As I would learn later, after failing miserably to match Mick Jagger's falsetto on "Gimme Shelter," designing licensed games for a show targeted at 8-year-old girls isn't all that different from designing the next World War II-based FPS. Powerhead, who doesn't only develop games for "little girls," employs staff at every level of development - from artists and designers to programmers and debuggers. They have to worry about building a game that will hold players' interest and keep them coming back. And just as in original titles, developers are always concerned about avoiding that pernicious buyer's remorse.
The overarching difference is that licensed games have a preexisting set of boundaries and guidelines that must be incorporated into development. On the surface, this may seem simple and even self-explanatory, but in practice this gives rise to any number of issues that can turn development into a minefield. These games also come with a built-in audience, very often a loyal fan base with expectations about what a game should be like.
The flipside of that coin, though, is that same audience will likely be buying a game no matter what. For licensed titles marketed to younger players, oftentimes the gamer isn't even making the purchase himself. Instead, a parent or other family member is standing in a Toys 'R' Us, thinking to himself, "Well, Sarah sure does like that Winx Club. I better buy her the game."
As Corbetta explained, though, these foregone conclusions really don't affect the way a game gets made. "A game with the brand name on it is going to sell, but you don't want to sell a s----y product to people. You don't want the kids to open their gift on Christmas and be like, 'Wow, this sucks.' You don't want to make a game that makes a kid sad. If you're in [the business of game design,] you're hopefully in it because you want people to have fun."
Ultimately, for a developer like Powerhead, working on licensed titles like Winx Club can often be a difficult balancing act between meeting the demands of the publisher and stretching their creative wings to make a game the developers are happy with. This balancing act must also draw in considerations of form vs. function. Both publisher and developer must decide if the gameplay will evolve from the intellectual property, or if the IP will be made to fit a preexisting model of gameplay. These decisions can come from both ends, but other aspects, like target market and other games based on the IP, come into play.
"If we were to copy and paste [from a first licensed title to a second], you know what, that game would probably still sell," Corbetta said. "But seriously, could you really go home and sleep knowing that you just slacked off and [ruined the experience] of thousands and thousands of little girls?"