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Elite Shackster
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Electronic Arts program tries out digital distribution with anticipated upcoming releases from Hothead Games, Klei Studios.

The next wave of games from the EA Partners program that has released such chart-busting hits as Rock Band and Left 4 Dead won't be found on the charts at all. That's because the industry's top charts only track retail sales of games, and EA Partners is going digital.

DeathSpank actually began life as a proxy for mainstream gaming franchises in animated comics on the Grumpy Gamer blog of Monkey Island creator Ron Gilbert.

Electronic Arts today announced the latest EA Partners participants, Hothead Games and Klei Entertainment. EA will handle distribution and marketing for the former company's Diablo-meets-Monkey Island action game DeathSpank on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, while it will handle distribution duties for the latter outfit's blood-soaked side-scrolling action game Shank on PC, Xbox 360, and PS3. DeathSpank is set for release sometime this year, while Shank has been narrowed down to a summer launch.

Both Klei and Hothead have self-published games in the past. Hothead is best known for producing the first two episodes of Penny Arcade Adventures, while Klei published the Eets series on the PC and Xbox Live Arcade, as well as Metanet's critically acclaimed N+ for Xbox Live Arcade. Despite that experience, both companies felt they had much to gain from working with EA Partners.

"We partnered with EA because they recognize our vision and allow us to execute on it," Klei Entertainment CEO Jamie Cheng told GameSpot. "We have complete creative control, which is really fantastic. What EA helps us to do is reach a larger audience. We're taking advantage of their marketing muscle and putting it on multiple platforms."

Shank's developers are drawing upon a background in traditional animation to give the game its distinctive look.

As for DeathSpank, Hothead CEO Ian Wilkinson said the Electronic Arts pairing offered a welcome bit of synergy.

"From our perspective, commercially, we were not entirely satisfied with [Penny Arcade Adventures'] performance," Wilkinson said. "We're really good at making games, but we haven't proven that we're good at marketing them. Based on our preliminary plan with EA, we're really excited about what they're going to do with the game and the exposure they're going to get for us."

Although these titles are the first downloadable endeavors for EA Partners, the publisher's indie liaison Jamil Moledina doesn't look at it as much of a departure.

"EA Partners really hasn't changed its strategic position, which is to partner with the best talent in the game industry, offer the full resources that Electronic Arts has developed over a quarter century, and provide those to the best creative, most break-through ideas presented by the worldwide game development community," Moledina said. "That is still our charter and we're still signing a wide range of games. We're not limiting ourselves to packaged goods. However, the freedom of creativity that exists in the impulse purchase range is something that has both a direct return as well as a long-term benefit."

In addition to being the primary contact for indie developers looking to get in with EA Partners, Moledina said his title of "outreach director of business development" insists that he be proactive in finding future EA Partners within the indie community. As for how developers can catch his eye, Moledina specifically called out the Independent Games Festival, Indiecade, and PAX 10 as fantastic showcases that he keeps an eye on. (Shank is a finalist for this year's Excellence in Visual Art IGF category.)

That doesn't mean Moledina and EA Partners are taking all-comers. When asked about the group's position toward handling iPhone projects, Moledina said it's "not off the table, but [PC and console publishing] is where our core competency lies and we feel we have the most to offer developers."

For more on the latest EA Partners signings, check out GameSpot's previews of Shank and DeathSpank.

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