Shadow Fight Gives Nekki an Edge Across Multiple Social Networks, Sparks New Game Developments

Early last month, we got a good look at Shadow Fight — a stylized martial arts combat game that’s just about ready to graduate from our weekly list of emerging Facebook games when it breaks the 1 million monthly active user mark.

Shadow Fight is a rarity among social network games in that it uses arcade style combat similar to traditional video games like Street Fighter with the keyboard substituting as an arcade game pad. A stylized animation renders the combatants in silhouette and the player can compete against friends in asynchronous bouts or “Dan” examination fights to increase their level. The game’s uniqueness gives it an edge in viral sharing as players can post the results of individual fights to each other’s walls.

According to developer Nekki Games, the game has 10 million installs across all eight social networks on which the game is currently available — Facebook, Vkontakte, Odnoklassniki, MoiMir, MyLife, StudiVZ, MeinVZ and SchuelerVZ. Nekki’s established experience comes mostly from browser games like 11×11. Here we interview 27-year-old Eugeniy Dyabin, the CTO of Shadow Fight at Nekki Games about the future of the game and how its success has helped the developer form its social games strategy.

Inside Social Games: Tell us a bit about how the game was developed. Did you use any special markup language or plugins to achieve the unique look and feel?

Eugeniy Dyabin: The game is built in Flash and we also developed a special engine for animation and physics. We did not use motion capture, instead we have used our own technology for a manual creation of character animations according to the laws of physics. This helped us make much more realistic animations for the game.

ISG: What new features will you add to the game over time? We know you were planning Mortal Kombat-style “fatality” moves…

Dyabin: Yes, the next feature will be fatalities. We will also add more new fighting techniques — grabs and throws, as well as an option to level-up techniques — and of course lots of new content like bosses, weapons, backgrounds, etc. We’re planning seven bosses. Players who beat them all will be able to to open the “Gates of Shadows.” But what’s inside this door is still a secret.

ISG: What’s the most popular in-game item users buy?

Dyabin: The most popular items at them moment are weapons, energy and coins. Fighting bosses will be also a big part of monetization when the number of high-level users has become bigger.

ISG: Do any of your monetization features affect the overall balance of the game? Like if we’re willing to spend Facebook Credits on Rubies, do we gain a combat advantage?

Dyabin: Actually the game is fair because the gameplay is asynchronous and players can’t directly effect each other. Players who buy [our premium currency, rubies] can play more often and achieve goals faster. Also there are unique items which can be bought only for rubies, but they don’t make the player invincible.

ISG: What made you decide on asynchronous combat? Is synchronous a mode you would ever consider adding?

Dyabin: Synchronous real-time combat over the Internet is a technical challenge. Especially in fighting games, where fast reactions and each individual move is critical. Fractions of seconds make a huge difference. Right now, players can fight with their friends in real-time if they play on [on the same computer with] one keyboard in two-player mode — but when we overcome the technical challenge, we will be happy to add a synchronous online fight mode.

ISG: How do you determine the difficulty of opponents in-game?

Dyabin: To determine the balance, we have an A.I. engine that dynamically raises the difficulty parallel to the players progress in the game. It also lowers the difficulty if a player loses often.

ISG: Nekki has developed other games like pet sims and sports management sims. What made you want to do a fighting game for social networks?

Dyabin: I love fighting games 🙂 Years ago when I was a student, I’ve created my first fighting game using Delphi. There was an option to fight with a bot or with a friend on one keyboard. That game became a prototype of Shadow Fight.

ISG: What games do you see as competitors to Shadow Fight?

Dyabin: Our game is the first social fighting game with direct controls. There are many fighting games where you don’t take part in the action — you only watch the fight, or worse, just get the results. But that’s a different genre and we don’t see these games as our competitors.

ISG: Do you think the fighting genre has mass appeal, or is it only for “hardcore” gamers?

Dyabin: The game is very easy to start and is also very viral. Now we have more than 1 million MAU on Facebook and a total of about 10 millions installs across all social networks [on which we’ve released Shadow Fight]. In every network, Shadow Fight is one of the fastest-growing games, so we believe that the fighting genre has a pretty healthy mass appeal.

ISG: Will your next game also be in the fighting genre?

Dyabin: Now we are working on several games of different genres. We are also planning a fighting game with more game modes and animations, like parkour elements and stunts.

The next game will be an online football manager coming out in August/September. It will be a social version of our popular browser-based game 11×11. This game just won “Best Sports Game” in the Browser Game of the Year Awards for 2011 based on player votes. This makes us confident that 11×11 has the potential to become a real hit on Facebook and other networks.

ISG: What’s your overall growth strategy for Shadow Fight and for Nekki Games?

Dyabin: We are also preparing Shadow Fight launches in and Yahoo Mobage.

As for Nekki, our company is self-funded and due to the success of our browser games in the last coupe of years, we are in a comparatively safe financial position. Therefore we will continue to spend money on advertising and leverage cross-promotion when we launch our next games. Currently we are looking for a business development manager in U.S. for remote work. We are also open to all kinds of cooperation or partnership discussions. We are not planning to develop apps for smartphones, but it is an interesting market and we are looking forward to trying it, if we find a good game idea for it.

ISG: Last question — what’s your favorite fighting game?

Dyabin: Samurai Shodown 4. It’s an old fighting game by SNK, I played it for a very long time.