Cartoon Network Studios has long been successful with its creator-driven approach to content development. But with its multiplatform kids brand OK K.O.!, the company has given new meaning to the term “user-generated.”
The property started as an original film created by acclaimed animator Ian Jones-Quartey (Steven Universe) via Cartoon Network’s shorts program. When it came time to expand the IP, the studio envisioned it as a digital entity because the story borrowed so much from video game language. And to enrich the OK K.O.! universe, CN enlisted the services of Regular Show storyboard director Toby Jones and Canadian indie gaming studio Double Stallion.
The resulting development phase led to OK K.O.! Lakewood Plaza Turbo, the network’s first original standalone mobile game that launched last year as a free download for iOS and Android devices. “Our digital division was thrilled to work on the game because they’re always looking for collaboration between developers and artists to find that happy marriage,” says Curtis Lelash, Cartoon Network SVP of original series.
Set in a mall for superheroes, the game follows hopeful young champion K.O. and his superhero convenience store buddies as they battle the villainous Lord Boxman. He is determined to destroy the plaza with his army of inventive robots. To extend the brand beyond the app, Cartoon Network hosted a game jam for 200 indie developers in Portland, Oregon in February, as well as an animation jam at its Burbank studio for teams of young students from animation schools.
The game jam saw developers create their own games based on Lakewood Plaza characters that could potentially inform future iterations of OK K.O.!. One winning team was awarded full funding to continue working on a prototype, but Lelash says the network is still finalizing how the project and the mini-games created by the other developers will be used.
The animation jam, meanwhile, delivered a raft of 15-second animated shorts for Cartoon Network’s digital platforms. The broadcaster also reached out to a number of different animation studios, including Australia’s Rubber House, to produce two-minute shorts for the and YouTube channel.
According to Lelash, all of the content is designed to get kids excited for a newly greenlit TV series, OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes, which is set to premiere this summer in the US. It will be followed by a corresponding console and PC game launch from Toronto’s Capybara Games in the fall.
“The multiplatform focus and era for us has really begun with OK K.O.!, along with one of our other new properties that came up at about the same time, Mighty Magiswords,” says Lelash. “We’ve of course been making shorts on existing series and building out digital content for everything, but with OK K.O.! and Magiswords, multiplatform was a key part of the vision from the beginning. It’s a daunting amount of work, but it’s exciting to see things take form in different shapes so early.”