[dropcaps]It’s been a few months now since Merlin: The Game made it’s appearance on Facebook. Tim Bowers, caught up with Henrique Ollifers, Co-Founder of the award winning Bossa Studios, to see how the game was doing and what is in store now the TV show is coming to an end.
We last caught up with you at Eurogamer just before the launch of Merlin, how was Eurogamer for you? How was the reaction to the game?
It’s always a bit risky to put up a social game stand on a show aimed at the hardcore and indie players — even if we don’t really believe in such distinctions. But just like what happened with Monstermind, the reaction to Merlin was great: a few bets that the game wasn’t running on Facebook were made (and lost), and some hardcore fans of the show stopped by with kids literally named after the characters, which gave us a taste of the kind of passionate audience we would soon have as players.
Being able to play in real time with those around you was the unexpected hook that got the audience. No one was surprised to see Merlin and Arthur walking around your character in the game, but when they realised the other players sitting next to them were in the same adventure, the magic happened. We take this sort of multiplayer for granted because of MMORPGs and so on, but on Facebook is pretty rare.
Anyway, in a nutshell it was great. Next time around we’ll have to go easy on the dressing up, though… Wearing that armour was no easy job!
The game was in Beta for a while, how was the feedback from players?
The closed beta phase was very, very different from the open one, and this is a lesson we should have learned by now. Closed beta players are early adopters, the biggest fans of a game. Their feedback will be more detailed but also rather skewed towards high-level content. They go through the game faster, in more detail, and will ask for things that suit that kind of gameplay pattern. This is fine as long as you don’t just pay attention to them — because other players will surely value different features and mechanics, which you can end up overlooking.
A good measure of feedback is the score of the game. We scored around 4.5 out of 5 during closed beta, and now are at 4 out of 5 once a broader spectrum of players got into the game. This is to be expected, but again shows how the fans differ from the typical player, and how important it is to be taking care of everyone, not just a subset of your players.
Overall players really like the game. Their posts on the fan page are very positive and passionate towards Merlin and echoes the reviews we got, all 9+ scores. But of course is not all roses: when we have a technical glitch they vent with all the fury of hell, and rightly so.
What was the atmosphere like in the office as the game launched?
That’s what is weird about online games, it never feels like a launch. There’s nothing to ship, and no final version as such. The minute we flip the switch to open the game to the players, two things are happening in parallel:
– We are busy tracking any problems that might pop up and fix as fast as possible and;
– We carry on working on the next features we want to add to the game (and the list is as long as one can possibly imagine!)
At some point at the end of the day we stop, pop the champagne, drink some beers and celebrate. Then the next day we go back at looking at what’s next, how to make the game better, what new features to work on.
There is a dark secret about game development that you don’t hear about often, but it’s true: No game developer is ever absolutely happy with the game that (s)he has worked on. Ever. There are always things one wanted to add, to do different, that players don’t like, that don’t function like expected… And these are the stuff we look at all the time, rather than what works well, people love and can give you a sense of accomplishment.
That’s rather unfair, I know, but it’s human nature. And I don’t know any tricks to look at our games otherwise!
Once the game was live, how did the numbers grow and what was the reaction like?
The numbers grew as expected, but we haven’t gone all guns blazing just yet as Merlin Season 5 is out in the UK and Australia only, every one of the other 178 territories are still to launch, including the US. We’re planning to grow the player base early next year, and hopefully position the game as a winner by March.
We got some 250,000 players at the moment, and growing steadily. The reactions are good all around, and players are asking for more content and mechanics, which is always a good sign — you should be worried if they don’t ask!
We now know that the Merlin TV show is due to end on Christmas Eve, what will happen to the game after that?
The Merlin universe is huge, the Arthurian legends stretch from the UK to Scandinavia, there’s a lot to keep the game going in terms of storyline, characters, adventures and creatures. We haven’t even scratched the surface of the series’ content yet, and the writer behind the game’s story is part of the studio, not the TV side. We haven’t even scratched the surface of the series’ content yet, and the writer behind the game’s story is part of the studio, not the TV side.
So the game will be going for a long while, you can be sure, and hopefully become the primary fix for people wanting to carry on as fans of the series, characters and the actors… We’ve got a surprise for the game for January, almost there now.
What have you got planned for 2013? Anything new in the works?
Very much so, we wouldn’t be a real game studio if we were not working on new games non-stop!
Two new games will see the light of day on January, and a third perhaps around March. They’re all for touch-based devices (tablets and mobiles) and feature cross-platform realtime multiplayer.
Then we’ll shift our attention to new projects, hopefully out of the dozen or so games we’ve prototyped during 2012 to a playable stage. Yep, we’ve got quite a few new games to take seriously soon, it’s just a matter of which ones we play the most on lunch breaks.[/dropcaps]
Merlin: The Game is available for free from MerlinGame.com, our review of the game can be found HERE, and the final episode of the Merlin TV show will air tonight (24th December 2012) on BBC One at 8:15pm.
Tim Bowers is the ex-Editor of Zero1Gaming, he also occasionally writes when he's able to string sentences together. He can usually be found waiting for Nintendo to remember about Samus Aran.