2000 AD recently hit its 40th anniversary and is still going strong. Judge Dredd continues to lead the charge and arguably remains the most recognisable British-created comic book character - Dennis the Menace aside, as he’s hardly an obvious draw for core gamers.
Behind him is a slew of popular characters with dedicated fanbases. Best of all, practically all of them are perfect gaming fodder. After all, there’s barely a game industry veteran in the country that hasn’t been influenced by the publication over the years.
Now, for the first time, 2000 AD owner Rebellion has put out an open call for licensees on its wealth of intellectual property. So if you’ve always had a great idea for a 2000 AD-related game, or even if you’ve just got a great game idea that you’ve never quite found a character for, then Rebellion is now open for pitches.
We head to Oxford to see Rebellion co-founder Jason Kingsley. Appropriately, the game developer has owned 2000 AD since the year 2000. Jason, along with co-founder and brother Chris Kingsley, have something of a gut approach to business acquisitions.
They bought 2000 AD largely because they thought it was cool, which it certainly is. Jason Kingsley is very proud of the publication, but he says telling people about it can be difficult: “I often tell people ‘I bought 2000 AD’ and they say, ‘Yes I bought it on Saturday as well’...”
“I often tell people ‘I bought 2000 AD’ and they say, ‘Yes I bought it on Saturday as well’...”
Jason Kingsley, Rebellion
With the publication (and all of its various spin-offs) run from the same giant office space that contains the company’s development and publishing talent, 2000 AD is in something of a unique position as a licensing opportunity. It’s owned by games developers and surrounded by games developers, it knows games already.
So why isn’t the Sniper Elite and Battlezone VR developer making 2000 AD games itself? It’s had a stab before, but without any great success, though it’s currently remaking 2006’s really-rather-good Rogue Trooper in a Redux release for PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.
“We wanted to do more 2000 AD games and I said to the team here ‘Let’s find some people to do some more 2000 AD’,” starts Kingsley. “And IT would say we haven’t got more space in the office. If you want to start hiring more people, we’re going to have to put a mezzanine floor in,” he explains. “So, it was like, ‘Oh that’s really annoying because I’d like to see Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper, Nikolai Dante and Strontium Dog... I want to see more games.
“It’s really frustrating talking to the fans and repeating myself. It’s ridiculous, we’re still not going to have anything - we’ve got Rogue Trooper: Redux so that’s something - but there’s a ton of things, and I wondered if other people will be interested in playing with the toys we’ve got.”
Kingsley has an open mind on the kind of pitches they will receive, from tiny mobile games, right up to fully-fledged triple-A monsters.
“We’re open to approaches from an individual that wants to make a micro game based on a tiny piece of intellectual property, up to somebody who want to take Judge Dredd and make an open world city roaming game.”
And approaches are already coming in: “We’re in very early stages of it, but we’ve already had a surprising number of approaches from big and small,” he tells us. “I was quite frankly very surprised by the vast number of people who thought they couldn’t play in the 2000 AD sandbox and have now said, ‘Oh brilliant, can we have a go?’”
And they’re not looking for a huge amount of time and effort to put into the initial pitch: “It doesn’t need to be too much, we don’t want you to put a demo together, spend tons of money on it, just give us a one-pager,” he enthuses.
“We’re in very early stages of it, but we’ve already had a surprising number of approaches from big and small”
Jason Kingsley, Rebellion
“We’re developers, we get it if you say you want to a game a bit like Grand Theft Auto but using Strontium Dog, we kind of get that, we don’t need more than that.”
He continues: “We don’t mind the scale of the game, it can be a small free-to-play game, or it can be a massive, traditional triple-A if anyone wants to look at that.”
He gives some examples: “One of the ideas I thought about when I talked at the 40th anniversary was Helltrekkers. It’s a subsection, a group of citizens who decide they’ve had enough of life in the big meg and they purchase these big winnebagos that are all armoured up and they decide to go on a Helltrek [out into Cursed Earth]. It’s a tiny piece, it doesn’t involve Judge Dredd but it’s Dredd’s world.
“That would be a fun game, there are so many bits - mutants in Mega City One, bounty hunters, Zombo the Gentleman Zombie, Absalon hunting The Accord between heaven and hell. There are so many games within these worlds,” he enthuses.
Every one of those ideas also comes complete with a huge library of concept art that your developers can slavishly follow or riff off in their own way.
CUTTING A DEAL
Kingsley sounds flexible when it comes to the kind of deals he hopes to sign, both with developers and publishers: “Let’s do a deal, what works for you?” sums up his approach.
“The deal we structure will be variable depending on what they want and what they see investing. We’re not saying here’s the deal, take it or leave it,” he stresses. “If you’re a tiny indie then maybe you haven’t got anything upfront to pay, then we’ll work with you and we’ll just take a little bit more at the back end. If you’re going to put a huge game together then we’ll just take a smaller piece of the action.”
He’s looking to the future, too, considering sequels from the outset: “If you can construct a deal for both sides that works then hopefully there will be repeat business and you can do more and more together.”
Of course, Kingsley has to ensure that the license isn’t being mistreated. “From my perspective, I’ve got to make sure that the people are respectful of the license and do stuff that will appeal to the fans as well as the wider gaming public.
“But also the business has to be such that they can make a profit out of it, and we want to make sure quality control is kept high, so we’re looking for people with good track records, enthusiasm, and realistic expectations.”
Rebellion has also got to ensure that there isn’t any overlap between licensees, although the sheer breadth of characters and possible game genres should mitigate that problem.
“We’ll try to make sure that each person that takes a license has a chunk of the market, so there’s no overlap,” says Kingsley.
We suggest that he wouldn’t want two 2000 AD-related titles in the same genre, even if they used different characters? “Exactly,” Kingsley agrees.
“If three people want to do a Helltrekkers game that really can’t work and if two people have a big game that they want to come out in the same quarter, we’d probably say to them, ‘Look can you come out early and them later?’ We’re trying to make it so everyone gets a fair bit of the cherry.”
With pitches already coming into the company, now is certainly the time to get your thinking cap on, with Rebellion’s Matt Jeffery being the main point of contact for these.
We ask when the first games based around 2000 AD properties might go on sale? “There might be some smaller games coming out this year, especially in the digital space, but I think bigger games will start to come out, at least a year to 18-months away,” Kingsley says.
“The big win for me is to see other people’s interpretation of the 2000 AD world. We’ve had people wanting to do arena fighters - Judge Dredd vs Strontium Dog vs Mean Machine - I think there’s space for that but we also want to do pure games.
“Hopefully, there’ll be some really good stuff, it’ll probably be a smorgasbord, some zany stuff, some great stuff and some stuff in between,” Kingsley estimates.
2000 AD isn’t an all-conquering brand like Marvel, but unlike Marvel the license holder really understands games, has a highly passionate gaming-friendly audience to call upon, and proportionally stands to benefit a lot more from a great Judge Dredd game than Marvel might from a great Iron Man one. We also reckon that 2000 AD’s stars might be a little more affordable than Marvel’s mightiest heroes.
We leave the last word to 2000 AD’s editor-in-chief, Matt Smith, who enthuses: “Reading 2000 AD is a synapse-frying experience as it is – being able to play and interact with your favourite characters and worlds takes it to a whole new level.We’re hugely excited to see what other developers will be doing with the comic’s properties.”