GamesBeat Summit 2022 returns with its largest event for leaders in gaming on April 26-28th. Reserve your spot here!
Netflix is doubling down on games with the upcoming launch of an Exploding Kittens mobile game and an animated cartoon series.
The entertainment streaming company will partner with Los Angeles-based Exploding Kittens, a card and tabletop game studio created by cartoonist Matt Inman (creator of The Oatmeal and creative director at Exploding Kittens) and cofounders Elan Lee and Shane Small.
Since debuting in 2015, Exploding Kittens (the card game) has sold more than 18 million copies. It is based on the hilarious art created by Inman, with cats doing crazy things. The company has gone on to create a series of raucous card and mobile games.
“The company was growing, toys were selling everywhere, games were selling everywhere. And we realized we were in a weird and unique position where we had success with toys and games, but we had no kind of story behind it,” said Inman, in an interview with GamesBeat. “Like a movie or television show. So we ended up connecting with Peter Chernin. And he ended up connecting us with Mike Judge and Greg Daniels. And I got to work on the idea of what the Exploding Kittens show would be that I would actually want to watch.”
The adult animated cartoon TV series will debut in 2023 and is being produced by Greg Daniels and Mike Judge (who are also working on the animated series Bad Crimes). The Exploding Kittens animated series will star the voice talent of Tom Ellis (Rush, Lucifer), Abraham Lim (Clickbait,The Boys), Lucy Liu (Shazam, Elementary), Ally Maki (Wrecked, Toy Story 4), Mark Proksch (What We Do In The Shadows, Better Call Saul) and Sasheer Zamata (Woke, Home Economics).
The mobile game based on Exploding Kittens will debut next month and deliver the same classic gameplay where players draw cards aiming to avoid the Exploding Kitten.
“Doing both things was really important to us,” said Lee in an interview with GamesBeat. “This was a really great opportunity for us to do two things at once and build momentum around both things. And honestly, the other thing we get to do with the Netflix game launch in particular is we add new cards to that game and feature the characters from the Netflix show. You can experience them in both realms, which is a really fun treat for for community. So yeah, this fires on all cylinders for us.”
The series and game represent a first for Netflix in that it has touched on game topics in its films — Riot Games’ Arcane was a fine example of that — and it has made the Stranger Things games based on the Stranger Things video series. But this is the first time that Netflix is working on both a game and an animated series at the same time.
The project started a couple of years ago as Netflix approached Inman for the animated series. Lee said that Inman’s superpower is coming up with zany and creative ideas that are perfect for something like a cartoon series.
In the animated series, titled Exploding Kittens, the eternal conflict between Heaven and Hell reaches epic proportions when both God and the Devil are sent to Earth – in the bodies of chunky house cats.
The series comes from showrunners Shane Kosakowski and Matthew Inman; executive producers Mike Judge, Greg Daniels and Dustin Davis of Bandera Entertainment; executive producers Peter Chernin and Jenno Topping for the Chernin Entertainment Group; and executive producers and creators of the Exploding Kittens franchise, Elan Lee and The Oatmeal’s Inman.
“Our goal is to offer our members great entertainment they’ll love in whatever format they may enjoy – whether it be a game or an animated series,” said Leanne Loombe, head of external games at Netflix, in a statement. “As we expand our mobile games catalog, we’re excited to partner with the Exploding Kittens digital team to bring this enjoyable game to all age groups, including a few exciting updates exclusively for our members.”
Inman added, “We feature characters, which means that, as players fall in love with our game, they fall in love with those characters. And they want to know what they what world they live in, and what their voices sound like and how they walk and talk and all the rest of it. And so working with a partner like Netflix means we get to introduce all of those things across multiple different platforms to that community.”
Exploding Kittens – The Game will deliver two new exclusive cards: Radar, which reveals to players the position of the Exploding Kitten closest to the top of the card deck, and Flip Flop, which reverses the order of the cards in the deck.
“When the show comes out, we can we have this, we have this platform to release the characters from the show into the game with their associated superpowers that then the players get to take advantage of it,” said Lee.
That gives the potential for the mobile game to have live operations, or updates that will keep players coming back on a regular basis, Lee said.
Future cards and game mechanics will be themed around the animated series so friends and families can play with their favorite characters and bring the show to life. With both single and multiplayer options, the game will be available to Netflix members without additional fees or in-app purchases.
“The co-development of a game and animated series breaks new ground for Netflix,” said Mike Moon, Netflix head of adult animation, in a statement. “And we couldn’t think of a better game to build a universe around than Exploding Kittens, one of the most inventive, iconic and original games of this century! Netflix is the perfect place to explore this growing franchise and we are so fortunate to be working with this incredible team.”
Additional details about the Exploding Kittens adult animated series will be announced at a later date.
“Netflix is the only service that could bring Exploding Kittens to life in both a series and a game,” said Inman, “We actually launched Exploding Kittens on Kickstarter as a weekend project, but our community has been the heart and soul of the company over the past six years. The new series and game will give our fans new ways to connect and interact with the franchise.”
Exploding Kittens has about 82 employees and 15 contractors. Inman said the show came as a surprise.
“I have to be totally frank. I was very leery couple years ago about making a series out of the game because I don’t know about you but I’ve never seen a good video game or card game turned into a movie that was good. Of course, Clue was great. Everything else has been horrible. When we found the premise, we thought this could be a really interesting show. We have an opportunity. There’s a soul and a community here.”
Inman has been writing comedy for years and this felt like a natural fit. Lee referred to humor and keeping people entertained for a long time as Inman’s superpower. Inman also joked that his parents will now appreciate what he does for a living, now that he can tell them he’s working on an animated show.
“It’s hard to call this a little backyard project anymore,” Lee said.
He agreed it is unlikely to start with cartoon drawings and a tabletop game and wind up with a Netflix show and mobile game.
“It’s like getting into model airplanes and find out seven years later it’s part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe,” Inman said.
Lee said that the investment from the Chernin Group was strategic for the company because it helped the company figure out how to grow the intellectual property.