In this episode of the Mobile Gamedev Playbook, host Jon Jordan and GameRefinery by Vungle analyst Erno Kiiski and Game Growth Dev Altti Fromholdt join Vice President of Creative at Plarium, Nick Day. Together they give an inside look into the development process behind Raid: Shadow Legends and how it became one of the best known mobile games in the world and enjoyed by millions of players.
Nick spills the tea on influencer marketing tactics, retention strategies, and the art direction behind Raid: Shadow Legends. GameRefinery’s Erno and Altti discuss the market as a whole, meta elements in mobile games, and their own experience with Raid.
You can also watch the episode on YouTube:
Topics we will cover in this episode:
- Meta trends from midcore to casual games
- Collection meta trend
- Learning from previous projects
- Raid: Shadow Legends
- Finding your niche market
- How to balance an ever-increasing number of characters
- Keeping new and older players satisfied with the game
- Future of liveops
- Plarium Play
- Influencer marketing
- Mech Arena and its concept process
- Identifying game-market fit
[00:00:00] Jon Jordan: Hello and welcome to the Mobile GameDev Playbook. Thanks for tuning in for another episode. This podcast is about what makes a great mobile game, what is and isn’t working for mobile game designers, and all the latest trends. I’m your host, Jon Jordan, and we have three guests on the podcast today. Joining us, we have Altti Fromholdt, who is a content creator at GameRefinery by Vungle. How’s it going, Altti?
[00:00:26] Altti Fromholdt: Pretty good, pretty good. How about you, Jon?
[00:00:27] Jon Jordan: Yes, yes, very good. Erno Kiiski. How’s it going, Erno? Chief game analyst of the US at GameRefinery.
[00:00:35] Erno Kiiski: It’s going great, Jon. Thank you.
[00:00:37] Jon Jordan: Good, good, and our extra special guest, the one with the expertise, is Nick, Nicholas Day, vice president of creative at Plarium. How’s it going, Nicholas?
[00:00:47] Nicholas Day: It’s going well. Thank you for having me on the show.
[00:00:49] Jon Jordan: Good. We’re going to discuss meta trends, to begin with, and then we’re going to be focusing on Plarium and what you guys have been doing. You’ve had some very successful games. I will dig into how you made those games successful and some of your learnings there. Kicking us off, Erno, we’re going to talk a bit about meta trends. Tell us more.
Meta trends from midcore to casual games
[00:01:11] Erno Kiiski: Yes. Meta, so first of all meta as a subject is super broad, we could spend a whole hour talking about it, and depending on what angle we want to take and so on, but if we look at a little bit of just the trends on what we have seen, where the market has been evolving in different genres, and so on. Especially if we start with mid-core genres, the market has been quite stacked, for example, in RPGs.
There haven’t been too many new entries on the market; there haven’t been any big changes, especially at the top, on what meta layers there are. Of course, if we have to highlight something from last year, I would say Cookie Run: Kingdom is the one to highlight. It’s an RPG game, character collector RPG, quite a familiar meta overall, but it brought fresh air to the meta systems they had, which focused on the base building side, so they had the base building meta over there on top of the character collector meta. In a sense, we have seen a few elements in city builder strategy games and added to the RPG experience.
Funnily enough, if you look at the strategy market on the mid-core side, we have seen for a long time that many of these strategy games have been putting more emphasis on the actual RPG meta element, on RPG mechanics. Having a much heavier focus on the character features, so if you look at, let’s say, State of Survival, it has a very heavy focus on the RPG modes and developing those characters. For example, last year, Puzzles & Survival was one of the few games that entered the top-grossing 200. The game is a 4X strategy game matched with puzzle RPGs, so you have characters to collect that you battle within the puzzle RPG format and layer. Those are, I would say, the mid-core notions that I would highlight.
Then, if we go to the other side of the spectrum and look at the casual side, the noteworthy things or the meta elements the games have and so on. I would say, definitely, a trend that is going on and probably is going to continue, especially now after the post-IDFA era of the market. It’s naturally the hyper-casual games adding meta elements, and bringing this term that many people are using, the ‘hybrid-casual’ approach to games. Having the hybrid monetisation of IAPs, IAAs but having this hyper-casual element is very appealing; it’s highly marketable core gameplay, but then the meta elements bring long-term retention with monetisation possibilities.
Classic examples, already years old, are Archero and Art of War and Mr Autofire that you realise the RPG meta side. If you talk about the recent trends in that market, especially at the top, we have seen multiple puzzle games that fall into this category. One of biggest hits, I would say from last year, it’s a game called Zen Match, which is a game from a company called Good Job Games which used to do hyper-casual games only but now, they released this game called Zen Match, which is basically a solitaire mahjong game. It’s really simple puzzle core gameplay; they added a really simple decoration meta as a progression vector, which we have seen in many casual games, but an even lighter approach than that. So as a retention play, you are constantly getting somewhere, getting further and further, and so on. That combination was able to find a massive audience, and it’s now a top-grossing 100 game in the US.
It’s the same format a game called Match 3D used, from Lion Studios, which is this core gameplay, really familiar with many hyper-casual puzzles. There is, basically, a big pile of items, and you need to find two similar and combine them in a limited time. Then, in that game, the meta was actually– You could argue that this isn’t even a meta, but they relied heavily on the social elements; they had a guild system right from the get-go and a robust recurring event framework of competitions and stuff like that. That was the meta element of the game, but the actual monetisation and everything, it’s still all about the decor and so on.
If we look at those two games and then look at the last year’s biggest match-three, megahit Royal Match, that’s basically a game that combines both of those elements. It has a really, really simple renovation progression vector meta that the Zen Match has, and it has exactly the same social framework and the recurring looping event framework that the Match 3D had. For example, Royal Match is in the top two match-three in the US market. It’s had massive growth. It’s been a big, big hit on the market.
Collection meta trend
Then, one last thing I’d like to highlight is collection metas and collection elements on many of these games. This is especially true if you’re looking at the casino market and slots games. During the past year, many of these older games, especially now post IDFA, especially casino games, are struggling because of the new games; they are niche games trying to find massive casino fanatic or slots fanatic players can be really difficult for new games. How can you retain your players in your existing games when many of the top games have been implementing collection meta systems during the past two years? Basically, how they work is that you have seasons, and then you have albums with whatever you are collecting; stickers, cute pets, or whatever.
Then, as you complete these albums, you get rewards from that. It doesn’t necessarily impact the gameplay directly, but it gives this sense of progression from session to session and this small meta element that you are going further and collecting something compared to just spending money and just rolling the slots and so on. Those are some of the bigger trends that I would like to highlight, but as I said, we could talk about this for ages.
[00:09:21] Jon Jordan: You clearly could. I wasn’t sure if you were going to run out of breath there; I was going to jump in, and then you started on another one—meta on the meta. Oh, well. It’s always loads of meta, isn’t it? Anyway. Good, so that’s a good trend. You can never have too many metas, and the whole mashing stuff up is clearly– We’re going to have another year of that, of more hybridisation and finding clever ways of taking interesting features from certain genres and bashing them into other ones. That’s good innovation.
Okay, so from meta, we’re going to go on to something a bit more, I don’t know, un-meta. We’re going to go on to talk a bit about Plarium and what you guys are doing there, Nicholas. For people who don’t know, we have actually mentioned Plarium quite a bit in previous episodes, but for people who haven’t heard of you. Can you give us an in-a-nutshell version of who Plarium is? What games are you focusing on?
[00:10:16] Nicholas Day: Oh, okay. I can give you. I’ll give you the Cliffs notes version of who we are and where we came from. Plarium is a subsidiary of Aristocrat. We were acquired a couple of years ago, so we’re in the same corporate family as Big Fish Games Product Madness, and it’s been a lot of fun. That’s been able to drive a lot of the success in recent years. We got our start in casual games way back in 2009, and probably the first big games that broke out into the Western market. First, we did casual games, which we were developing mainly back in the days of Social and Facebook games. Remember those? Some of you kids don’t know. Back in the heady days of social media games, we had some published strategy games, mostly on Russian-speaking networks or former CIS countries, like Odnoklassniki and many other ones.
Then we broke onto Facebook with Total Domination in 2011. From there, we kind of built a kingdom of multiple strategy games, in different settings, in different genres, sub-genres, like Stormfall, Age of War, Soldiers, Inc. Total domination, Sparta: War of Empires. You’ll see a recurring theme. These games did really, really, really well on Facebook, and they not only paid our rent but also allowed us to develop different game genres. That drove us into mobile. Our first mobile breakthrough hit was Vikings: War of Clans, which came out from our Krasnodar studio. Amazing game. Still performing. Still being played. Then from there, that triggered the jump to mobile. We went to mobile-first, and then we started diversifying back into casual, action games, RPG games. We had a bunch of different games we tried on the side, and the biggest one that came out as a success after that was Raid: Shadow Legends. Which you may have heard of somewhere in some advertising. Small game.
That brings us up to the present day. We’ve got Raid: Shadow Legends, which has been out for a couple years. We’re coming up on our third anniversary. We’ve also just launched Mech Arena, which is a team mech shooter 5v5. We launched that this summer. Those are our two big flagship titles right now.
Then we’ve got a whole bunch of weird stuff in development. We’ve got more strategy games we’re working on. Some more casual offerings. I’ve also forgotten to mention Lost Island. Lost Island was probably our biggest casual hit and a bunch of other projects that we’re working on that I can’t talk about. That’s where we’re at now, and I think Raid’s the elephant in the room. That’s the loudest one, so it’s a place to start.
Learning from previous projects
[00:12:51] Jon Jordan: I think it’s always interesting the trends in development. It wasn’t that long ago when people were told, “If you’re good at one genre, then double down and make it something else.” Is that so?
[00:13:02] Nicholas Day: Yes.
[00:13:03] Jon Jordan: You guys have flipped it around.
[00:13:07] Nicholas Day: One, you get tired of it, man. If you tell us to make one more goddamn strategy game. We loved it, but you want to stretch your wings and try different things. Also, we’re a larger company with multiple studios, so all the studios can try their hats at different things. Also, we worked with some sister studios, like the studio that I work with the most is Kharkiv in Ukraine. We’ve got about 600 people there, and because we have this expertise distributed throughout the other company, we can lean on the other studio. If we’re starting to do a new genre, usually, we’re not going from scratch. We’ll go and say, “What worked for you? What didn’t work for you in this project?” We’re able to recover a lot of that experience.
Raid: Shadow Legends
[00:13:51] Jon Jordan: Good. We’re going to focus on Raid for a bit now. Altti, you are our external expert, as opposed to Nicholas, who will be our internal expert but may not be entirely honest about everything. No, I’m sure he will be, but can you set the scene for people who don’t know about Raid. What’s that game about, and why has it been so successful over three years? Constantly growing. What’s been going there?
[00:14:20] Altti Fromholdt: For sure. Of course, Raid, in my opinion, is a pretty typical turn-based RPG with a really, really nice emphasis on the graphics. That’s, for example, the first thing that got me to install the game back in the day. The funny thing was, actually, that I used to play World of Warcraft quite a lot; I caught the orc, and it was really familiar. I thought, “Hey, I might want to try this game.” Let’s say it’s really easy to get into the game. The first-time user experience is pretty fast, you can get easy access to the game, and you can easily understand what it’s all about.
Then, of course, the characters and all that. That’s when you get hooked, and in that sense, I would say it’s a typical turn-based RPG. Really nice emphasis on the characters, which is, of course, all about the game. You’re getting gachas, and you’re operating your items, collecting the characters to be different levels and all that.
[00:15:38] Jon Jordan: Yes, certainly. I’ve had a similar experience. I’ve gone through a few of those games. I just finished with Star Wars, or at that time it came out, Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes. Which is one of the first big Western similar games. There was also MARVEL: Strike Force going through a bit of a wobble at the time since recovered. Nicholas, I don’t know how much you can delve into that. Clearly, that genre was, at that point, a growing genre – Go on.
Finding your niche market
[00:16:04] Nicholas Day: Yes. Some people even said things like, “Oh, it’s done to death.” Summoners War has already been out for how many years? My God. Then MARVEL Strike Force, you’re right. They were wobbly at the time and, you know, Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes. I think it was a weird time in the market because when we came in, a lot of conventional wisdom was like, “There’s no room for another turn-based RPG like this.” I think you’re exactly right. When we made it, there were a lot of Asian-style gacha turn-based collection RPGs.
We were really doubling down into like, “We’ll make one for Diablo III fans,” or, “If you really like Dragon Age Inquisition, and you don’t care about cartoon characters. That was what we set out to do. Also, it’s almost a trap too because it’s very niche. It’s not broadly accessible. There are the pretty adult themes and grimdark and all that. We were a little nervous. Even we did it, and they were like, “Oh, I hope the audience is there, and I hope they like this game.”
[00:17:16] Erno Kiiski: Yes, actually, I have to say that, like you said, in a way, it’s niche, but it still amazes me that it’s still so unique in terms of its teams and the way the fanbase is talking. If you look at the mobile market, there isn’t really any other game with that type of vibe, even now, in the market, which makes it still, to me at least, really appealing and unique in that sense.
[00:17:51] Nicholas Day: Yes, and the people who like it, they like it a lot. Like our art and design team, we tried other iterations of stuff. Maybe we will go a little bit lighter. Now, we don’t like drawing it. We play to our strengths, I think.
[00:18:09] Altti Fromholdt: I have to give credit, of course, to the art team because we’ve already discussed this quite a lot. More and more new characters have been coming in, and we’ve always said whether or not to look at the graphics. The design is really, really neat for each new character coming out.
[00:18:32] Nicholas Day: Our game director, actually, this was his first full game that he had complete ownership of, and he used to be our art director. That was his background. He was fully coming from almost that graphics-first perspective. The team that he built and the passion behind that it’s been a guiding principle all the way through the game. That is Dimitri. I will not. You’re out there somewhere, Dimitri.
[00:19:05] Jon Jordan: The only class I haven’t liked is the dwarves, but that could just be me. I was like, “Oh, I’m not sure about these dwarves. I can see what they’re trying to do with dwarves, but it’s not.” Then the shadow king came in.
[00:19:14] Nicholas Day: It’s hard to do a different dwarf.
[00:19:16] Jon Jordan: I know it is.
[00:19:17] Nicholas Day: Like, “Let’s just make them all Scottish.”
How to balance an ever-increasing number of characters
[00:19:21] Jon Jordan: I guess one of the interesting points we’re getting on here is that you have this very deep, I guess faction systems. I can’t remember how it shipped. It’s something crazy like 10 or 12. Then over time, these new design characters have become available, and that’s obviously a great retention mechanic. Clearly, I did wonder at the time, it could become a massive issue because the more you make, the harder it is to distinguish characters, new ones are harder to do, and basically, you are stuck to some humanoid. They’re basically all humanoid, even though some are dragons to some degree.
You launch with so much stuff. It was quite overwhelming when you started playing the game; it’s like this enormous game, you don’t just ship with a little bit of stuff. Were you a bit nervous that there was so much in there that you had created a bit of over expectations for what comes next?
[00:20:16] Nicholas Day: Well, we weren’t sure we had enough, to be honest, because like some of the conventional, how many heroes did Summoners War have? And the content approach, from different gacha games, look at Summoners War, they were doing different colouration schemes, so they can okay, now we’ve got four times as much content. Even when we set out to make it, we’re like, okay, well, we don’t need 1,200 champions because we’re going to just do so much with the ones we have. Then we just kept going.
I think we’ve got to be pushing 700 by now in some of the examples on the market that we’re looking at; we didn’t think launching with 300 was enough; we thought people would burn through it pretty fast. Now it is coming to the point where we have to make tough decisions every time that we’re adding new champions; we went through a really intense spurt because the more you add, now the responses isn’t “Oh, wow, great, I’ve got a new champion” its “Hey, you’ve just lowered by summoning chances for the one I actually wanted”. Finding that balance between making sure they’re still good, that they’re still applicable, and that there are enough places for them all to have their unique role to shine in the game. That’s the ongoing challenge.
[00:21:27] Altti Fromholdt: Yes, I would say one of the interesting things as well that, that Raid has it for certain levels if you’re really, in the end game, you might benefit, if you are so lucky to have a couple of the same legendaries as well and you levelled up those to the peak. That’s a really interesting aspect of the game because it helps you a lot. If you check out the top teams for the levels, you can almost see that the team set is constant, and there are always two same legendary champions. That’s the best team for each level for you to complete the level in the fastest time. That’s also an interesting thing, in my opinion, for the endgame, as legendaries are always hard to get, but getting two same legendary, that’s even harder. I suppose that’s a good thing for the whales, for sure. That there’s something to aim for.
[00:22:35] Nicholas Day: Yes. Then you’re also always trying to shake up that end game too, as in the long term, what you’ve just described is bad. What we’re working on behind the scenes is going, okay, where’s that next progression level going to go? How can we find more places for variety for them to split up, because eventually, they will all start pulling up at the top, and you have to make a new top.
Then also, there’s one of the things that we can talk about this a little bit later, but the temptation is like, okay, now we’ve got enough content, we’ve got our core feature set, we’ll just focus on live ops, we’ll just do systems-based content, and call it a day and now we’re done. We don’t want to do that because we feel it’s important to balance that with new feature development and add whole new gameplay modes and things to do. That’s the dark voice of Sauron whispering in our ear, like, just do systems-based, just do procedural content generation, give yourself a break, get thee behind me, Satan.
Keeping new and older players satisfied with the game
[00:23:39] Jon Jordan: I guess what are the changes you still have because obviously, the game has been out for a long time. As you say, there are these people who are getting to the status, maxing out, and pushing the available content, exhausting it. Equally, every day, you get people downloading it for the first time. You have this interesting thing about live games you have this– I think sometimes one of the biggest stretching points becomes the balance for the end game stuff, which always has to be, you don’t want those guys to churn out or those people to churn out, but equally, you always want, and you guys have been able to advertising later, but you guys have been very good at advertising this game across broad channels. Always bringing in new players, and equally don’t want it to be totally like, well, there are 700 characters in this game, I’m never going to collect them, which is, are there ways in which you can try and do that or those are just fundamentally sort of different?
[00:24:30] Nicholas Day: Yes, not all of them are good. Not all of them are good in places that people care about; some champions are good in very specific places. You’ve also got a lot of lower-level ones and ones that are good at different points in the game for what you’re trying to do. It is a real challenge, and I think that is something that we face as a new player coming in and going, “Oh, I’m never going to catch up to those guys.”
Make sure that you have satisfying gameplay experiences at multiple stages. I think the early game is really satisfying, late-game has tons of stuff to do if you’re a senior player, and some of the challenges and our current focus is making sure that we’re also taking care of those mid-level players, the ones who’ve just come out of that early stage gameplay, they know what they’re doing, and that they have enough to do and also feel like they’re not lost in a notion of content. Then we’re always updating our onboarding to make sure that the new stuff, all the new stuff that we’ve added in the past few years, we’re actually explaining that to people who come into the game when they come in.
[00:25:36] Jon Jordan: Because there are a lot of different sorts of modes now, you’ll probably forget them all. I think, basically, there were three-plus guilds. Guilds weren’t even in when it started, were they? Traditionally now [cross talk] is something that comes in late because guilds are a big feature in itself, but now you have Boom Tower and various other things. At some point, will the voice of Sauron take over, and you just move to live ops because the whole thing just becomes a huge mess?
Future of liveops
[00:26:11] Nicholas Day: One of the things that we are working on right now is basically if you’re looking at, when does it stop being feature development? When does it start being live ops? If we’re talking about trends that we see in the market right now, if you’re looking at many live ops campaigns, or even crossover integrations or something like that, it’s like releasing another game within the game. They’re huge.
It’s really intimidating, what’s happening in the market today, because the expectation is not like, “Well, we run another calendar event this week, the challenge is that tower, go for it,” it’s like go, here’s your exclusive content that you can only use her, plus your free gift, plus your progression mechanics, plus your storyline, your supporting content, the expectation and the bar has been raised, really, really heavily.
What we’re doing right now is one of the focuses for development for our game designers in the coming year is more tools and automation, not to do procedurally generated content, but basically build those toolkits you can make deeper, more engaging live ops experiences that have more moving parts, that are cooler, that have more depth and more freedom, but that also don’t take a year and a half to make. In the past, one of our game designers went to the dev team, like, I’ve got a cool idea. Let’s code it from scratch. We don’t do that anymore. Now it’s building that internal toolkit so that we can continue doing this stuff and make it so if you’re the player you’re looking at, you’re like, “Oh my God, this must-have taken years to make,” we’re like, “No, it didn’t. Took three weeks,” and then a whole bunch of artwork. That’s the dream.
[00:27:47] Jon Jordan: Cool. A bit more of a specific question now. The game is available on mobile, and I guess it’s a mobile-first game, but also available on browser?
[00:27:58] Nicholas Day: Yes.
[00:28:00] Jon Jordan: Is that just historically because that’s where you started out?
[00:28:06] Nicholas Day: It’s not available in browser. We have our own PC client, Plarium Play, which we’re actually– it’s a good time to ask you about that because we’re in the midst of doing a rebrand and expansion for it. That platform, we did mobile-first, and then we released Raid on Plarium Play. It’s really interesting, you see, the people who are playing Raid on Plarium Play are not the same average bears who are playing on mobile. They’re dramatically different, which is interesting.
Even on our end, we’re trying to parse out is that just how would that have looked if we had it on the PC client first versus mobile? Basically, those players are way more engaged; they’re playing longer game sessions. They have higher lifetime value; they’ve got longer lifetime loyalty, just on Plarium Play, that’s accounting for 30% of our revenue right now for the PC client, which is stunning. I think with Raid, most of the players who are playing Raid on PC are the serious hardcore Raid players like the guys who were running it in the background for 19 hours a day who never missed a single event, who are super switched on, who have it with all the graphics maxed out.
We’ve just launched some other third-party titles on the group. We’ve got hustle cast on it right now. It’ll be interesting as we release more games onto that platform, come ask me in a year if that trend still holds true, or if it’s just a Raid phenomenon, but that blew us away after we launched it. Oh, my God, way more engaged.
[00:29:59] Jon Jordan: Cool. Okay, so let’s, actually, at least one more question on Raid, so even if you haven’t played the game, you may have come across, they’ve been quite active over the last couple of years in various forms of advertising. Some of it’s just standard UA, some of it’s more, I guess, branded advertising, I suppose, so to speak, but also you’ve done the influencing stuff as well. Can you talk a bit about how that has progressed and is it one of the cases that you do a certain channel of advertising and you get the best benefits of that and then it takes off or tail off and then you look for something else, and then you work your way down, I don’t know, a waterfall of availability?
[00:30:45] Nicholas Day: That’s a good question; let me parse that out, let me take a step back, and I’ll tell you how we started with the game, right, so when we launched, influencer marketing was basically like the third leg of a three-leg system, so we had like all of our traditional Google and Facebook advertising, platforms, affiliates, and then with the influencer marketing which we hit. We scaled up pretty quickly, like when we went up the gate, and that rapidly became like a very major part of it, and I think if you look at the success or the fame, or the notoriety if you will, or infamy or Raid, I think we did a test last year, it was like 50% of the US population has brand recognition of Raid: Shadow Legends. We’re like, “No way.” Now, where they heard that from, some saw it from the meme, right. Some of them saw it from their friend talking about the ads, and a lot of people who are aware of the brand aren’t aware that it’s a game or what the game is about, right, but we would never have gotten that recognition if we hadn’t gone that direction with the influencer marketing, and I think like, what you do see over time with influencer marketing is like you can’t exhaust certain channels.
You don’t see the same performance over time, and then you can’t do the same thing, so as long as there’s enough new stuff happening in the game or enough new content, or there are enough new angles to cover from it, you can get a lot of life out of those channels, but after a certain point in time, it’s the same with performance marketing. I think now, at this stage in its life cycle, this is why we’re starting to branch out and explore other methods of advertising and more brand-based stuff, because they’ve already heard about it, especially on specific channels.
[00:32:46] Jon Jordan: I guess, it wasn’t just doing influencers advertising, I guess, most famously you had Ninja as a character in the game, that’s obviously a fair amount of work integration wise; obviously, you can’t do that more than really once can you or?
[00:33:06] Nicholas Day: Sure we can, yes, the Ninja integration was an evolution, I think, from a lot of the influencer activities that had gone before, and it was a no-brainer partnering with him and with his audience. The campaign worked really well for us, and people who were playing the game were like, “Oh, cool, oh, sweet, I got a really strong champion for free, awesome, yes, job done, nice.”
It also brought like, that partnership with Ninja was phenomenal, he was great to work with, and also his fan base was really committed, when they came into the game, they played to get his champion, and then they kept playing because they liked the game, and that was a great matchup. Would we keep doing it that way forever? Probably not, will you see more familiar faces in Raid going forward? Yes, absolutely, I don’t know if they’ll all be influencers or that same personality, but even when we were doing like– when our game director had the original pitch for the game, I was like looking at the factions, I’m like, “What’s this big empty spot over here?” He’s like, “That’s where we put stuff from outside in the world.” It was designed to accommodate that from the beginning, which could be anything.
You could be seeing other IP – cough, cough – who knows maybe, possibly, can’t say one way or the other, but different personalities, basically whoever we think is both going to resonate with the existing player base that we have and also attract new audiences where we’re down to explore.
[00:34:35] Altti Fromholdt: I guess the latest for me as well which isl really interesting, like CS: Go player, that’s really interesting for me personally, plus a free character as well.
[00:34:52] Nicholas Day: Yes, again, we’re an international company, but the game, like Raid, is developed in Ukraine and he’s a hometown boy, that was another aspect of it when we were looking at it is, when we were working with him, he was in Kyiv, and we were in Kharkiv, and that was a really cool thing to have like “Local boy makes good.” I think that spoke to us on the team when we were doing it because it was like, “Oh, he’s the greatest gamer in the world, and he’s right around the corner, and he’s on our home team.” That was really cool for a bunch of reasons.
[00:35:29] Erno Kiiski: What is actually really interesting to me if we look at the market that most of these collaborations, or different collaborations that different games do whether it’s a celebration or other IPs and so on, is that often naturally, they have their events and then they might monetise something, but what you guys did that you went basically full-on with an engagement, or like retention play with the like daily logging and you get a free character.
Was it just like– the idea was that, okay, we have this massive influencer, like Ninja, and then we get the audience, and we get it like an engagement play more and more.
[00:36:10] Nicholas Day: Absolutely, more of an engagement play, more of a reactivation play, and user acquisition, the game does just fine, like if people go and enjoy it, we’re not having a lack of things to go spend money on in the game. It’s more about-
[00:36:29] Altti Fromholdt: That I can count.
[00:36:31] Nicholas Day: Yes, we’ve got tons of content, we don’t feel the need to go and make more to monetise, so it’s more about making sure everybody has a good time and has a reason to go check it out.
Mech Arena and its concept process
[00:36:43] Jon Jordan: Cool, so we’re coming to an end, but could we talk a bit about Mech Arena as well, which is the more recent game and one that you’ve personally been working on? I guess the first thing is, broadly in the same mid-core arena, but it’s a real-time five-by-five; if I’m correct, is there anything obvious from Raid that has fed into this, or is this a bit more of a thing?
[00:37:09] Nicholas Day: I think probably, some of the boring stuff in the backend that you don’t really see or notice as a player that much more like maybe the offer segmentation and the way that we present packages and some of that under the hood, “Oh, okay, this is how we do our rotation for special offers in the store.” Right, but nothing super exciting in terms of gameplay.
I also think just the artwork and the graphic expertise, the fidelity of the graphics is not as high as Raid because it’s not supposed to be, we designed it to work on more games, but if you start looking around the details of the character, you’re like, “Some of these were once Raid guys, I can tell.” That’s like one of the strengths of the studio, and I think when you start seeing like our marketing ramp up, you start seeing the commercials, you’d be like, “Oh yes, definitely the team that does Raid, okay, awesome, great.” In terms of the actual gameplay itself, two teams have been working in parallel for like, Mech has been in development for years and years, like side-by-side with Raid.
[00:38:16] Jon Jordan: Was this thing where you were looking at the market and saying, “This is the game people you want now.” Or you say, “This is something that’s been developed for one.” It was just that people wanted to make this game at the studio and people said, “Yes, go ahead, this is going to be a good game.
[00:38:30] Nicholas Day: I think a mix of both; we started working on the concept for Mech Arena almost five years ago, four years ago, right, so if you looked out in that space you had Wargaming with like World of Tanks, Splits, and World of Warships, you had Robot Wars, so there were a lot of those games out there, but a lot of them were very, very, very geared towards that, me, 40-year-old dudes, and that very hard, or like, “Hey, do you remember playing Mech Warrior when you were a kid?”
[00:39:06] Jon Jordan: It was always Mech Warrior.
[00:39:07] Nicholas Day: “Hell yes.” Or like Battle Tech, but then we were playing a lot of Overwatch as well, and then we were looking at Rocket League and just splitting that difference, it makes something more accessible that everybody from all age groups can get into and really stress more of the competitive sports side aspects, less death, murder, explosions and more fun and competition and team play, and that’s where that came from.
Yes, when it really started coming together like a year ago, like, “Yes, that looks like the concept documentation, that’s exactly what we wanted.”
[00:39:46] Jon Jordan: It’s a concept that came up five years ago, and it only started coming together a year ago, that sounds like quite a process.
[00:39:52] Nicholas Day: No, again, we were jumping, this is an entirely new type of– When we set out and said, “Hey, we’re going to make a real-time action game that has to be stable on servers and devices all around the world.” Like this was completely new. Never touched anything like this. A lot of that time was spent figuring out how to do the server architecture. All the basics, like underlying tech and stuff, and just finding the fun and balance of the gameplay. Figuring out how to do all the modelling to test all the different levels and balance them and stuff like that. Cut us some slack, man. It’s a brand new genre for us. It was really fun.
Identifying game-market fit
[00:40:31] Jon Jordan: How do you see this fitting into some sort of trend?
[00:40:36] Erno Kiiski: Yes. Several well, shooters are getting bigger and bigger and bigger. If something like, I wouldn’t go and compete in, let’s say, battle royale genre or realistic military shooter or something like that. You’re fighting against Tencent and Activision with Call of Duty, and so and so. Good luck over there. I would say somewhere that it is definitely a market that’s, sure there are games like I mentioned War Robots is probably the closest competitor to Wargaming games and so on. I would say that there’s more room than those third-person or first-person shooters that we see at the very top of the market at the moment.
Yes, definitely, I see potential there, and like Nicholas said, that’s also what actually appealed to me when I tried it because I played War Robots for a while. For me, their big problem was a bit too much of a hardcore approach. It’s not quite a game for me, but it’s exactly that when I tried to actually make Arena. It’s a bit more easily approachable, a bit more up my alley, let’s say. The essence of the game is–
[00:41:59] Nicholas Day: I’m really happy to hear you like it. I think that that was one of the other things like, let’s make the game sessions shorter, let’s make it faster, let’s be like less time going around and trying to find– I remember when I was a kid, and I played Mech Warrior, one of my favourite parts was like, “I’m going to walk around for 20 minutes to find somebody to shoot.” That does not work very well on mobile. In this one, it’s just like you jump in and blow things up in a minute or 30 seconds or less. That was one of the core pillars of the experience.
We’re working on other stuff too. We’re not done throwing ourselves at new genres with varying levels of success. I think that’s one of the nice things about having– We still have legacy games from ten years ago that are still active and are still being played. It’s great because it also just gives us the freedom to play with trying out some of these new projects.
[00:42:57] Jon Jordan: Cool, good. On that note, I think we will leave it there. We covered a lot of stuff there. Thank you very much, Nicholas, for your enthusiasm and talking us through some of that stuff. That was really good to know.
[00:43:13] Nicholas Day: Thank you.
[00:43:15] Jon Jordan: Of course, Erno and Altti, thanks for your expertise as well.
[00:43:18] Erno Kiiski: Thank you.
[00:43:18] Altti Fromholdt: All right.
[00:43:19] Jon Jordan: Thanks to everyone for watching and everyone’s listening; some people are listening and watching, depending on how you’re viewing us. Any feedback is always gratefully received. Of course, subscribe through your channels of choice. Every month or so, we talk to the people building out the mobile game industry. The biggest games sector is still growing incredibly quickly and still releasing these innovative products coming out, so keep it here to find out what’s going on. Thanks for watching and listening, and see you again next time.