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TV networks in the video game space? Nothing new about that. Large media companies like Disney and Warner Bros. practically invented the word "convergence" by promoting their shows, movies, and characters through licensed games.
However, recently, some networks have begun publishing original games that don't repurpose their programs. What's motivating them? That depends on who you ask.
At Turner Broadcasting System's Cartoon Network, Adult Swim -- a late-night destination aimed at 18-34-year-olds -- has chosen to create original video games while practically banning anything that smacks of convergence.
"We refuse to do anything that even vaguely resembles an advergame," says Jeff Olsen. "To me, asking people to give us money in exchange for what is essentially a piece of advertising just doesn't seem right." Olsen is the creative director of the AdultSwim.com Web site, including its video game hub, and oversees its day-to-day operations.
In addition, he believes that original content translates into better gameplay.
"If you have to worry about whether every character is going to be 'on model' and whether the animations are going to be true to the TV shows on which they're based, you're hamstringing the developers who are really smart, really talented, and can usually come up with something better than a video game version of what you see on TV. And it's just more interesting for our audience, which is a pretty savvy one; I think they are naturally suspicious of show-based games which have a history of not being very good."
Armed with what senior games producer C.J. Johnston calls AdultSwim.com's "limited budget", the site first published six web-based games in 2007 (beginning with Five Minutes to Kill Yourself), then 13 in 2008, 25 last year, and plans another 25 in 2010. It released Radioactive Teddy Bear Zombies last month and Tofu Hunter this month.
Radioactive Teddy Bear Zombies
The result -- and the reason why the Adult Swim team feels it made the right decision to publish original content exclusively -- is that the web site, which is ad-supported, averages over 26 minutes per month per visitor compared to the more typical under five minutes, reports Olsen.
"That is huge," he says, "and it enables us to not only generate good advertising revenue, but we're also selling some of the games onto the iPhone platform, where every paid game has made it to the Top 50 Paid Games section." He also intends to syndicate some of the Adult Swim games in order to find a larger audience.
In effect, says Ross Cox, Adult Swim no longer thinks of itself as merely a TV network, finding that games are good business too. "We think it can be a real complementary business," says Cox, who is the senior director of advanced platforms.
With no in-house game development of its own, Adult Swim has thus far worked with eight independent developers -- from Spiritonin, Mediatonic, ThisIsPop, and Pixeljam Games to Ham in the Fridge, Tiny Mantis, Smashing Ideas, and THUP Games. But it is always on the lookout for new talent.
"We'd love to get the word out that we want to hear from more developers, especially those who are passionate about some personal project," says Johnson. "If they have something to pitch, we'd like to know about it."
Indeed, the Adult Swim site makes it easy for developers to pitch and submit games.
"We have three major goals," says Olsen. "Number one is to make money, number two is to grow the Adult Swim brand, and number three... well, to make sure our games don't suck."