If asked to name the best-selling game of 2006, you could probably come up with Madden 07. However, it's unlikely that many people would be able to come up with the second best-selling game. What was it, you wonder? How about Cars, a licensed title based on Pixar's most popular film of the year.
It's a fact not often recognized by the gaming community: Licensed games often sell well. Of course, it's easy to be dismissive. These games are not designed or marketed to us, the gamer. We might even take umbrage with their success, as if developers and publishers can simply slide around us, their loyal fan base, to make a quick buck off of impressionable, young gamers and their willfully ignorant parents.
But there it is at No. 2, Cars. And it's certainly not alone. Games like Over the Hedge, Ice Age 2: The Meltdown, Happy Feet, Hannah Montana and SpongeBob SquarePants: Creature from Krusty Krab also sold well in 2006. And we have no reason to think 2007 was any different, what with another Hannah Montana game (can anyone stop her?!), a Zoey 101 game (no, it doesn't involve teenage pregnancy) and a second Cars game featuring the Larry the Cable Guy voiced tow-truck, Mater.
Ramiro Corbetta, a 25-year-old game designer working with the independent developer Powerhead Games, never had any strong attachment to licensed games. Sure, like most gamers of his generation, he played Aladdin on the Genesis, and he played bad ports like Back to the Future on the NES before that. But growing up in Brazil, Corbetta also imagined the games he might play; games built around his favorite cartoon shows.
His was part of the first generation to grow up with this possibility. By the mid '80s younger gamers rarely, if ever, had to wait to play as their favorite franchise properties. If you liked Ghostbusters, there was a game for that. If you liked RoboCop, there was a game for that. And if you liked Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, well, you were out of luck, because there was a game, but it was pretty much impossible.
Corbetta now has the opportunity to make his dream come true for today's cartoon and franchise fans. Having interned at the New York City-based Powerhead Games while still an undergrad at Columbia University, Corbetta joined the company fulltime as a designer after graduation. The first game he worked on was a Konami-published DS game based on the children's cartoon Winx Club. Konami was pleased enough with Powerhead's first excursion into the Winx universe that they ordered up a second game, for which Corbettta is currently serving as lead designer.
I first tried to meet with Mr. Corbetta to discuss his experiences making, as he described them, "little girl games," just over a month ago. Unfortunately, that meeting got slightly derailed when a roommate of Corbetta's suggested we start with some Rock Band. While he spends a good deal of his work day thinking about a game starring a team of teenage fairies, Corbetta's videogame tastes don't differ much from your average 25-year-old. His apartment is home to a 360 as well as a Wii, and he's an avid DS player.