportunities are right for the property? For what hooks are you looking?
We always look for authenticity first and foremost. The Subway Surfers IP was built on key pillars that include street culture, art, music and skateboarding. We prioritise opportunities that help us celebrate these core fundamentals.

And what do you look for in brand partners, specifically?
As a company, SYBO values inclusivity, diversity, kindness and efforts towards protecting our climate. We’re keen on collaborations with brands that share these values, but the question we ask whenever we look for brand partners is: “Will this partnership enable us to deliver awesome experiences and rewards to our players?” If the answer is “Yes.”, we know we’re on the right track.

Naz Amarchi-Cuevas, SYBO Games
Tell me about Playing for the Planet…

SYBO took an active role in the Playing for the Planet, an initiative by the United Nations where 21 companies representing 970 million gamers globally pledged to actively use their platforms to inform, nudge and take meaningful action in the fight against climate change. Last year, we partnered with Ecologi for Play 2 Plant. As active Subway Surfers gamers ‘ran,’ they propelled SYBO’s real-life donation to help our planet by planting 200,000 trees in forests across the globe. A real-time Ecologi Subway Forest illustration showcased the type of tree species planted, its age, where where and by whom. The initiative was an opportunity to spread important messaging about steps we can all take together to help our planet and move towards a more sustainable ecosystem.

“The movement calls on the public to build kinder, more connected communities that foster mental wellness.”

And the Born This Way Foundation?
We joined the Born This Way Foundation, a nonprofit organization co-founded by Lady Gaga and her mother Cynthia Germanotta, for their annual #BeKind21 campaign. The movement calls on the public to practice an act of kindness each day to build kinder, more connected communities that foster mental wellness. Players were encouraged to sign the #Bekind21 pledge, and those who did, received access to the Born This Way Foundation’s kindness calendars, tips, and more.

Brilliant. And are there any definite no-no’s for you? By which I mean are there any qualities you see in a brand that make you think: I absolutely wouldn’t want to work with that?
Our vision is to stay true to our core values. If we see a brand that has commonality, we’re absolutely interested in exploring. For ten years, we’ve amassed a loyal fan base because we deliver a diverse, fun and authentically cool experience. We’re not ones to say no, per se – we just look to brands that can continue to deliver a rewarding experience.

Naz Amarchi-Cuevas, SYBO Games

Got it. What’s next for the brand? Are there any directions you want to go in and are looking to explore?
We’re always looking for new ways to bring the Subway Surfers universe to our fans and have multiple special projects in the works! For instance, our Subway Surfers Super Runner runs through June 5th. Fans simply show and tell SYBO what makes them a Super Runner! Using key hashtags #SubwaySurfers, #SubwaySurfers10Years and #SuperRunners to alert ones participation. We’ll review, choose and announce the winner, who’ll then feature in an upcoming Subway Surfers update in 2022. We’re excited to be able to share more news about other updates in the future!

Fantastic! Well please do share those with us. I have one final question for you if I can impose minutely on your time… What’s the one question I could’ve asked you but didn’t?
You could’ve asked me, “What’s your favourite time of the day?”

And yet I never would have! Interesting question; what’s the answer?
Well, that’s obvious. Whenever it’s “Rum o’clock!”

Rum o’clock! Brilliant! And it’s worth remembering, of course, that is always rum o’clock somewhere in the world!
The worldhood!

The worldhood! Indeed! Naz, thank you so much for your time; this has been a great pleasure. Happy running!

Naz Amarchi-Cuevas, SYBO Games

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