At a glance, you’d probably assume Space Ape’s latest release, Rival Kingdoms was another Clash of Clans clone, but according to Simon Hade you’re very much mistaken.
Rival Kingdoms launched last month onto Google Play and the iTunes App Store hoping to bring the traditional strategy element from AAA PC gaming to mobile with the same easy to pick-up functionalities found on similar titles. Space Ape Games, who you’ll probably know from the popular Samurai Siege, enlisted the help of acclaimed story writer Rihanna Pratchett and embarked on a journey to bring an epic adventure driven title to mobile.
But how will it fair against some of the more popular titles in this genre? With the market already saturated with games like Boom Beach, Clash of Clans, Empires and Allies, and even their own Samurai Siege, and many many more? We caught up with Space Ape Games’ CFO and COO Simon Hade to ask exactly that. But to kick off, we wondered how Rival Kingdoms hopes to compete against the aforementioned titles.
“People’s expectations of these types of games has risen immensely in the past 2 years. We hear a lot of hard-core players describe Clash of Clans (and games like it such as our first game Samurai Siege) as guilty pleasures. They are referring to the art style and the simplicity of the game, and yearn for something more. Something more like the games they used to play on PC but now don’t have the time or patience for. Rival Kingdoms scratches that itch.”
“The first differentiator is that it looks amazing,” he acclaimed. “It has console quality graphics on a mobile device, and a world you can lose yourself in, guided by a gripping story. Storytelling has basically disappeared in this generation of games (mobile and tablet). We’ve found that players are really appreciating the significant amount of time we’ve spent building out the world and the characters with Rhianna Pratchett, is something that players are really appreciating.”
[su_pullquote]”It’s only a matter of time before the best product wins.”[/su_pullquote]
In terms of the changes made to set Rival Kingdoms apart from other titles is how Space Ape Games has handled some of the more frustrating mechanics found in other mobile strategy titles. Hade explained that they’d removed all of the “unnecessary friction” players had come to expect from these types of games stating that with Rival Kingdoms you can immediately dive into five battles with no waiting for troop training as well as allowing players to fast forward battles when they’re onto a sure win, and much more.
“If you lose connection during a battle, it just resumes next time you connect. Shields work differently too, in that you don’t lose your shield when you attack, and don’t need to stay online to avoid being attacked. All these might feel like incremental improvements, but to someone who has played dozens of hours of these kinds of games, they are game changers, and make it really hard to go back. The effect of removing all this admin and friction is the core loop feels next generation.”
Finally Hade added that with the addition of the game’s kingdom-led gameplay, it’s a much more rich community focused gameplay that’ll keep players returning to the game for years to come. He added that it offers a memorable community experience similar to what you’d find in World of Warfraft or EVE Online.
Clash of Clans and other titles have been around for a number of years now, and despite being late to the party, Space Ape are confident they have something that’ll bring players to their game over Boom Beach and other similar titles. In fact, two years down the line, players are looking for something new and Rival Kingdoms seems to be that game.
“Rival Kingdoms is handicapped by coming two years late to the party but I believe it is only a matter of time before the best product wins. In the last ten days, Rival Kingdoms has been mentioned around 25% of the time Clash has, despite Clash having a larger player base. Furthermore, Rival Kingdoms has more share of voice on Twitter, YouTube and Twitch than Boom Beach and every other game in the genre combined. A lasting player community is not built overnight. We need to keep improving the game and engaging with players. Provided we can deliver a great experience to millions of players, support our community and continue to build on a great game then Space Ape will do fine.”
Aside from the game being free-to-play and the community driven gameplay, retaining users can be a difficult task, even for Space Ape, but they’ve got something up there sleeves and that’s Rihanna Prachett who has added a pretty fantastic story to the game. This is something that Space Ape has noticed and has brought a lot of positive feedback from players.
“We’re hearing from players that the story and world are very engaging,” Hade said. “People want to see their Ancients evolve and the back story unfold, and are telling us that this really sets the game apart from others in the genre. We’re proud of everything in the game. The core build and battle loop is really a next generation of games that have gone before. It is definitely better, more action, less admin – we’ve removed all the friction people have come to expect. However, it is the kingdom-led gameplay in Rival Kingdoms that really pushes the genre forward in a big way.”
Unlike some games in the genre, which have you unlocking new troops, buildings, and equipment as the game progresses, Rival Kingoms offers something much more to the game, in fact as the game progresses a whole new game mode opens up allowing players to join kingdoms.
[su_pullquote align=”right”]”One of our developers in a Game Jam even recreated a Starcraft 2 style game using the Rival Kingdoms engine.”[/su_pullquote]
“You unlock the ability to join a kingdom at stronghold four, so some way into the game. When you do a whole new game mode opens up. Players hold roles within their kingdom. These roles bestow perks and responsibilities – raiders get a buff that pays them more gold per raid, but in most kingdoms they will be expected to therefore contribute more to the kingdom projects. Sentinels receive a defensive hit point boost, but will be expected to have the strongest base layout because they play a strategic role in raids, and so on.”
“Ultimately the point of being in a kingdom is to go to war with other kingdoms, hence the name. A ‘Kingdom League’ is a week-long event, where each day your kingdom is matched with another in a 24-hour Kingdom Raid. If your kingdom wins its league, then it gets promoted to a tougher league (with bigger rewards). However, losing kingdoms get relegated or are recruited by the winners.
“There are many different roles, and projects to contribute to and this is leading to some complex emergent gameplay from innovative players who are trying to find the best kingdom strategies, forging alliances between kingdoms to move up the league tables and this is where the game will massively outshine all others in the genre.”
Bringing back the earlier mention of Rival Kingdoms aiming to offer a more AAA PC gaming experience with the mechanics of mobile, we wondered whether Rival Kingdoms ever tried to take on a more PC-like RTS feel, similar to games like Total War and Command & Conquer, and it seems the game did very much almost have that approach, unfortunately this never really took off due to the nature of mobile gaming being a more short-lived and bite-size when it comes to play sessions.
“We’d love to [add a more RTS feel to Rival Kingoms]. In fact, we prototyped several versions with more traditional RTS gameplay and one of our developers in a Game Jam even recreated a Starcraft 2 style game using the Rival Kingdoms engine. There are some challenges you have in games like that.”
“The first is session length. For a game to work on this platform you need a much shorter core loop i.e. an initial 30 second core loop, a five minute core loop and a four hour loop. As a rule, 25 minute and 45 minute loops don’t really work. Secondly, you are very limited in your canvas so managing awareness of the whole space is tough. Finally, and most importantly, there is a limited amount of agency you can give the player before you cross a line where you demand their attention.
“The reality of life is that people are out and about, or watching TV or doing one or maybe two things whilst playing a mobile game, treating it like a second screen activity. The game needs to demand your attention for very short bursts, or allow you to look away momentarily without punishing you. Getting that balance right is very tough, but I think you’ll see more traditional RTS elements creep into these games over the next year.”
[su_pullquote]”For Rival Kingdoms, we doubled down on the things that made Samurai Siege successful.”[/su_pullquote]
With Samurai Siege, Space Ape Games learned a lot and brought some of those experiences to Rival Kingdoms. Hade admitted that Samurai Siege was made really fast with only a small team of twelve. The game evolved by Space Ape constantly updating the game and keeping players interested by introducing weekly contests and events, so no week was ever the same. This gave Space Ape Games their first taste of community driven gameplay, and something they wanted to improve upon with Rival Kingdoms.
“[During development] we also wilfully omitted a lot of things from Samurai Siege. We didn’t have heroes, or leagues. We didn’t have a strong collection and progression system, or an achievements engine. There were also a lot of lessons we learned from our last release before Rival Kingdoms. We learned how important matchmaking was, about how to design a good leader board competition, how to balance the elder game so there’s plenty of room for progression within the game.”
“For Rival Kingdoms, we doubled down on the things that made Samurai Siege successful: namely, more involved hard-core gameplay and ongoing events to keep the competition fresh, and also included all the staples that we’d missed with our last release. We also put a lot of effort into making the game more accessible. The art style and the explanation of the game might sound complex, but if you are new to the genre, then we make sure you master the basic gameplay very early. Alongside all of our learnings from our last game, we decided to pull together another great team, time twice the size of Samurai Siege on it for a longer period, and the result is a true next generation experience.”
Being heavily involved in the mobile gaming market, we wondered whether Space Ape Games had any insight to the future of the market, whether mobile gaming was truly here to stay or whether it’d eventually dry up.
“I don’t think mobile gaming is going away,” Hade said. “Devices are getting more powerful. We’re seeing the rise of “phablets” – which offer as good a gaming experience as a tablet, but with the convenience of a phone. We’re going to see another billion people get a smart phone in the next couple of years. Whole continents are coming on to smartphones and others where smartphones are prolific are just finding that they can pay using local currencies.”
“In short, there is a lot of growth and innovation on the platform that many more exciting formats and businesses will open up. We’re also seeing a new breed of gamer. Hard-core games are no longer the domain of people who used to play in their basement and now have a job and busy lives that mean they are seeking a core game experience on their mobile (though that is certainly the segment we are targeting with Rival Kingdoms).”
“There are hundreds of millions of people that never played games before they discovered Candy Crush or Crossy Road, and now are seeking out more challenging and complex games, and in many ways that is a more exciting segment because they have different pre-conceptions of what a game should be. This is the most exciting time in the history of games to be a games developer.”