With a deal in hand to bring Putt-Putt, Freddi Fish and Pajama Sam to television screens, software publisher and developer Humongous Entertainment is showing how a great children’s property can come from any area of the kids business.
The five-year-old Woodinville, Washington-based company recently announced an agreement with Lancit Media Entertainment of New York to develop programming for television, home videos and feature films starring its original characters, with hopes of launching a TV series in fall 1998. Strategy Licensing, a Lancit subsidiary, has been on board as its licensing and merchandising agent since last summer.
Moving into other media has been Humongous Entertainment’s plan from day one, says Ralph Giuffre, executive vice president of marketing and licensing, who joined the company in January 1996 with the mandate to explore cross-over opportunities.
So, how d’es a software company create titles that can succeed in other media?
The key is to focus on character development, says Giuffre. The reason very few interactive properties have crossed over, Giuffre believes, is that most products in the edutainment and educational arena emphasize the title’s content over its characters. And it takes ‘two or three successive products to really solidify a character,’ says Giuffre. To date, the company’s first character, Putt-Putt, has appeared in four Junior Adventure titles, Freddi Fish in two and newcomer Pajama Sam in one, with a Pajama Sam Junior Arcade game on the way this summer.
These characters elicit ‘a strong emotional response’ from kids, says N’el Resnick, Lancit’s senior vice president of development. The property also caught Lancit’s eye because it has ‘beautiful artwork and backgrounds,’ and each Humongous Entertainment title is like a television episode in that it has a definite storyline.
‘I think you have more opportunity with interactive characters than you do with published characters, for example, in a children’s picture book,’ says Cecily Truett, president of Lancit. ‘And the reason is that you get to see the characters interact, you get to hear them speak to the user, you get to see them in their environment [having adventures]. As a television producer who evaluates the opportunities for characters, the more that is there in the underlying property, the more you have to work with, both from an audience recognition point of view and from a creative point of view.’
Because Humongous Entertainment’s characters ‘have really defined personalities already,’ Giuffre d’esn’t anticipate infusing them with additional elements to attract a television audience. What will be necessary, though, is to expand the characters’ worlds and put them in new scenarios.
‘The challenge [with merchandising] is a little bit different,’ says Giuffre. ‘Our characters to this point have existed in a 2-D world.’ So making plush and other products that represent the characters in three-dimensional form will require extra attention to detail. To date, the company is seeking licensees for plush and other categories, with Great American Puzzle Factory signed on for a puzzle line.
As an interactive company moving into television and merchandising, the bigger challenge is to prove to broadcasters, retailers and licensees that the property will be a hit. Its worldwide sales of more than a million copies of the first three Putt-Putt Junior Adventure titles demonstrate that kids and their parents love the character, says Giuffre. And Humongous Entertainment is committed to growing its core interactive business, with a new character named SPY Fox, a Junior Sports line and an educational series to be unveiled at the upcoming Electronic Entertainment Expo.
Maintaining the integrity of the characters as they move into other media demands ‘constant attention to the characters and not allowing them to stray from their personalities or their look or the feel,’ says Giuffre. That’s why the company is taking the time to choose its partners wisely.
‘It’s not meant to create the next kids craze,’ says Giuffre. ‘We’re here to build the next great children’s entertainment brand. And if it takes a while, nobody 25 years from now is going to remember that it took three or four years to get these things off the ground. But we’ve got to do it right.’