Video game developer Ecko Code is launching a series of social games on Facebook based on leading Showtime original series Weeds, Dexter, and The Borgias.
Ecko Code began as a video game studio set up by entrepreneur Marc Ecko, who currently sits on its board of directors. The developer got its start on consoles with 2006 PlayStation 2 and Xbox game, Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure. Though the game received favorable reviews, it wasn’t profitable enough for Ecko Code to continue developing for consoles. Through a partnership with TV network Showtime, the studio went into mobile games with a licensed Dexter title for iOS in 2009.
The Weeds game, Weeds Social Club, is the first of Ecko Code’s Facebook titles. The game is officially developed by Mytopia and published by Ecko Code in collaboration with show producer Lionsgate Entertainment. We took a look at the game in its early beta state, observing that while certain themes of the game were shared with the show, it was largely a standalone experience. Players take the role of series star, Nancy Botwin, and attempt to grow and sell marijuana while avoiding law enforcement. Most plot elements and other characters are omitted from the game and it’s not clear where, if anywhere, the game fits into the show’s continuity. Weeds Social Club will go into public beta as soon as this week.
The next Showtime property to hit Facebook via Ecko Code is Dexter in a game called Dexter: Slice of Life. This will be Ecko Code’s first Facebook game developed in-house. Like the iOS game, this game is deeply tied to the show’s plot. But while the iOS game was based off of Dexter’s pilot episode while season 3 was running, Slice of Life comes directly from the show’s sixth season with Ecko Code sometimes working with scripts before they’ve even been shot. The game launches on Facebook on October 3, the day after Dexter’s season 6 premier.
The latest Showtime property picked up by Ecko Code for Facebook is The Borgias. Not many details are available on the game as yet, but the developer confirmed to us that the game exists and is in development. The show concluded its first season in May and was renewed for a second 10-episode season to air in Spring 2012.
TV tie-in games form a rapidly expanding genre on Facebook. They range from casual games with light integration with the parent show (e.g. MTV’s Jersey Shore) to time-sensitive products that work with the actual content of the show (e.g. Starz’s Spartacus: Gods of the Arena). Ecko Code is leaning heavily toward the latter with Dexter as an experiment in what kind of gameplay experience Facebook fans of the show prefer.
“We want Weeds to be something you play for five minutes ten times a day,” Ecko Code VP Marc Fernandez tells us, “whereas with Dexter, we want you to play for twenty minutes two times a day — more engagement.”
Another important component for Ecko Code is the “edginess” factor. The content of Weeds Social Club (marijuana) and of Dexter (serial killers) are things that “get people talking,” according to Fernandez.
“The brand softens the edge a little bit,” he says. “But we want to partner with brands we like so that we only make the games we want to make. I wanted to make a crime game, a renaissance game — so, the Borgias. I wanted to do a weed game, so Weeds Social Club.”
As for the future, Fernandez says the developer will eventually move to web-based multiplayer games and tablet games.
“On Facebook we’re going to stick to Dexter, to Weeds, and to Borgias,” he says. “Thank God we made our money back on [Getting Up], but the retail games business is a tough business. So we jumped to digital distribution, mobile, and now free-to-play. We’re not afraid to say ‘this isn’t working, let’s go find another niche.’”