20th Century Fox and production house Roadhouse Interactive have announced plans to release a free-to-play 3D online game based on the popular Family Guy animated series.
The show, which just finished its ninth season, may seem like an odd license for the superhero- and fantasy-dominated world of online games, but Fox Consumer Products senior VP for new media Gary Rosenfeld tells Gamasutra the Family Guy audience is right in the wheelhouse for a title like this.
"If you look at the demographics of the Family Guy fan, it matches really well with the demographics of game players," Rosenfeld said, pointing out that it's the both number one show for males aged 18 to 34, and the most popular "liked" TV show on Facebook.
Rosenfeld says the team is targeting a space "kind of between social games and hardcore online games called accessible games," for the title.
"We think there's an opportunity to do something different from a social game, but not to the level of a massively-multiplayer online game," he said. "We want to make sure the experience is as frictionless as possible... We want a game that is compelling and will engage a quote-unquote core gamer but also has enough in it and is easy enough to get into that someone who is not a quote-unquote core game will enjoy what they're doing, what they're doing."
The specifics of how the game will actually play are somewhat unsettled at the moment, but characters from the show -- ranging from Peter Griffin to "greased up deaf guy" according to the announcement -- will dole out individual and group tasks to 3D avatars drawn in the style of the show. Those avatars can be built in a character creator that's available right now, ahead of a beta launch planned for later this year.
Roadhouse Interactive co-founder and chief creative officer Ian Verchere mentioned customizable player stats like the ability to "take a lot of damage" and be "good with gadgets," implying an experience not unlike many other squad- and quest-based MMOs. Standard genre social features including chat functions, the ability to group together with other players, and competitive elements will make an appearance in the game, Verchere said.
Rosenfeld and Verchere both said repeatedly that creating an authentic Family Guy experience was of vital importance, and the inclusion of Family Guy writers Andrew Goldberg and Alex Carter in the game's development has been important in this regard. Verchere said the pair of TV scribes has had no problems adjusting to the very different world of writing for a game.
"These guys are writers on Family Guy for a reason... they're very quick and sharp and came up to speed pretty well," he said. "We're partners with Fox on this, and that makes a difference. We have a really great established work flow here where we look at things that are potentially game-able moments looking from season 9 back. We discuss how that would work: this is what you would get, this is what you would do, this is the repeatability of it... They caught on super-fast and it's been an absolute blast working with these guys."
Though these familiar "game-able" elements and moments from the show will help drive the gameplay, the game will be able to expand the Family Guy universe with new stories and situations, Verchere said.
"It doesn't mean it has to be exactly like the show," he said. "[Fox] understands we're adapting and extending the Family Guy brand into the online space, and that doesn't mean we can't do anything with it. To their credit Fox and [show production house] Fuzzy Door understand this is a different medium."
The development team is using the popular Unity engine to replicate the show's distinct 2D look in 3D, a task Verchere called a "big challenge." However, getting that look down was the very first thing the developers focused on after Fox told them they were being considered for the project, Verchere said.
"I've been a big fan of Unity for a while, and I knew this was going to give us the ability to put something together very quickly with toon shading and line weights and all the things that will make it Family Guy," Verchere said. "We showed that to Fox, and we answered the question up front: ‘Can we do it?' There was really no point in going there with ideas... we just needed to say ‘Here, this is what it could look like, and this is how much we love this, we think we could do a good job with it, and we hope you like it too.'"
Using Unity allows for quick development deployment of new content, with Verchere suggesting that an element that appeared on the show one Sunday might appear in the game later that same night. This type of straight-from-the-TV content is like to be monetized as microtransaction items in an in-game store, though advertising and sponsorship models are also being mulled for the game's business model.
While it's a popular brand and will certainly help the title get noticed in the marketplace, Fox's Rosenfeld said he realizes it's not enough to sustain the game for the long haul.
"We still have to create a great experience," he said. "If we bring the fans in and they're not satisfied, we won't be successful."