GameStop-owned Kongregate is expanding its collection of collectible card games. The publisher has joined forces with Fox Digital Entertainment, independent developers Synapse Games, and Chinzilla Games to launch Animation Throwdown: The Quest for Cards for iOS and Android devices this year. The game will later be released on other platforms, including the web game portal Kongregate.com.
This marks the first time that characters and worlds from Twentieth Century Fox Television’s popular shows American Dad!, Bob’s Burgers, Family Guy, Futurama and King of the Hill are together in one game.
Kongregate will market the game to its global audience of millions of gamers who visit the Kongregate.com website each month. The company will also promote the game across its portfolio of mobile applications, through GameStop’s 4,200 U.S. store locations, 40 million PowerUp Rewards members, and across the GameStop web and mobile properties. Fox Digital Entertainment will use its various marketing platforms to promote the game.
Emily Greer, president and co-founder of Kongregate, talks about the company’s first Hollywood-licensed game, and its eSports potential, in this exclusive interview.
What were your goals heading into this project?
When we talked to Fox, one of the things that was important was to create a card game that was broadly acceptable and deep. We had two broad and deep card games in our portfolio from Synapse Games and Chinzilla. So we got the two developers together and pitched a combo project that takes some elements from each game and weaves in a narrative and characters from Fox animated shows.
What impact has the success of Hearthstone opened up for mainstream awareness of collectible card games?
Hearthstone is wonderful and everyone looks at it as a high bar of polish, but we were focused on creating a game that was more broadly accessible. You have a lot of Hearthstone clones coming out. Our game is going to look and feel very different. And it should be broadly accessible to a lot of people.
The collectible card game genre has gotten a reputation for being a very core, inaccessible genre partly because of the success of Magic: The Gathering. But card games are among the most played and accessible across every region of the world. We believe collectible card games can be broadly appealing across all demographics, and that the meaningfulness of Fox animated characters makes it more accessible.
What eSports potential do you see with Animation Throwdown: The Quest for Cards?
It’s been great to see interest in collectible card games expand and grow with the release of Hearthstone. We’ve been very into card games at Kongregate for a long time. When we founded, one of the things we wanted to do was create Kongai, which allows gamers to collect cards by completing challenges in different Kongregate.com games. We built up an audience that liked card games eight or nine years ago.
Collectible card games have always done really well on Kongregate like Tyrant, Tyrant Unleashed and Rise of Mythos. When we started mobile publishing in 2013—Tyrant Unleashed was our first game and became a Top 100 grossing title on both Android and iOS and still doing well today. In our publishing portfolio, we have five or six different card games like Little Alchemist, which is a cute and charming broadly accessible card game.
Do you see eSports potential for this game?
That’s something in our mind for the long-term potential for this game. Something we’re interested in developing and exploring. We think the game has the depth to support it long-term. It is designed to be mobile-first. It’s a little more challenging in terms of eSports and streaming, but we’ll be taking it to browser and PC.
What are your thoughts on the rise of mobile eSports with Vainglory and Hearthstone?
It’s something that is our hope for the game, but we haven’t designed it around it. Our first focus is to make it a great, entertaining and accessible game. The characters and shows will bring in a broad audience, and it’s been designed so there’s depth of strategy and interest that could support eSports. I hope to be seeing a lot of Twitch streams of the game post-launch.
How does GameStop and the Fox TV shows help find an audience in the crowded mobile games business?
We have a huge advantage with Fox and GameStop. With the love people have for these shows and these characters, they’re looking for more of them. This is the first time these characters are coming together in a world. That alone is quite novel.
Where we see our role is helping indie developers like Synapse Games and Chinzilla compete in the market and to cross that bridge where we can bring in Fox and great properties.
Fox has a social media following to support the game. With the GameStop connection, we’ll have a big booth at GameStop Expo in Anaheim and we’re getting the store employees and PowerUp Rewards customers excited about the game. Most gamers are omnivores. GameStop customers are playing on lots of devices, wherever it’s convenient. They’re going back-and-forth playing on console and mobile. They’re the best gamers around. To be able to reach out directly through stores and email is unique for a property like this. It gives us a leg up in a crowded environment.
Will Fox promote this game on TV?
It’s in discussion. They’ll be using all the channels that they can. Technically Fox Digital is not Fox TV, but there’s some negotiating to be done. The broadcast side is excited to support this game because it supports the whole lineup of Fox animated shows. There should be many channels that they’ll use to promote the game.
Will the game feature voice actors from the cast?
We’ll be using some clips and conversation from the show. And Fox will be showing off the game at [the San Diego] Comic-Con. It will be more like dialogue from the show rather than new dialogue. You can expect catch phrases and taunts. As you play the game and make a good play or your opponent drops a strong card, your leader character will express dismay or joy in a unique way with a voice clip.
How many cards will there be at launch and how will that grow?
You’ll start with character, item and environment cards. The key gameplay mechanic is that you can play two cards and they combine into a different card. Your initial deck is 50-75 cards with 35 in play, and half of those are characters. You choose your leader from each show and your starter deck reflects that show, but you play against characters from other shows.
We’ll be releasing new cards on a weekly or bi-weekly tandem, so it will be much more regular than Hearthstone. We’ll have special events that will bring in elements from the shows’ episodes. And long-term we’ll be tying into new episodes of the shows as they’re released.
How are you working with the Fox TV producers?
We’re working closely with all the shows on every aspect, especially with the writers and producers. We’re focusing on existing content at launch, but with expansion packs and new events, we’ll look at upcoming content as well.
The showrunners are very engaged with the development of this game and are playing it, commenting on it, and holding it to the standard of the shows. They’re helping us understand the characters and environments and making sure we do them justice.
The advantage of this game is that we have five separate universes to draw on. That creates a lot of variety and depth of storyline and characters to explore.
How does this game tie into your independent games initiative?
We were founded with a mission to help indie game developers succeed and grow. We’re working with Synapse and Chinzilla. This is our fourth game with Synapse and second with Chinzilla. With both studios, we helped them go from hand-to-mouth development studios to larger successes. And now we’re helping get them access to major IP, which is generally something only established studios with deep pockets can do. The Simpsons game was made by Electronic Arts. We’re giving two small studios a chance to compete with the largest game companies in the world by connecting them with the IP and helping them with distribution and marketing. It’s great for consumers, as well. There’s such a broad range of creativity and invention going on in the indie space, and we’re helping them.