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Preloaded's Phil Stuart

The creative director on maintaining an indie spirit, education and a multiplatform future

UK developer Preloaded has been in the business for 11 years, primarily concentrating on casual, education and brand games for contractors such as Channel 4 Education, The Science Museum and the BBC. This year, it adds the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim to its CV, having recently released browser strategy game zOMT for Adult Swim's increasingly indie-commissioning site. Most recently, it released a game commissioned for the London 2012 Paralympics.

Here, chats to the London studio's creative director Phil Stuart about keeping the creative spirit even during contract work, why multi-platform is a smarter future than targeting iOS, the hopeful advent of social games 2.0 and why brands are becoming publishers.

GamesIndustry.bizYour most recent game is zOMT for Adult Swim - have you done stuff with them before?
Phil Stuart

We’ve worked with Turner and the Cartoon Network for a long time, and then Adult Swim… We’ve pitched a few things at them in the past, and this time they came to us asking for ideas, and we came up with loads - I think 10 to start with. They picked up on something that was originally called Bomb Bouncer, and then God Squad, and ended up being zOMT in the end. Yeah, it’s working out really well. It’s interesting for us, because we haven’t published it in the traditional way that we usually do it. Usually we publish a game then push it to different game portals and watch it move around. This one’s been a little bit different in that we’ve actually locked it down to Adult Swim. We haven’t got exact exposure to the stats, but people seem to be loving it and it’s going quite well. And it’s actually designed to be easily ported to iPad or any tablet, so with good stats hopefully we’ll be able to do that. But playtime has been really good - that’s the stat we do have, that people are playing it for 20 to 25 minutes, which is good news.

GamesIndustry.bizAdult Swim has loads of indie and smaller devs - are they cherry picking people they decide are interesting or is there a sense of their having a huge cash pile that people are sniffing out?
Phil Stuart

Well, we’re pretty proactive. We’ve kind of been going in and showing them some work for the last couple of years, and I think every year they select a few people they want to work with, and this time it was our year. We’ve also been working with Cartoon Network on one of their television properties called Gumball - we’ve built a website and some games for that as well. That’s more like that kind of TV support stuff that we do, but zOMT is a completely unique piece of IP for them.

GamesIndustry.bizWhat do Adult Swim get out of contracting developers like this, given there’s no money associated at the player’s end?
Phil Stuart

Well, Adult Swim in the UK is just a website, so the model they’re running is getting numbers. Games drive huge figures, so it’s about brand-building but it’s also about traffic on the site. I think it’s that, but I’m not shown their broader strategy. All I know is they love games, they really value games and games as we know can get a huge amount of people engaged. I’d like to think there’s some sort of bigger strategic push to develop unique IP on different platforms, but that would just be me hoping… [laughs]

GamesIndustry.bizThere are a few other places which seem to be doing something broadly similar - like Channel 4 and the BBC, both of whom you’ve also done projects for….
Phil Stuart

…One thing about Adult Swim is, they’re owned by Turner who also have the Cartoon Network, they’re a commercial entertainment network. Channel 4 Education who we work with a lot are completely non-commercial, as are the BBC and the Science Museum.

The remit for those guys is very, very different - C4 Education’s remit is to educate 13-19 year olds in areas that aren’t necessarily covered by the national curriculum. Whereas the Science Museum is about pushing science knowledge across all ages, and usually tied into exhibitions. While obviously the BBC is more and more about TV support.

One of the things that we’ve begun to do over the last year or so is get a very clear idea of who we want to be working with. About 70 per cent of our business is commission-based, so we do a lot of work for educators and institutions and brands, just sort of delivering games on a commissioning spec. Or, like with Channel 4 Education, we end up responding to open briefs - "come to us with an idea for a game about mental health" - and then we’ll come back to then.

And then the other third of the business is our own stuff, developing our own IP. That 70 per cent, the commissioned-based stuff, that’s the kind of stuff we’re known for, but one of the things when I go out and meet people, we literally believe in the power of game mechanics to educate and inform. We’re not strictly an educational games studio, but games are so useful in actually explaining complex concepts or eliciting emotional responses or behaviour change. Particularly when you’re focusing on younger audience, up to mid-teens, you can use games to show concepts and cause and effect. For someone like Channel 4 or the Science Museum, games are just perfect for that.

That’s historically where our focus has been, but now looking forward we’re spending more time doing pure entertainment products, like doing stuff for Adult Swim. And even looking at brands and how we can build what I call brand games rather than branded games. How you can take the brand values and embed it into the game mechanics rather than just sticking a label on it.

Alec Meer avatar
Alec Meer: A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.
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