Zynga has been making the transition from being primarily a social game publisher to a mobile game publisher, and it’s come a long way towards that goal. “Our mobile bookings now account for 60 percent of our bookings, up from only 27 percent since the time I joined the company,” CEO Don Mattrick said during Zynga’s last earnings call. Their goal is to hit 75 percent or more of the revenues coming from mobile by the end of 2015. Key to that strategy is the company’s stated plan to publish from six to ten new titles this year, and be a leader in multiple categories of mobile games. Leading the way in that attempt is the new game from Natural Motion, Dawn of Titans, which is heading to iOS and Android platforms in soft-launch only a few weeks from now, with general release to follow.
“In Dawn of Titans, players are immersed in a breathtaking, high fantasy world as they lead Titans into epic battles with thousands of soldiers,” said Natural Motion CEO Torsten Reil in a blog entry posted today. “Players build their kingdoms to fuel their army, raise Titans and fight battles at epic scale to capture territory. The Dawn of Titans experience is set within a kingdom that looks, feels and sounds real. Our team has designed every element of Dawn of Titans — from the trees, to the waterfalls, to the Titans, to the battles — to push the edge and create an entertainment experience that we believe supersedes anything found today in the Action Strategy category.”
The game is built using Natural Motion’s expertise with graphics and their very capable in-house tools. “Powering Dawn of Titans is NaturalMotion’s mobile technology and toolset that creates unprecedented visuals, animation and depth-of-gameplay,” said Reil in his blog post. “Echo, Dawn of Titans‘ proprietary engine, enables the game to feature thousands of units on-screen to achieve epic battles and run smoothly on mobile devices. In addition to Echo, Titans and troops are brought to life with our Morpheme animation engine, giving in-game Titans and characters dynamic and unique, lifelike movements.”
The game, when previewed for [a]listdaily by Reil at Zynga’s headquarters this week, is exceptionally beautiful even on a big screen. The beautifully rendered details, lighting effects, clouds, and detailed landscapes take the real-time strategy battles to a new level on mobile platforms. The game’s attention to detail looks to extend to strategic depth as well as surface beauty, and it should have enough strategic depth to keep and hold the attention of gamers. Like other popular mobile strategy games, you’ll build up territories and use resources to better equip your fighting forces. Once on the battlefield, there are plenty of tactical choices to make, with positioning, use of different units against the best targets, and adroit use of special attacks being key elements to success.
The [a]listdaily spoke exclusively with Natural Motion’s CEO Torsten Reil about the game and what it means to both Zynga and the industry.
Was the genesis of the game because the team wanted to do action-strategy, or from you or Zynga saying “let’s do action-strategy” as a genre?
We definitely wanted to do action-strategy because we felt there was room for innovation. The second part was we really wanted to give that team a challenge because they were so good. We wanted to be in this genre, but we also wanted to find people who had the passion for it. We challenged the team with the following: Are you able to create battle scenes with thousands of characters on-screen at the same time, in real-time, with you having full real-time touch control over all of these troops, and make all of these battles resolve within thirty to sixty seconds And they said no, that’s not possible. Eventually we managed to get it to work. This was possible because we have a super-passionate, very talented team in London, but also because we have our own real-time, high-performance game engine.
The game is quite stunning in its appearance. Was it difficult to achieve this kind of look, and will this work even on older smartphones and tablets?
We feel comfortable that the vision is being realized. In many ways, this goes beyond consoles, in other ways maybe not quite comparable. You can realize a world at whatever quality you want. The soundscape varies as you move around the game into different areas, and as events are occurring. This game will run on iPad 2 and down to the iPhone 5, perhaps the iPhone 4 as well.
Are you concerned about entering an entirely new genre and whether or not that will work?
If you really care about the consumer and the player and you really want to give them something amazing, and you’re able to achieve that, you can follow from that. CSR Racing now has 120 million users, and 2 percent of the world’s population has played that game. With Clumsy Ninja we wanted to create something lovable, and that game did nearly 10 million downloads in its first week on iOS. We have some evidence that if you really do something amazing for the player, that works.
Dawn of Titans is both very different from anything Natural Motion has done before, and anything Zynga has done before. Does this mean there’s a big marketing challenge ahead for Zynga with this game?
It’s interesting. When we launched CSR Racing, the game we had done before was My Horse. Before that, Jenga. Totally different. We found that having the ability to cross-promote and having some demographic overlap, of course that’s useful. If you have a game, however, that is appealing in general, you can break all the records just with the game. Imagine doing that and on top of that having cross-promotion, which is what we believe we have. I think that’s a really powerful combination. It’s different from our other games, that’s the point. Honestly, the team is so passionate about action-strategy — that’s what they love playing — that’s why we wanted them to do it. It’s the same as when we did CSR Racing; the team was super-passionate about cars, and that shines through. That’s hopefully the case here as well.
How is Dawn of Titans monetized?
It is a free-to-play game. One of the things we really care about is that people can play the game without spending money. You are able to finish the single-player campaign in CSR Racing without spending any money. It’s really important for us that it’s voluntary. The way we look at it is, if we create an experience that people love, then people will spend money. In our experience it’s not a good idea to be too in-your-face with money-spending requests. We try to find the right balance and create something that people want to spend money on. The launch of the game is the beginning, and then you go into live operations where you can add all sorts of things and change the game in response to people.
Are you going to be putting out materials to talk about the story behind Dawn of Titans, and the obviously rich background that’s been created?
We have plans, but we’re not willing to talk about them yet. We think it’s a really rich story.