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Adult Swim: Don't 'Hamstring' Developers With Existing IP

Adult Swim: Don't 'Hamstring' Developers With Existing IP

February 9, 2010 | By Staff, Paul Hyman

February 9, 2010 | By Staff, Paul Hyman
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The overseers of Cartoon Network TV division Adult Swim's web games (Amateur Surgeon, 5 Minutes To Kill (Yourself)) have told Gamasutra why original IP reigns supreme for its games, despite the plethora of TV shows it could pick from.

In fact, the late-night home of shows like Aqua Teen Hunger Force and The Venture Bros -- 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.

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.

"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."

The Adult Swim creators were speaking as part of a larger Gamasutra article published today about how TV networks are dealing with video games, including additional interviews with the UK's Channel 4 and Parking Wars Facebook game creator Area/Code.


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