Digital Chocolate’s Marc Metis Explains Army Attack Strategy

Late last month, Digital Chocolate quietly released its newest game, Army Attack, to Facebook just a week or so ahead of Zynga’s debut of a similar product, Empires & Allies. Both games join Global Warfare developer Kabam and several smaller developers in exploring the hardcore strategy genre on Facebook. While we’re still waiting to see which games emerge victorious, we interview Digital Chocolate President Marc Metis on Army Attack’s strategy now that the game is live and the strategy genre growing.

To date, Army Attack has 2.1 million monthly active users and 446,000 daily active users. Empires & Allies has 1.1 million MAU and 526,000 DAU. Global Warfare, meanwhile, has 698,000 MAU and 75,000 DAU. You can follow each of these games’ traffic patterns on AppData, our tracking service for social games and developers.

Inside Social Games: Army Attack launched with a single-player campaign and some light social features that allow players to visit one another’s armies. Will you be adding player-versus-player combat to the game in future iterations?

Marc Metis: We will be rolling out PvP to the game, but we haven’t announced when, yet. We’re also working on other features and some surprises. What we’re trying to do here is create a game that blends [real time strategy] elements with proven Facebook mechanics in a way that’s a real game with deep and satisfying gameplay. Which is difficult to do all at once. Getting a polished game and getting cooperative gameplay has been a starting point, and PvP is a natural evolution that’s been in our road map [since the beginning].

ISG: Did you know about Zynga’s Empires & Allies when you were conceptualizing Army Attack?

Metis: Not when we green-lit the game, no. It’s not as huge surprise, though. It’s a big market and there were other players out there with [strategy] games. We’re trying to deliver a fun and easy to get into experience with real gameplay and depth. We don’t shy away from being a war game. When you jump in, it feels like a war game from the start, not like a citybuilder you’re already playing. We don’t need to build a war game that will appeal to every demographic under the sun. We’re going for it.

ISG: Real time strategy is a genre nobody seems to want to fully realize on Facebook, as the very nature of the platform is asynchronous, which is why so many strategy games are currently turn-based. Which elements of the RTS genre did you focus on for Army Attack, if not the “real time” part?

Metis: You can’t just take [RTS gameplay] and slap that on Facebook in its old incarnations and expect it to work in the same way. Players don’t want that much complexity, but there are a significant number of players that want a deeper, more real gameplay experience.

When we launched the game, we felt no one had yet cracked the code in making a great war themed game on Facebook. We do have that balance of elements where if you want to play it like a traditional RTS, you can move quickly and it will respond virtually when you move and [the enemy characters] will also attack you while you’re away. The AI lets you play how you want. There’s all kinds of signs of life, of battle going on. If you step away from it, there’s not a huge punishment for that. And if you want to slow down and think strategically, you can pause as well. That lifts the best elements of RTS and turn-based games.

ISG: A core element to strategy games, especially ones that feature PvP combat, is the idea of losing. We’ve heard developers say that it’s actually difficult to encourage strategy gamers to attack one another initially because the Facebook demographic seems to be conflict averse. Especially when it’s people from their friends list they’re attacking.

Metis: We have some experience in this area with MMA Pro Fighter and we’ve taken lessons from that [game] to advance our approach [to combat]. We believe that you don’t have to part ways with friends in real life because of a game, you just have to approach it reasonably. People love competition. But we won’t be so punitive that all your efforts and progress get crushed by someone else.

There’s also benefits to competition between people beyond your friends [through random match-ups]. It’s challenging and gets people’s competitive juices flowing, but you feel like it’s fair. If there’s someone just ahead of you, and we haven’t taken something from you or set you back too much, [it feels] both fun and fair. That is one of the differences between truly really hardcore games on other platforms [and our games].

ISG: You’ve alluded to the concept of “real” games on Facebook for “real” gamers. What do you mean when you say “real” in this context?

Metis: You know it when you see it. We try and have games that go beyond simple click compulsion and have some strategy elements. The core idea that [the game] is easy to get into, but if you choose to master it, you can go a lot deeper. There’s a few ways [to definite] real gaming.

[For gamers], there are groups of people who spend money on games, spend money regularly on games, or spend an inordinate amount of time on games and openly consider games to be their hobby. This is in contrast to people who will play games, but won’t identify with the experience. Or [people] who will spend time in a game, but not spend money on it. There is a difference between a simple time-wasting diversion and something you want to spend time and money on.

There’s some correlation between types of games people will spend money on and types that are pure diversions. Not all games that have high MAUs monetize, not all of them serve people who identify as [gamers]. If you offer games that go beyond the simple click compulsion with elements of strategy and competition, and allow them to go deeper than what [they] find in the first sessions of gameplay, you can tap into [both] those audiences. Few companies are well positions to understand both, [because] hardcore gaming as it’s been defined by consoles [is different from] the very specific approaches and mechanics on Facebook, which in many ways are a world of their own.

ISG: So now that Army Attack is live and set for some content updates, what else can we expect to see from Digital Chocolate in the near future?

Metis: We have a number of other games coming out soon. You’ll also see us using our unique proprietary technology to take our games to other platforms, such as mobile. We started off on Millionaire City, that’s done well for us on mobile on both iPhone and Android. Don’t be surprised when you see Zombie Lane on a mobile platform in the future.