EA Taps 'War Chest' for Mobile Strategy

By Steve Peterson   Google+

Posted October 9, 2013

Electronic Arts has been killing it with their mobile games recently, with such titles as The Simpsons: Tapped Out and Plants Vs. Zombies 2 helping to put the publisher high on mobile top download charts. Now, EA Mobile is preparing to launch two mobile games that may help continue this success by connecting with existing intellectual properties Dungeon Keeper and Dragon Age. The [a]list daily spoke with the producers of these games about the design and marketing strategy.

Dungeon Keeper for iOS and Android is based on the hit game created by Peter Molyneux's Bullfrog Productions back in 1997 for Electronic Arts. “We started looking at the war chest of EA IP and we stumbled across Dungeon Keeper,” said senior producer Jeff Skalski.”It was almost a no-brainer instantly that this game was long overdue to come back.”

The game gives you the perspective of being the bad guy controlling a dungeon and fighting off the waves of heroes looking to pillage your creation. The them of the game is, essentially,“It's good to be bad,” said Skalski. The game transitioned well to touch devices, with EA Mobile redesigning the game to bring back all the classic elements and characters, but redoing the interface for touch. “When you were playing it with a keyboard and mouse you had that Hand of Evil on the screen and smack your imps with the back of your hand,” said Skalski. “Putting it on a touch device was just kind of perfect.”

The strategy for EA Mobile with Dungeon Keeper is to bring back a hit IP but not as a straight port to mobile. The needs and expectations of the mobile audience are very different from the original PC audience for the game, and so are the capabilities of mobile devices. EA Mobile took the more difficult path of re-creating the game for the new platforms and the new mindset of the audience.

One of the most basic changes is the business model – the new Dungeon Keeper has been redesigned as a free-to-play game with in-app purchasing. You get to create a persistent dungeon and compete against other players as well as the AI of the game. “The dungeon you build is the dungeon that sticks with you.,” said Skalski. “Dungeon Keeper 2 introduced multiplayer, and now it's a must. You can experience the PvE component, but you can play against others by attacking other Keepers.”

The marketing hook for Dungeon Keeper is that “It flips the building genre on its head,” said Skalski, by letting you create an underground structure instead of a building. The tone of the game is an important defining element, too, as the more mature, adult humor is something EA feels will be attractive to the audience. EA Mobile has created a new title from something old that's a bit blue, and looking to catch some of the audience that loves The Simpsons: Tapped Out.

Given the nature of the game tablets are the best way to show it off, but the game design focused on smartphones initially. Both the iOS and Android will launch on the same day in 14 languages, showing one of the benefits of development at a large publisher. The game's release has not yet been set, but expect it sometime this winter.

On the other side of the coin is Heroes of Dragon Age, which borrows from EA's hit console game series Dragon Age to create a new, strategic squad-based game. “It is a strategic, sqaud -based game where you're collecting characters from throughout the Dragon Age universe,” said Tim Lander, producer of the game. “You battle through quests and battle other players. We have over 100 different characters in the game and a ton of different environments and stories we pulled from the existing lore.”

The idea with Heroes of Dragon Age is to provide a deep strategy game that will be appealing to fans of the Dragon Age series as well as to gamers that love strategy games. “It's similar to card battle games, but we made it more accessible” noted Lander, through a 3D interface with lush visuals. EA Mobile had a very close relationship with Bioware in order to capture the essence of the game. “They delivered all assets to us and we used that as a starting point,” noted Lander “We respected the art style of Dragon Age, but we are making it fit the mobile audience.”

As with Dungeon Keeper, Heroes of Dragon Age is designed as a free-to-play game with in-app purchases and plenty of new content arriving periodically. With the new Dragon Age: Inquisition on the horizon, obviously there will be opportunities for cross-promotion that EA Mobile will use. However, they are not revealing just yet what the tie-ins will be between the two games. Heroes of Dragon Age is headed for iOS and Android sometime this fall.

EA Mobile is clearly leveraging its advantages with a vast library of IP to draw on, a large existing audience, and the promotional value of upcoming game launches on other platforms. While none of those things assures success, the combination should prove able to put these games solidly into profitable territory. That's the place EA wants to be in an increasingly competitive mobile market.


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