CrayonPixel’s Atlas Raider aims to deliver board game experience for both casual and midcore players

Social game developer CrayonPixel is gearing up to launch its debut title, Atlas Raider, which it’s partnering with Zynga to publish. We sat down to talk to the studio’s GM and director of game design Jaxon Fang about what to expect from Atlas Raider.

Fang’s been a part of online gaming for quite some time. He began his game development career with Sony Online Entertainment, then moved to EA and after that to OG Planet (where he worked with CrayonPixel founder Jack Liu on free-to-play games).  After leaving OG Planet, Fang worked at Disney as part of the company’s casual games arm until the social games era began to pick up and “the timing felt right to get back together with Jack.”

Atlas Raider is a social game featuring heavy implementation of board game mechanics. Players are tasked with recovering 13 crystal skulls and have to explore a world by rolling dice and progressing along a board game-like path. As the journey continues, they engage in random creature battles (which are also determined by dice rolls). Fang tells us the game contains an extensive storyline that will be told via comic book cutscenes, which may eventually be released as standalone comics on the App Store.

Board games as social games isn’t a new idea; FreshPlanet made an original one with DreamLand and Goko proved the idea was popular (to the point of being overwhelmed with traffic) when it started bringing popular game IP onto the web as HTML5-powered social games. That said, board games aren’t all that prevalent in the industry and none of them sits on our list of the top 25 Facebook games. So why make an original social board game for its debut title?

“We reflected back to our childhood memories and what we enjoyed when we were young. If you play Atlas Raider, it ties cartoon worlds, games, and comics books together. When I was younger, it wall about episodic cartoons on TV, board games in the living room and reading comics at the convenience store. We wanted to mix the old with the new.”

CrayonPixel is targeting a broad audience with Atlas Raider, spanning players between the ages of 13-years-old to their late 30s. Likewise, creating a board game should appeal to both lucrative midcore players and the far more numerous casual gamers.

“We want to touch the midcore market, but we also want to make it very easy to play for the casual gamers,” Fang says. “It’ll feel very simple to play, with rolling the dice and walking around.  But underneath, there are a lot of components tied together.

“We really tried to make it as smart and clever as possible,” Fang explains. “We want to make our games simple fun and innovative.”

CrayonPixel is publishing Atlas Raider with Zynga, as revealed at Zynga’s publishing partners event last September. Even though Zynga has access to a major number of users, the company has been subject to frequent criticism for both its game development and business practices. This was something CrayonPixel considered before joining up.

“We had discussions internally about whether we’d go with Zynga because of all the negativity around it,” he admits. “We weighed the positives and the negatives, but working with their team showed they’re full of games fans.”

So far, the partnership is working out well for CrayonPixel. “Being such a small studio, it’s a given their large player base is attractive,” Fang explains. “It’s been a really good experience working with the Zynga team. They’ve given us expert-level feedback. There were a couple of other publishers we talked to, but that expert level feedback you just can’t get from any other company.