Interview: Will Harbin on the Evolution of Backyard Monsters

Backyard Monsters is a solid hit for Casual Collective. A quirky, compelling tower defense strategy game that we reviewed back in July 2010 not long after launch, it has continued to grow slowly but steadily and has attained above normal retention rates for a Facebook game — internal statistics show a 30% retention rate, according to Casual Collective CEO Will Harbin. We spoke to him further on the game and development plans for Backyard Monsters.

Inside Social Games: What do you think are the reasons for Backyard Monsters continued popularity and its retention rate?

Will Harbin: It’s the interactivity of the game and the way we’ve designed the game. There isn’t a need to click this and to click that, or have to get a lot of your friends to play the game with you. There isn’t a need to spend a lot of money to advance either. Everything will be unlocked over time for the patient player if they prefer not to spend money on the game.

Inside Social Games: Does the game also monetize well?

Will Harbin: Yes, we are extremely pleased with its monetization. In fact, it has allowed us to internally fund new dev teams for soon-to-be-launched titles while still allowing us to be profitable: alleviating the burden of seeking additional funding.

Inside Social Games: What is the maximum level for the game? It seems to slow down right around the 30s what else is there to do for the end-game players?

Will Harbin: There is no maximum level but it does get progressively harder the higher you go. Forty is the upper limit right now, but I think there are a couple of level 44s and maybe a 45 player. It does slow down in the 30s and that’s a good segue into the next big content update that’s coming this week. We will be bringing a new feature that opens up at level 35; the ability to start taking plots of land in the best terra firma tradition.

When the feature goes in, players of level 35 and above will be able to access a different map, one that shows them the land divided into different plots that are occupied by wild monsters. Players will have to attack them, destroy them and at 90% destruction, will be able to capture the plot and build an outpost, with outposts similar to the current yard. Of course as time goes by, players will be taking land from each other. We’ll also add on to the leader board and that will show the total value of your empire.

Inside Social Games: Is Backyard Monsters a one trick pony? What else does the player base do besides attack each other and raid resources?

Will Harbin: We actually have players that customize their yards with decorations. They install ponds and flags and the like. Some players are all about raiding and getting on the leader board which measures resources looted. Others go all out to flatten a rival yard with the catapult. The ability for players to message each other is built right into the game, and we provide simple matchmaking in the map and the inability to bully players much lower in level. A little smack talk, a little fun, a truce and then you’ve made a friend.

Inside Social Games: Speaking of friends, currently friends can’t help each other as they can’t see each other’s attackers. Will they be able to with the new feature?

Will Harbin: Funny you should mention… alliances will be the next game feature to follow in a few weeks, and they will be the key to map domination. You will be able to see your friend’s attackers and vice versa, and will be able to assist each other.

Inside Social Games: After world domination, what else?

Will Harbin: Well, our goal is two million actives this year, and we do have a few more features up our sleeves. We’re figuring right now, how to allow players to build a super monster to defend their bases. And if we get that right, maybe we can go to classic monster battles; to have your monsters fight each other.