Our hit battle and strategy game, Monster Legends, was released for iOS in December, hot on the heels of the global Facebook launch in September 2013. As the game hits iPhones and iPads around the world, we sat down with Social Point Head of Mobile, Alex Besenval, to understand the mechanisms behind the worldwide launch of the game. And to get his take on how to take a desktop title and convert it into a touchscreen gameplay experience, without missing a beat.
Feel free to leave a question for Alex in the comments below, and we’ll get back to you.
Monster Legends mobile came out within 3 months of the Flash launch. Why so quickly?
In this industry where everything moves at light speed, 3 months is enough time to get relevant conclusions about how a game is performing on the market. In 3 months we can get plenty of information about what the players like or dislike; where they are having issues with progress, or do not understand things the way we anticipate. This is the luxury of cross platform. All this precious data allows us to change a lot of things in the game based on feedback from “real” players, before the game is even out. Added to that there’s also all the rich experience and data we collected with Dragon City Mobile, our first mobile hit, which stood us in excellent stead when we came to release Monster Legends Mobile.
The bottom line is we had to re-think and re-create the whole interface of the game for mobile – Alex, Head of Mobile at Social Point.
How did you manage to bring this out so quickly?
Work on the mobile version of Monster Legends started roughly one and half months after the canvas version was released. From a production perspective, when you work on a cross platform game the advantage is that you never really start from scratch and there are plenty of potential synergies in your work plan. In the case of Monster Legends Mobile, we were able to use a lot of art, backend code, and the whole design of the game from the flash version (macro structure, balancing, etc…). This made our lives a lot easier and meant we could ship the mobile version in record time.
There’s always a flip side however. The cross platform spec required a much bigger effort to synchronize each version of the game; and provide players with a similar experience and continuity in their progress, regardless of the hardware. So there has to be a very high level of coordination between all production departments, and I have to say that the guys who achieved this did a really awesome job!
So the main challenge is creating the same look and feel from desktop computer to mobile – you have to review all possible interactions of all users on a smaller, touchscreen device. Everything that seems obvious or straightforward on the flash version has to be re-thought and adapted. For a start, just in terms of basic interactions with the hardware, what you do is different. With a PC/Mac you can not only click, but also move your cursor on game elements so that information appears, which is something you can’t do on a mobile device. With a handheld device players use different sets of movements – sliding one finger on screen to navigate in a menu, or using two fingers to zoom in or out and so on. Basically we have to negotiate completely different hardware and user behavior. Then there’s screen size, which is a limiting factor on mobile. It forces us to be creative and dedicate a lot of time on the re-alignment of buttons and functions into the game.
The bottom line is that we had to re-think and re-create the whole interface of the game for mobile.
Driving all of it is the knowledge that you have to deliver excellence to two groups of players: the ones that play only on one platform and expect that the game will match the specificity of this platform; and the ones that play Monster Legends on PC/Mac and mobile at the same time, and who expect continuity and coherence between the two platforms. Unsurprisingly this involves a lot of back and forth between designers, artists and developers. And a lot of focus groups (playtests with final users) to completely nail it.
Is the mobile version of ML identical to the Flash version? What is new/different/improved?
Well, 90% of the content is the same, which is the sine qua non of the cross platform experience. There are still one or two features missing on mobile which will be added in the next releases. On the plus side, the battles have been improved a lot. Users will notice this when they compare the Facebook version with the iOS. They are much more vivid.
So the battle elements have evolved in Monster Legends Mobile? Why and how did you do this?
We did it because combat is the major feature of the game. And because the mobile hardware capabilities allowed us to. Essentially we improved the perspective of the planes the monsters are fighting on, added camera zooms on the close combat attacks, and a ton of special effects. We also improved the framerate of the game (number of frames per second that your game is capable of displaying). All of this makes the battles feel more dynamic and slicker than ever.
Battles have taken on a new dimension in Monster Legends Mobile.
Do you have any plans to launch on Android?
We’re waiting to see how the game behaves on iOS devices first, and if things are good we will definitely consider it. I would love to see that happen soon!
Dragon City for mobile has been a major hit for Social Point – can you realistically expect to have another hit mobile game? Won’t you run the risk of “cannibalizing” your players?
We’ll be very happy if Monster Legends reaches the same level of success as Dragon City Mobile. The first results are very positive in that sense. But even if it doesn’t, launching Monster Legends Mobile will constitute a very positive move for Social Point, as it demonstrates our capacity to release top quality products in an ultra competitive market, and in record time
As for cannibalizing our players, this is something we kept in mind during the whole production process of the game. Cannibalization is when the introduction of a new product triggers a fall in revenues or market share of an existing product from the same company. In the case of Monster Legends Mobile and Dragon City Mobile, I see them as complementary rather than competitive games. The two games are pitched at different audiences and offer different gameplay experience. Monster Legends is focused on tactical battles and PvP, which makes it more “hardcore” than Dragon City; and more appealing to different kind of players. The other thing is that Dragon City Mobile was released almost 10 months ago. Some Dragon City players may be interested in discovering the brand new challenges and features present in Monster Legends. By the same token, Monster Legends players might also get to discover Dragon City.
At the end of the day, the idea is deliver more fun to more players. And the more games you have on the market, the more opportunities you have to cross-promote them. This tends to be a virtuous circle rather than something to be studiously avoided or treated with suspicion.
Monster Legends Facebook was voted one of the best games on Facebook in 2013. Does that put you under any pressure to deliver in iOS?
On the contrary. It means the game is good and that we have a brute diamond to work on and evolve as best we can.
Personal question – what’s your favorite part of gameplay in the new mobile version? And do you have any hints or tips to share with Monster Legends fans?
The battles are far more tactical than they initially look in the early combats in the Adventure Mode. Make sure you REALLY study your team composition before throwing your monsters into the battle. Their elemental category is a real key to success.
Interested in how we make our games cross-platform from a technical perspective? Check out this interview on MAKING DRAGON CITY MOBILE with Sergi Vélez, our Mobile tech lead. And why not download this comprehensive Slideshare, crammed with secret sauce!