Social game developer Playdom wants to tap potential market of core gamers using a popular comic franchise and familiar game play, says executive, who also believes that the industry will follow in the footsteps of many free-to-play games and adopt a microtransaction model.
Mike Rubinelli, vice president of studio operations at Playdom, said: "We know [core gamers] are on Facebook but they are just not playing social games yet." The company's upcoming Facebook game, "Marvel: Avengers Alliance" which went live today, will appeal to these gamers using the star power of the Marvel comic franchise as well as turn-based RPG role-playing game elements, he noted.
Core gamers are not the usual demographic for social games, which usually attracts casual gamers who invest less time and are less involved. However, Rubinelli is banking that the Marvel game would appeal to traditional gamers because of its turn-based RPG gameplay. Unlike the usual social games available, "Marvel: Avengers Alliance" has story progression, character and leveling up, which speaks to traditional gamers, he added.
"In summer of 2010, when everybody else on the Facebook platform was doing clones of existing 'farm games', 'fishing games' and what-not, we thought we would get into the core gamer business with licensed IP (intellectual property)," he said, explaining why the company took the jump to develope the Marvel-licensed game. "It was a pretty big risk on the company's part because nobody else was doing licensed games."
He also noted that the company was going after the Marvel licensing deal even before it was acquired by Disney. Playdom was brought over by Disney in Jul. 2010 and is now the social games product group of Disney Interactive Media. The entertainment conglomerate also owns Marvel Entertainment which holds the rights to the Marvel franchise.
Rubinelli believes that the game will appeal to Asian players as well. Besides the popularity of the Marvel franchise, he noted that fans in Japan will be familiar with the turn-based RPG gameplay. The company will also be localizing the game for different Asian markets such as Japan and Korea by changing the language but this feature will only be available later.
Not to compete with traditional games
That said, Rubinelli noted that the game was not meant to compete with those by traditional publishers. Instead the game aims to make social games more appealing to core gamers by leveraging the unique properties of social games, he noted.
One feature is incorporate is the mechanism which drives social games to be viral. This means the game is better when played with friends. A game could be played solo, but players would progress faster if their friends joined the game as well, he said.
As most social games are free-to-play, the developers would also need to "get people to come back time and time again", Rubinelli added. "We want you to feel like there's something in the horizon that's positive for you so you should always come back to the game," he said. "It's not like the console games which you pay at a retail shop or download and the publisher has your money. They don't care if you ever play again as long as you've paid them."
To ensure that players return to the social game, the developers need to ensure that players are positively rewarded at right intervals, he noted. He added that even when players are not playing, they "can't wait to go back" because a mission, training or research in the game will be completed then.
Social games to influence games industry
Rubinelli, a 19-year video games veteran, believes that traditional game publishers will follow a route similar to social games. "It's not tomorrow or next week, but I think it's sooner rather than later that you see the games business move to [almost a 100 percent] digital distribution and a microtransaction model," he said.
He pointed to Korean online games Crazy Racing Kart Rider and GunBound as successful examples of free-to-play games monetizing through microtransactions. He added that many console games already have digital distribution of game titles, which help bring down distribution costs and offer more convenience.
Rubinelli noted that while Playdom has online advertising, the majority of its social gaming revenue is from microtransactions.
A free-to-play model would also help crackdown on piracy which Rubinelli noted is a "huge problem". With such a model, players will have less incentive to pirate games or modify their consoles as the product will be available free, he said.