May 23, 2014 8:15 PM | Staff
Cartoon Network and Adult Swim already share a channel, so it makes sense that their video game exploits are criss-crossing and learning from one-another too. At the start of 2013, Adult Swim decided to make a move on Steam. The company had already experimented with console, browser and mobile games, but this latest branching out was all about publishing titles from smaller indie devs.
The last 12 months have been rather fruitful for this experiment. Super House of Dead Ninjas came first, followed by a handful of great titles including Fist Puncher and Super Puzzle Platformer Deluxe.
Then earlier this year, the Adult Swim-published Jazzpunk was nominated for an Independent Games Festival award. This was the moment that really sealed the deal for the company -- as it turns out, getting together with smaller indie studios is a rather good idea!
All the while, Cartoon Network's games folks were watching this progression closely. While Cartoon Network is currently focused on mobile games, a few PC game fanatics on the team couldn't help but wonder whether their company could follow a similar pattern to Adult Swim.
That's when Cartoon Network's Ryan Harwell and Zach Moore approached indie dev Luke Schneider about making a Powerpuff Girls game. While Adult Swim is all about publishing third-party games, Cartoon Network is looking to get indie devs involved with its long-standing TV IP.
"It's a little bit harder to justify it with upper management," Harwell admits of this new experimentation, although he notes that the Cartoon Network execs are very supportive of trying new things and expanding to more platforms."I'm hoping it'll allow us to bring back other legacy brands," he adds.
"For now it's certainly testing the waters," adds Moore, "but we're just trying to take advantage of the fact that nowadays we don't have to go through a licensing deal with a big publisher to get games out to our fans. We have the ability now to say 'let's make this game.' We find a dev to work on with it, we get some cool ideas together, and we'll put it out there for people to enjoy."
"It's just nice to not have those gatekeepers like we used to have to deal with. So it's one part experiment, and one part just enjoying the freedom to give stuff to our fans directly, rather than having to go through a bunch of deals that make things more complicated."
"It's a little bit harder to justify it with upper management... I'm hoping it'll allow us to bring back other legacy brands."
With The Powerpuff Girls: Defenders of Townsville under their belt, the pair are now thinking about where to take this PC game experimentation next, including a possible Oculus Rift game.
"This has certainly opened the door for us," notes Moore. "We've been around for 20 years now. We've got a lot of built up IP to play with."
Cartoon Network is really looking for devs who "get" the company's brands to potentially work with next -- and from the indies who I talked to during GDC, it sounds like they won't have problems finding suitors.
As for Adult Swim, the late-night broadcaster plans to continue onwards with its Steam splash. In the last month alone, the company has announced plans to publish Oblitus from Connor Ullman, Westerado: Double Barreled from Ostrich Banditos and Rain World from Joar Jakobsson and James Primate.
The company is also publishing Super Comboman from Interabang Entertainment, a team of around 10 that was previously part of IGN's indie open house scheme.
"When we were at GDC I saw the Adult Swim booth," says Interabang's Justin Woodward. "I had a tablet with me, and I thought it would be a cool opportunity to show them. So I went over there and pitched it."
Interabang was also in talks with Namco and Capcom to publish the game, but eventually the studio chose Adult Swim.
The deals with Capcom and Namco were very tough," Woodward explains. "There was a ridiculously long amount of red tape that you had to cut through. For instance, with Capcom, we needed a studio. What is your last three years of cash flow? they asked. How many PCs do you have?"
"This has certainly opened the door for us. We've been around for 20 years now. We've got a lot of built up IP to play with."
"It was like, do you really need this information?" he adds. "Then they also wanted a significant amount of our work. Talking to Adult Swim, it was more lenient, they understood that we are indie developers and not a huge studio. Our team is a little larger than others perhaps, we have 10 people. But we still need help figuring out the scope of the project and making sure we have balancing and testing."
"That's something we've experienced working with Adult Swim. They asked if we needed an advance, and we said yeah, that would definitely help us. We needed an extension on our time, and we told them the features we wanted to add, and there was good communication."
For now, Adult Swim's PC indie surge doesn't appear to be slowing down -- and it sounds like Cartoon Network is about to come along for the ride.
[Mike Rose wrote this article for sister site Gamasutra]