Feature: A Bit Lucky Goes to Space

By David Radd

Posted November 3, 2011



Recent, we posted the first half of an interview with Frederic Descamps, CEO of A Bit Lucky. Here's the second part of the interview, which also includes design comments from Jordan Maynard, Chief Creative Officer at A Bit Lucky, as well.

[a]list: You had experience at Trion; what's amazing to me is the fact that Trion managed to do so well with Rift. Subscription MMOs is such a difficult market to get into

Frederic Descamps: How many game companies do you know that are successful with their first game? Trion was successful and they'll make more great games.

[a]list: It seems that Rift has managed to successfully tap into a market that wanted a... shall we call it “less cartoony” style of graphics compared to World of Warcraft.

Frederic Descamps: Both games are successful art-wise. I'm not a huge fan of cartoonish graphics, but they nailed it and from the perspective of PC hardware; it's also a style that looks better on low-end specs. Nailing the realistic looks is a great thing but can bite you - I was a big fan of EverQuest II but the graphical style aged very poorly. Trion spent so much time polishing the graphics we could hardly believe it. It's like we say – polish is gameplay, and quality matters in social games as much as it does with MMORPGs.

[a]list: There's also the issue of long development times and comparisons to games that have been on the market for a long time.

Frederic Descamps: When you make something, you have to have a high level of evaluation; launching an MMO is not easy because you need to be aware of the competition. I remember when Warhammer Online launched, and they did some things right, but despite my love of the Warhammer franchise, I knew it would have a tough road ahead. The one thing Trion is really good at is to be very humble about their work. It's important in this line of work to be critical and be students of your own art. Every time a game launches we dissect them; we talk about games, even at our poker nights. You have to have a healthy dose of knowledge about the industry to succeed.

Jordan Maynard: [The people at Trion] are AAA game developers and they knew World of Warcraft well enough to see what works, and while we were there, we saw with other companies what they did wrong with games like Warhammer Online and Age of Conan.

When you look at other MMORPGs, Trion was pretty rare in the sense that they launched and maintained their success. Free-to-play, obviously, is taking over a lot and League of Legends is my current addiction. I might not be playing certain subscription MMORPGs now *coughs* but I play League of Legends every day; it's a free-to-play and knocking it out of the park.

[a]list: It's leading to a great deal of soul searching over what is a PC game these days.

Jordan Maynard: I think the PC gaming press is discovering what to cover. While initially there was a lot of rejection of the F2P space, games like League of Legends are making them rethink that. Facebook is on your PC so it is sort of PC gaming, but they didn't want to believe it. One of our goals was with Lucky Space is to take the goal of building up a base like Command & Conquer with the power in Civilization of controlling an empire. Something like Crysis I have no interest in playing, but I think there's some interesting things on PC, and I'm huge fan of classic PC games. I've worked on Spore so I've seen first hand some of the potential, and I know there's some interesting stuff on the horizon.

Frederic Descamps: Jordan was just talking the other day about the difference between where social games have been and where they are going. When I was at Xfire, we had between 300,000 and 400,000 users at peak, and we had a pretty good idea of games played by hardcore gamers, and it was usually a variety of genres. But now we know the same thing is happening in social games; we think the two spaces are merging and close the gap between social and hardcore gaming, adding more depth and complexity to Facebook games

Jordan Maynard: Penny Arcade has done a number of League of Legends comics. And I remember one where they were talking about how much it costs and being like, 'It's free.' 'So how much have you spent on it?' '$8,000' showing how the economics of it can work.

[a]list: What games inspired Lucky Space? It seems evocative of the classic MULE.

Jordan Maynard: I played the beta version of MULE back when I was eight and I regard Star Control II is one of the best space games of all time. In MULE you have energy, food, smithore and crystite and our resources are very similar. The management is very similar to Star Control, with the isometric look of Command & Conquer and Transport Tycoon. From the social game space, things like Ravenwood Fair and FarmVille influenced the interface and reward methods. For items, we have the white tier will fill the slot, and you have greens, then blues and purples. That's something that's been around MMOs for a while and we regard it as 'If it's not broken don't fix it.' The first time you get a purple in the game, there is definitely a rush of excitement.

[a]list: Now, from what Frederic said before, I'm to understand that you're a second generation game designer and that your father followed Trip Hawkins along to all of his major ventures.

Jordan Maynard: Trip tried to hire my dad to Apple originally. *laughs* But my dad and Trip go pretty well back with my dad, and he had me trying out MULE when I was 8 years old. My first internship at EA I did Madden football on Genesis and SNES as a tester then later I worked with the engineering interns. My little brother worked on Dead Space 1 and 2 at EA – it runs in the family. I worked on Rift for a few years and Spore for a few years... and that was too long from a creative point of view. It's much nicer to have a smaller dev cycle.

Frederic Descamps: It's great to have someone like Jordan who has a background as both a designer and in technical fields. He's worked on sports and MMOs and brings a unique perspective to social games.

[a]list: What sort of opportunity did you see in the resource management and exploration social genre?

Jordan Maynard: That's a very good question. When you start the game, you cover nine squares; I wanted to capture the feeling from Civilization and pushing back the darkness,. That's the big difference; pushing back the darkness and filling it in with light. There's business integrated with the gameplay as well. Lucky Train was more about virtual items, but for now, Lucky Space is about selling resources. There's exploration and PVE stuff designed to really fill out the environment.

[a]list: You mentioned the different items... how necessary are the best items to succeed?

Jordan Maynard: To make a parallel, you can play World of Warcraft pretty damn casually and succeed. You don't have to min max, in order to get from level 80 to 85. With Lucky Space you can level up through the game you can do it with all white items, but those special items really can make a big difference.

[a]list: Talk to me about user retention for something like Lucky Space – what's the best way to go about it?

Frederic Descamps: The good thing is, we can show you some of the stats from the game. The way we design games it's not about monetization, it's about engagement. The day two retention is around 40 percent, which is twice as much as most games on Facebook. Day 7 retention is around 30 percent which is really really high, but people seem to enjoy it.

Jordan Maynard: We'll talk about how you buy the first ten minute of gameplay within the first minutes. So with the “onboarding” experience you try to keep them engaged in the initial experience – you may be about to lose them, and that shows in the first play session within 29 minutes, but then they reach the next level and they're compelled to stay a little bit longer. We keep on giving stuff to keep them coming back. There's a couple of key ways to keep users engaged; managing that user experience and having something to come back too are key ones.

Frederic Descamps: I would say the game has mystery. You have the 3x3 square closed in by darkness and you're pushing it out. There's also mystery in the storyline; we have lots of quests and protagonists and they give you quests and fill out the story and people enjoying whats going on behind the scenes in the game game.

[a]list: One thing about many social games is that they just aren't that social; you might send things to friends, but you're rarely participating simultaneously in the same game.

Frederic Descamps: I think helping your friends in most social games is a misnomer. One thing we're trying to give our players are real social options. We're looking to make sure it's meaningful.

Jordan Maynard: I mentioned about the different tiers of components - if you have more friends come back, you get better items.

Frederic Descamps: Speaking of which, some people were receptive to [playing multiplayer], but some people want to play on their own map.

Jordan Maynard: Anytime there was a gate or a block a for a player, you could use space bucks or have friends come in and help. So there's something for all of those types of gamers to make progress.

[a]list: Talk to me about the demographics that Lucky Space has appealed to.

Frederic Descamps: By design, it's been made with the hardcore male audience in mind. We can look at who is playing the game thanks to Facebook's metrics, and it is 80 percent male. That was kind of the intention [from the beginning]. With Lucky Train, we didn't really know who it would appeal to; we thought it might be a a broader demographic. Well 85 percent of the transactions were male, and it's more skewed towards males for Lucky Space. You've also had professional gamers who have written reviews of it, which is fantastic.

[a]list: Talk more to me about how the “disaster events” and gifting helped encouraged players to be social while playing?

Jordan Maynard: There's a couple things there; in a way it's a media bonus- you get more resources back if you shoot the asteroid down. We're coming up on our first content update before Thanksgiving for people who are at the high end of the experience. There are going to be challenges where there will be a specific goal and challenge to make it hard, like mine a hundred ore within three days, but it's harder because it's on a desert planet. There will be time-limited instance planets where you can see how players are doing.

[a]list: How have monetization plans gone for Lucky Space?

Jordan Maynard: There's a couple things for monetization, especially with purple items - the best way to get them is buy them; they aren't necessary but if you get one there's a noticeable difference from blue. When you're building a building, you can buy the rest of it as a discounted rate. The last thing is the energy buildings. You can buy the energy, but you can buy energy buildings. Ravenwood Fair has something that has +1 max energy, and we have something that has +16 research, energy and components. When you do play the game, the buildings with the capacitor are greatly enhanced.

[a]list: The game is very attractive and colorful...

Jordan Maynard: Another thing that was an inspiration was the color and lighting pallets of Torchlight; it has this glowy look and we wanted that feel.

[a]list: The humor I've heard about in the game, is that an attempt to reach as wide a demographic as possible?

Jordan Maynard: Think about Futurama - they love to make fun of the tropes of science fiction; on some of the the buildings in Lucky Space is a billboard for wormhole foods- there's lots of little references like that in the game.

When I think about it, things have become so deathly serious in science fiction – looking very “metal on metal,” but I wanted to not take it quite that seriously. A game should feel like a love-letter to, science fiction. We don't want to take ourselves super serious – I mean, there's a pig in a space suit that's the space piggy food bank.

[a]list: Now, when you said you worked on Spore earlier... how much interaction did you get with Will Wright? Is he as smart as he comes across in all his interviews?

Jordan Maynard: Will is super, super, smart – no bones about it, he really just is that smart. Really he does a lot of research in what he's interested in and has a great style of presenting it too. Nothing but good things to say about him.

[a]list: So do you foresee a multi-platform future for Lucky Space?

Jordan Maynard: The nerd Star Trek analogy is you imagine the laptop as the Enterprise and the smartphone as a shuttle craft; if I wanted to manage my colony I'd do that on the laptop. but if I want to restock a building, I should be able to do it from my phone. Ubiquitous gaming is coming!

[a]list: Jordan, Frederic thanks.

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