Developer EA2D’s Dragon Age Legends represents an experiment in cross-pollination between console video games and social games. Below, we examine Legends’ life cycle before, during, and after the early March launch of its console sibling, Dragon Age 2.
Uneven Odds Before Dragon Age 2 Launches
Going into its alpha test phase in November 2010, Dragon Age Legends had some factors working against it. For one thing, other cross-pollination efforts between console video games and Facebook games like Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed game, Project Legacy, either struggled to find an audience or didn’t have long term potential outside the game’s release window, as was the case with the Dante’s Inferno tie-in game. For another, fantasy role-playing games on Facebook hadn’t quite found success at that point, probably because they suffered from lack of developer attention. Take, for example, Hammerfall RPG which we reviewed at the close of 2008 and Castle Age that we reviewed in early 2010. Both went through copyright issues with the art that they used and consequently lost players as the developers regrouped and re-did the graphics, even though the games were solid.
Dragon Age Legends did have one thing going for it pre-launch, however, in the form of strong art direction. While nowhere near as elaborate as the graphics in its console sibling, Dragon Age Legends uses a dynamic and highly stylized art style. The art work in Dragon Age Legends consists of finely drawn 2D avatars in 3D space and elaborate animations for battle sequences, with the characteristic “avatar bounce” of early flash RPG games such as Adventure Quest. There is a high level of detail to the art in game from character customization features to different rooms in each players’ constructable castle headquarters.
In late February 2011, Dragon Age Legends entered a closed beta ahead of Dragon Age 2’s March 8 launch and steadily climbed to over 50,000 monthly active users and 15,000 daily active users. Players that participated in the closed beta received early access to the game ahead of its official, keeping its MAU and DAU counts consistent through the launch phase.
Dragon Age 2 Launches, Numbers Climb
The original plan was to launch Legends the same day as Dragon Age 2’s launch, but developer EA2D kept the Facebook game in beta for an extra week, allowing players to invite their friends without requiring a code or EA.com registration to play the game. This resulted in a doubling of their daily active users from 20,000 to 40,000. A similar spike in DAU can be seen from March 18th to the 20th when Electronics Arts made a marketing push in their project “B R BFF?” for 100,000 Facebook “Likes” to unlock Dura’s Blue Flame – a magical amulet which enhanced avatar statistics in Dragon Age 2 – for all players earlier than the planned release of the item on March 25th.
Dragon Age Legends was initially marketed as a Dragon Age 2 promotion, with EA taking out ad space on traditional core game channels such as industry web site GameSpot in addition to Facebook. Beta key giveaways through those core channels tapped into an audience of gamer that otherwise wouldn’t bother with a Facebook game. Though Dragon Age Legends allows players to unlock content in Dragon Age 2, the game is intended to stand alone as a separate entity from the console game, integrating social elements through asynchronous multiplayer gameplay by using Facebook friends’ characters as party members in combat encounters. The content that Dragon Age Legends unlocks in Dragon Age 2 provides modest gameplay benefits like extra health points and small damage resistance percentages, the best item being the Dura’s Blue Flame item with a +23 attack bonus and 10% fire and ice damage.
Beyond Release, Audience Declines But Developer Expects Growth
Dragon Age 2 ultimately received mixed reviews in the weeks after its release. The initial influx of console players to Dragon Age Legends seems to have dropped off, with both MAU and DAU gradually falling. Even so, EA2D Producer Ethan Levy tells us that the developer expects the game to grow organically from friend to friend through viral sharing. Levy tells says the EA2D has developed a 12 month narrative outline for Dragon Age Legends, with a major content release planned every month in addition to existing weekly updates.
It could be the long-term planning in content releases that helps Dragon Age Legends succeed where Dante’s Inferno and Project Legacy appeared to fail in terms of sustaining growth. The social features that would increase Dragon Age Legend’s virality, however, are harder to plan for, as many social games struggle to create truly social experiences. Right now, even though the game integrates your friends’ characters into your game through the party system, there’s really not much interaction between the friends themselves aside from sending them notices when you use their character in battle, or visiting their castles merely to look at what they’ve built. In other words, there’s no viral sharing happening in Dragon Age Legends at this time, so we’re not sure how EA2D plans to build on it for the future. Levy declined to detail upcoming social features.
In the long run, however, we think Dragon Age Legends has a shot at sustaining growth. Levy says that the game monetizes effectively] through high level potions and powerful weapons. Moreover, it features a strong storyline, excellent UI, and a building and crafting element that appeals to players who are used to that kind of gameplay from other Facebook games. Dragon Age 2 might’ve received a lukewarm reception at launch, but through planned content releases of downloadable content for the console title, we expect to see renewed interest in Dragon Age Legends from the core gaming crowd.