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Dark Horse Comics launched Dark Horse Games as a new games and digital division.
With two main offices in Oregon and Shanghai, Dark Horse Games will create games through licensing partnerships with external game developers as well as with its own internal properties. The company will begin bringing some of its 425 story-based characters and universes to video games, Dark Horse Games chief executive Johnny Lee said in an exclusive interview with GamesBeat.
Over the 35-year history of the company, Dark Horse has published world-renowned intellectual properties such as Hellboy, Frank Miller the city of sin and 300, Umbrella Academy, Polar, Women killer, Emilie the strange, Usagi Yojimbo, Foreign resident. This is a good time for expansion, as gaming is hot, and in some cases, it generates more revenue for a given IP than other forms of entertainment. As for Dark Horse Comics, 2020 has been a good year for the company’s core comics and publishing business, with good revenue growth, Lee said.
Dark Horse Games is in talks with some of the best game studios in the world to create triple A licensed titles based on the Dark Horse Comics library that will be released over the next several years on all platforms: PC, consoles, mobile and cloud services.
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“We’re very focused on finding the right game development partner for the best IPs,” Lee said.
Development of internal and external games
Dark Horse Comics does not yet have the staff to create triple-A games with its most famous IPs. So it will try to partner with high-end game development companies that can create them, Dark Horse Comics will build its own in-house game studios to work on games based on newer and less established IPs or games. Older but less known IPs. .
“We have evergreen properties, like Hellboy, where there will always be an interest in making games and doing collaborations,” he said. “We and our partners can really assess whether an IP story and character universe would be suitable for the games that they design and develop in-house. I think most of the triple A developers I’ve spoken to would rather have their game developer team build some basic gameplay and fit an IP to it, rather than shove an IP down their throats. We are sensitive to this.
Meanwhile, Dark Horse Games’ proprietary games will focus on updating older and less established IP addresses for games. It will also produce and publish multimedia projects (eg webtoons and cartoons) in conjunction with the proprietary games.
Dark Horse Comics is based in Milwaukie, Oregon, and run by President Mike Richardson (who is also one of the founders). It also has offices in Shanghai.
Lee spent time in software and consumer products, but he knew his passion was media and entertainment. He started a company in New York City that made an independent documentary with funding from Samsung, and he eventually sold it to Sony Screen Gems. He then set up a specialist gaming consultancy, DGTL, in Seoul to carry out cross-border investments, co-development and publishing deals. Most recently, he led business development and commercial strategy at Improbable.
“I fell into the game,” Lee said. “Considering my background, this new position was a bit surreal. I thought my background in mergers and acquisitions, building startups, and experience in a media entertainment business were all wrapped up and I’m now using all of those skills and network every day.
Lessons from the grown-ups
Dark Horse Comics wasn’t much involved in the games, but it licensed a 2008 game called Hellboy: The Science of Evil, published by Konami and developed by Krome Studios and Big Ant Studios. Meanwhile, Dark Horse Comics is the official publisher of some game-based comics for the titles, but it does not have the video game rights to them.
“We talk to all types of developers and we’re open to all kinds of creative ideas, even some independent studios with some cool ideas around our IPs,” Lee said. “Right now we’ve spent a lot of time finding the rights in triple-A level game collaborations where the stories and characters fit together. We are in advanced stage talks with several of them. And so if all goes well, you’ll see some really big Dark Horse Comics characters in live-action triple-A games no later than the end of the first quarter of next year.
Dark Horse Comics has 161 employees. In the first year, Lee expects his own games team to stay small, with less than 10 people.
“We plan to synergize our game launches with unique multimedia efforts,” said Lee.
Looking at the lessons of the biggest comic book companies like Marvel and DC, Lee said they all have major location-based entertainment and merchandising chains that have grown to be huge over the years, and that they find entertainment synergies in their IP addresses through entertainment, including games. Stanley Cheung, executive chairman of Dark Horse Comics, is the former chairman of Walt Disney Greater China. Lee said Dark Horse Comics tends to be involved in production and expects to work closely with its licensees and developers.
“We hope to get there one day,” he said.
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