Cartoon Network’s audience of 6 to 11 year olds has grown up playing all types of video games. And the Turner Studio has launched several new initiatives aimed at creating original games targeting this viewership.
Cartoon Network Studios has expanded its Artists First approach to content development to include video games with the launch of the OK K.O.! Lakewood Plaza Turbo mobile game, which was conceived by acclaimed animator Ian Jones Quartey of Steven Universe and coproduced with animator Toby Jones of Regular Show fame. It’s the first creative franchise created at Cartoon Network Studios to launch as a game.
In an effort to further expand this new gaming universe, Cartoon Network Studios is hosting its first major media industry Game Jam, an innovation festival for developers, animators, graphic artists, designers, musicians, and other creative professionals who want to “hack” into the world of OK K.O.! Lakewood Plaza Turbo to create more extensive gaming experiences. Over 200 artists are expected to participate in the 48-hour event. Rob Sorcher, Chief Content Officer at Cartoon Network Studios, delves into this new game plan in this exclusive interview.
How big an audience is there for Cartoon Network fans who are also gamers?
Our core audience is boys 6-11 years old. You’d be hard pressed to find one who is not a gamer. So nearly every Cartoon Network fan is a current or potential game fan.
How important is actual gameplay today when there’s such a flood of Hollywood licensed products across mobile and digital?
We’re in the IP creation business for a generation who expects to engage interactively with every property they love. And they expect that interaction to be authentic, which means bringing game developers closer to the talent. Game dynamics are so important to us that we are shifting our basic content creation model to include game and non-linear dynamics at the core of key original properties.
How have you cultivated this audience of late through Cartoon Network Studios?
Our audience lives and behaves in a multi-platform world and so we must develop our content in that same way. OK K.O.! is the latest property to launch with a digital collaboration. Lego MIXELS featured jointly-developed games, shorts, TV content, toys. Mighty MagiSwords was developed as a micro-series inside our innovative CN Anything app, and continues to expand the definition of content.
What have you learned from recent games that you can apply to these new releases?
The best games come from an exciting collaboration between passionate artists and passionate game developers. We have found that putting people from different viewpoints together at the creative inception phase has resulted in the best end product. Plus, gamers love our brand of cartoons.
Where did the Artists First idea come from?
OK KO! began life as a 7-minute animated short film incubated in Cartoon Network Studios Artists Program. Ian Jones-Quartey is one of the visionary animators behind our hit TV series Steven Universe.
How does it apply to the video game space?
OK K.O! is a property about video game heroes. So it was easy to see how it could make a natural move into the gaming arena. We started by collaborating with an independent game studio, and now we will open up property development even further by going out to the game development community at large, by hosting a Game Jam (48 hour game-making marathon) for 200 participating independent game developers in Portland, Oregon February 12-14.
Why did you decide to launch OK K.O.! Lakewood Plaza Turbo as a video game first?
OK K.O.! is part of a concerted effort to reinvent our process of content creation. Cartoon Network Studios has a culture of putting visionary artists at the core of properties. Now that notion is expanded to bring creative collaborations to the core of the development process. Sometimes the resulting ideas are so powerful that we determine the IP works best with longform storytelling not starting first.
What opportunities do you see for this IP outside of games?
OK KO! naturally leans to digital products both narrative and game-like. Since we are still underway with an iterative development process, it will be interesting to see where else this property goes, and we expect talent across many disciplines (including consumer products design) will ultimately lead us to the best approach to expansion and smart execution.
Where did the idea for this Game Jam come from?
Once we saw the potency of collaboration with an outside game studio, we wanted to open up development even further to the game development community in general. The idea for this really comes from the behavior of our target audience. There is a generational expectation of “contribution” to the property.
How will Cartoon Network work with the winners and what’s the timetable for consumers to be able to play something?
OK K.O.! Lakewood Plaza Turbo launches February 4, 2016. The winning Game Jam team will get their project fully funded for a deeper interactive experience for release in 2017. Additional teams will have their work exhibited on CartoonNetwork.com all this year.
How important do you feel indie developers are for Cartoon Network Studios moving forward?
What’s important is bringing together top creative talent across every discipline. For example, we also went out to three different animation studios to produce shorts about O.K. K.O! to get their perspective on the property. Those shorts will now be featured in the mobile game.
Do you see this Game Jam as the beginning of something more regular to tap into the talent pool of game developers?
We will continue to encourage creative talent from every media discipline to work with Cartoon Network and our various creators, as we embark upon this new development strategy.