Exploding Kittens Devs Talk Transferring The Game To Digital And Working With Netflix

Exploding Kittens, the irreverent party game which sees players try to avoid, well, exploding kittens, joined the mobile gaming landscape back in 2016, but a new partnership with Netflix will bring an updated version of the game to the streaming service’s gaming platform.

The game sees two to five players drawing cards, stealing from other players, and messing with turn order until finally one of the players draws the Exploding Kitten card. If that player doesn’t have a specific card used to defuse the explosion, then that player is out and the game continues until one is left standing. The new Netflix version of the game will add card like Radar and Flip Flip, which both change the game in significant ways.

If you find the Exploding Kitten, you better be ready to defuse the situation.

While Exploding Kittens is quite faithful to its physical counterpart, there are a few key differences. To learn more, we spoke with Prasant Moorthy, Exploding Kittens’ vice president of digital, and lead game designer Evan Losi about the mobile version of the game, including unique mechanics and more.

We spent time discussing the Netflix platform for mobile games, whether or not the streaming service’s recent headlines have impacted the relationship, and the interactions between the team behind the digital version of Exploding Kittens and the physical one. We also touched on some of the game’s unique mechanics, including Radar and Nope!

This interview was conducted via video conferencing and edited for readability and clarity.

What challenges did you find when adapting the physical game to a digital format, and how much interaction did you have with the team behind the physical game?

Evan Losi: A lot of it is trying to make it as close to the physical experience as possible, right? So we like you to feel like you’ve actually got cards in your hand. You can shuffle them around, you can move them. When you steal a card from another player, you literally tap on the card you want to take from the other player’s hand. We try to bring elements of physicality into the game as much as possible, while still making it really smooth, responsive, and easy to play while also seeing what we can add as a digital game

In terms of our interaction with the physical team, there was a lot! Obviously this is Exploding Kittens, it is the same card game, so while this team is focused on digital, we’re also a very close knit company. We are always doing play tests of each other’s games; for example I worked on a deck for one of the physical games, while one of the designers over there helped define cards that are unique to this version of the game. We are all very close friends.

Walk me through the discussions with Netflix in regards to getting onto their platform. What about Netflix appealed to you?

Prasant Moorthy: About 15 months ago, when I first joined, I got told by my boss that Netflix had been talking to us about the potential of making games. Netflix had already started its project, but they’d had some conversations with my team before I came on board

As you know, the industry is fairly small. I’ve worked with a whole bunch of companies. Everyone on my team, before I started we’d either met, crossed paths, or have some mutual friends. With Netflix, I actually used to work with someone there, and they reached out and said, “Hey, we should work together.” They put us in touch with the right people, and that’s how a new conversation initially started. We then got together with them, had a few meetings, heard what they wanted to do, and learned about the platform for games as part of the streaming service itself. One of the big things for us is we don’t just want to release the same thing over and over again. This was a really good opportunity for us to add things we would like to see in a physical game, but just aren’t possible.

Our company’s plan, obviously, is trying to be the number one party game company in the world. We’ve got a whole bunch of games in this genre physically, but with digital we’re still small, nascent, and trying to grow. Netflix has massive DAU (daily active users), crazy amounts of people, and they’re all around the world. Just for this Netflix game we’re already localized in 14 languages. So we’re basically getting a large amount of people playing the game, and they’re doing it everywhere. This was just a great opportunity for us to get in front of a much bigger audience.

Netflix has seen some rocky days in the past few months. Has the news surrounding the company been any cause for concern with you and your team?

Moorthy: Our relationship with Netflix has been great. Obviously, I can’t really speak to Netflix’s business model but yeah, everything we’ve done with them has been very smooth. I’ve been in this industry for a long time with a lot of different publishers, and Netflix has been a great one so far. They’re responsive, they work well with us, they like our work, and we like their work. It’s just been a really good opportunity for us.

Tell me about some of the mechanics in this version of Exploding Kittens. Were you trying to find mechanics that only work in a digital format, or was there an attempt to find something that could work either way?

Losi: I think it was really important to experiment with mechanics that could only be done in the digital format. Radar, for example, would require a moderator to look through the deck, find the Exploding Kitten card, and then tell only one person, which is just not feasible. With Flip Flop, we actually tried to reverse the order of the deck in a physical game and it simply took too long to physically do.

Our approach was to try things that would not only work in a digital space, but excel in it, because I think a really important part of game design is building for the context. We always try things that might break the game. I have broken the game with mechanics and cards before and they just don’t appear in the final version. That’s playtesting. We played this game a lot, and we played it on paper. I am probably the only person on the team that has played with Radar as a physical card. We printed on the back of a blind card and tried it out, which is how a lot of our design goes. We try to really vet things out before we put them in the hands of the bigger audience to make sure if or when it breaks the game, it does so only in ways that are fun.

Are there any examples of mechanics that had to be scrapped because they were too powerful?

Losi: Oh, absolutely! We’ve played with mechanics that would bring players back into the game, that would tell you everything in the deck, that would draw all kinds of cards, and often they are too strong. The original version of Radar actually showed you the position of every exploding kitten in the deck, but then we asked, “Do you really need that information? Is it too much?” Then we ended up bringing it back down to the current version that tells you the top Exploding Kitten, because players didn’t need that extra information, we were telling them something that was unimportant, because the deck is going to get shuffled before the game gets to any Exploding Kitten under the first one. I don’t like giving a player misleading information if they’re better off just not knowing in the first place.

There are expansions for the physical game available now. Will there be any expansions for the Netflix version?

Moorthy: For the Netflix version, there will be one expansion planned themed around the Exploding Kittens animated series when it comes out next year. Evan has been working on some designs for the expansion, he just hasn’t shared them with me yet.

Will there be any new Netflix-only mechanics being added to the game with the expansion?

Losi: Yes, we are absolutely going to playtest more card types. What ends up in the final expansion? It’s too soon to know. We might end up with a really cool design that fits the theme and mood of the upcoming show and we’ll add it, even if it would also work in the physical game.

Is there a separation between the physical and digital games in terms of what’s allowed? Or are they interchangeable?

Losi: There’s no hard and fast rule that a new card must only work in a digital format, we use this as a place to start because I think digital opens up more design possibilities. We actually have a good example of that: we had a version of the Attack card that originally worked differently in the very original printed version of Exploding Kittens, mostly in the way the turns stacked up. We implemented that old way as we were building this mobile game and thought to ourselves, “This is just better for everyone.” Exploiting kittens is sort of a living game that only gets better and better as we play it.

Since the expansion is themed around the show, is it possible we might see or hear things like voice actors from the show while playing it?

Losi: I mean, I’m certainly thinking about it now.

Moorthy: The audio in the original game was Matt The Oatmeal. It’s his voice recorded for a lot of it. Having access to potential Netflix actors would be awesome for us, but I know licensing is its own beast. You’ve seen situations where they’ve made a game version of a TV show and they’ve got a totally different actor’s voice trying to copy the voice in the film.

It’s definitely an interesting thought. Something that would be great to have, but that’s the practice of agents or whoever organizes that licensing with Netflix. I have no idea. Especially when you’ve got Tom Ellis, you’ve got Lucy Liu–these aren’t small-fries. We can’t just say, “Here’s a script. Here’s a case of beer. Can you do this?”

Exploding Kittens is only one of many different physical games you make. Is there a chance of other games in the portfolio being ported to digital platforms?

Moorthy: The short version is yes, as I run the digital team I want as many digital games as possible. Obviously we work closely with the physical team, but we are digital only on this side. The entire success of my team is based on us making games for various digital platforms. My job is bringing these games to digital, so if you don’t see other mobile projects from us, you’ll probably see me looking for a new gig.

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