Royal Jumbo’s popular board game Stratego is now available on both online and mobile platforms, having been developed for the web, Facebook and iPad by Keesing Games. We sat down last week to talk to Kessing Commercial Manager Dennis Maas and Head of Product and Monetization Michel Op ’t Landt about the game’s development and spend some time playing it.
While Stratego is certainly a high-profile project for Kessing, it’s not the company’s first project. In fact, the Amsterdam-based developer, which is part of Dutch media group Telegraaf Media Groep and already known for its game portal Zigiz.com. However, adapting something iconic as a 52-year-old board game presented a number of challenges, like how to monetize it and implementing substantial online play mechanics.
“The board game is quite static,” Landt tells us, “so we thought ‘why not take it to next level and introduce more powers to the board game?’ They really spice up the gameplay, but in a traditional board game it’s really hard to have those powers. In digital versions, it’s much easier to have them, explain them and to play with them. “
At the moment, board games are proving popular on mobile devices but we haven’t seen them really take off on the web or social networks, in spite of recent efforts from groups like Goko and CrayonPixel to increase their visibility. When we ask if they’ve consulted with any other developers about how to succeed with digital board games, Maas tells us they went straight to the top: Eric Hautemont of Days of Wonder.
Hautemont, whose company launched successful iOS versions of games like Ticket to Ride and Small World, “has been really helpful for us and showing us around as well as what things to keep in mind. We really believe that if we make this great game that people will be really engaged in playing, we’ll be able to monetize it with additional content.”
Stratego will monetize in two different ways: All the versions will feature in-app purchases for vanity avatar items, temporary powers and more extra setup slots for army arrangements. However, the iOS version is also launching with a premium price tag of $6.99.
Players can play in both single-player and online modes, with the option to engage in full 40-piece games or a much more snackable “blitzkriege” game of 10 pieces. We spent a quick round playing the latter game type on the web, while Landt played against us both through iPad and Facebook. From our end, the synchronous turn-based gameplay translates well across all these platforms. All of the board game’s mechanics are still in place, with players still working to capture their opponents’ flag while using a mix of strategy and deception to move their own tropps around the game board.
Development on the digital version of Stratego began in Spring 2012. Until now, the game’s been in a closed beta with approximately 18,000 players taking part. So far, the data Keesing’s seen has been incredibly promising, with players spending an average of about 17 minutes per game session. “People are addicted to being the best,” Maas says. However, the game will probably have an easier time finding an audience on iOS and the web than it will on Facebook. The next step, Landt reveals, is to implement a military conquest mode in the game that will (hopefully) appeal to Facebook users.
“This version will probably have a hard time succeeding on Facebook,” Landt says, “because it’s not a social game, per se. There just aren’t a lot of social features in it. You can play with your friends and if your friends are playing on Facebook they’ll show up on your in-game friends list, there’s some social stuff. But there’s no real social game mechanics. We took the Stratego brand and focused on putting it out there to get people to engage with the brand.”
Both Maas and Landt believe there’s the potential for a much stronger market for board games on social networks. “I think it depends how well you translate the concept of a board game into a social game,” Landt notes.
“I think as soon as soon as the borders of feeling separate while playing together fade, the market will increase. The moment you feel like you’re on Facebook and can play with a friend like you would across the table from one another, the ultimate goal will be reached.”