Cartoon Network Studios is taking a different approach to content launch strategy with today’s release of OK K.O.! Lakewood Plaza Turbo, a free mobile game for iOS and Android devices created by animator Ian Jones-Quartey. This is the first creative franchise out of Cartoon Network Studios to be initially shared in the form of a game, and here’s where it gets even more interesting: Cartoon Network Studios will expand on this particular creative franchise by opening the game IP to 200 independent developers via a Cartoon Network Game Jam innovation festival that will be held February 12-14 in Portland, Oregon.
"This is definitely a first for us, opening up the process and bringing in a group of leading mobile game developers," says Cartoon Network president and general manager Christina Miller (who holds the same titles at Adult Swim and Boomerang). "Open-source behavior really speaks to our overarching strategy in driving creative expression and innovation for our brand in different ways and really looking at content in a unique way, not a standard, linear way."
Working in teams, participants in the hackathon will have just 48 hours to create their own games based on the characters and the world explored in OK K.O.! Lakewood Plaza Turbo. Set in the year 201X, the game—co-produced by animator Toby Jones, best known for Regular Show—centers on a young fighting champion named K.O. who does battle with a bad guy known as Lord Boxman who wants to use his army of robots to destroy a local strip mall. K.O.’s mom, Carol, is always teaching the boy new fighting techniques to give him the upper hand.
Given the multitude of characters and the location, Miller is confident that the developers taking part in the Game Jam will have plenty of material to work with. The team behind the most engaging OK K.O.! Lakewood Plaza Turbo game spin-off will be awarded a creative contract with Cartoon Network Studios and see their game released at a later date.
Jones-Quartey, who has been a member of the Cartoon Network creative network for 10 years now, working on Steven Universe, Secret Mountain Fort Awesome, Adventure Time and The Venture Bros., will be at the Game Jam, of course, lending inspiration and helping to judge the output.
"That’s at the heart of what we do—putting creators at the center of the development process, whether it be a more traditional content process, or a gaming opportunity, or a live experience like this Game Jam," Miller says.
There are possibilities beyond gaming for OK K.O.! Lakewood Plaza Turbo that will be pursued, according to Miller, who says the story can potentially play out in a television series and through comic books and other means. (Jones-Quartey has actually completed a nearly nine-minute pilot for OK K.O.! Lakewood Plaza Turbo.)
"We are always looking for this type of immersive world as opposed to something that just operates on one platform," Miller says, stressing, "We want to develop worlds as opposed to single series."
Content has to have what Miller describes as "elasticity" these days to satisfy Cartoon Network’s audience of plurals, also known as Generation Z.
"I think some things we’ve learned about this audience is that they demand choice and control whereas the millennial generation that came before needed greater filters—point me in this direction, and give me this list. This generation, the plurals, 17 and under, they really see it as choice and control—give me everything, and I will sort through it," Miller says. "They’ve grown up in an environment where there’s always been networks for them, so they expect extensions on every single platform."
See the full pilot episode below