Russia has a long history with PC strategy games that includes the King’s Bounty series, a forerunner to the long-lived Heroes of Might & Magic PC strategy saga. Russian developer Nival hopes to bring the King’s Bounty franchise to Facebook both in Russia and in the United States by finding hardcore gamers on the site.
The ideal of the untapped “hardcore” gamer on Facebook is not new, with developer Kabam specifically targeting this demographic of dedicated male gamers as far back as 2008. With King’s Bounty and additional social game strategies for other intellectual properties, however, Nival is in a unique position to tap an emerging market for social games in a region Facebook hasn’t be able to penetrate well. The key, Nival North America General Manger David D Christensen tells us, is making chess appeal to checkers players with King’s Bounty: Legions for Facebook (pictured below).
“The [typical] way you monetize on Facebook is by having a lot of users,” Christensen says. “I think a lot of these 150 million gamers that other companies have attracted on Facebook are checkers players. King’s Bounty is more like chess. You can’t do something else while you’re playing chess and [still] be good at chess.”
The King’s Bounty series puts players in the role of a leader with a class restriction such as mage, paladin, etc. and allows them to recruit squadrons of troops to order into battle as the player explores the world. The series has never before featured a competitive multiplayer component, and this is where Nival knows it can innovate with King’s Bounty on Facebook in a way that’s consistent with the platform features. The idea is that players can participate in traditional turn-based combat in live matches with other players’ armies in sessions that last up to 15 minutes.
“[A game isn’t] innovative just because it’s on a new platform,” Christensen says. “If you’re going to bring a game [franchise] to a platform, you have to use the features of that platform otherwise it’s not a new game. King’s Bounty is a fairly deep and fun game when you play on PC and we’re going to build that into the game, but the core of it is going to be [player versus player combat]. Because what we think King’s Bounty players really want is the chance to kick each others’ asses, which they’ve never been able to do before.”
King’s Bounty will be Nival’s first experiment with a purely social game that exists only on a social network, however, Facebook fits into the developer’s long-term strategy of developing “social strategy games” that build on multiple levels of skill and genre preferences of players into team-based multiplayer games. Christensen illustrates the concept of the game type with Nival’s other game in development, Prime World, for which Nival reportedly raised $5 million in funding.
Prime World is for the most part a browser-based multiplayer game where teams of five players battle in an arena. Christensen says that game will straddle multiple platforms such as Android and iOS by building components with the Unity 3D engine, which features a plugin for a possible Facebook component. The game will also use Facebook Connect to identify players’ friends as potential team members, and to determine which gender the player takes within the game, which will contribute to the skill set the player has available.
“The question is how do we make the social games more social,” Christensen explains. He says that people in real life experience much of their social interaction in how they relate to the opposite sex, which is what Nival wants to tap into with Prime World’s game system. “So this is still being tweaked, but [the concept is] there are advantages in-game from having mixed gender teams. So like male characters in the party can only heal female characters. Your gender defaults to what you have on Facebook profile.”
Nival may also break out components of the game onto Facebook. For example, Prime World’s arena combat is supplemented by a castle-building meta-game and by an in-combat puzzle mini-game, both of which generate consumables that give players of the browser game advantages in combat. By straddling the different platforms and the different game types, Nival hopes to create a game experience that’s truly social in the way players create these dependent relationships to harvest and use resources.
The danger with attempting to incorporate so many different genres and platforms into a single game experience is becoming “nothing to no one,” as Christensen says he once experienced when working on a game that tried to be both a massively multiplayer game and a first-person shooter. But with Prime World and also with King’s Bounty: Legions, he says that Nival is mindful of creating a strong core game around which all other components — including social network elements like gifting and invites — fall into place to create a cohesive experience.
Again, the key is finding both the hardcore players and potential new players from the existing casual Facebook gamer audience.
“Finding King’s Bounty players [is easy],” Christensen says. “There are a bunch of King’s Bounty pages [for the various PC games]. We can find those gamers. Figuring out what it was [they] liked and bringing that Facebook — we’ve got a blueprint, so that’s not hard. The challenge is making that appealing to more than just hardcore gamers. It’s taking chess and making it appeal to checkers players.”
Nival hopes to have King’s Bounty: Legions live in beta on Facebook this summer. Prime World is slated to enter beta before the end of the year. North American players will have the chance to experience both games at the Electronics Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles early next month.
[Editor’s Note: Nival is the result of a merger between Nival Interactive and Nival Network, which runs Russian social games network Zzima.com. It is not to be confused with Nival Online, which Nival CEO and founder Sergey Orlovskiy previously sold to Mail.ru.]