Fast-growing mobile and social game company Kabam has been very successful with massively multiplayer social games like Dragons of Atlantis: Heirs of the Dragon and Kingdoms of Camelot, along with licensed titles like The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle Earth and Fast & Furious 6: The Game. Recently the company received a $120 million strategic investment from the diversified Chinese company Alibaba, along with a partnership for Alibaba to publish and distribute Kabam’s games in China. This investment values Kabam at more than $1 billion, which is in line with the compay’s expected revenue of over $550 million this year.

John Young

Kabam is launching a medieval-themed massively multiplayer strategy war game, Kings of the Realm, for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, available worldwide on the App Store. The game is free-to-play, like all Kabam games, and lets players build up a massive medieval city and great armies through conquest. Players can also join forces with other players, and perhaps eventually be crowned King. Kings of the Realm is the first title developed by Digit Game Studios, a 20-person game development studio in Dublin, Ireland.

The twist with Kings of the Realm is that this is a transmedia game that launches together with a book published by Penguin and written by Oisin McGann, Kings of the Realm: Cruel Salvation. The novel is the second book in a series that, as its press release states, “delves into the characters and rich lore of a world in conflict. Gamers can immerse themselves in the complex personal struggles of the heroes in the book, while readers can forge their own destiny in the living world of the game. Designed with close collaboration between the writer and the developers, the interplay between books and game forges new ground in immersive entertainment.”

Kabam executive producer John Young spoke exclusively with [a]list daily about Kings of the Realm and its transmedia impact

What lead to the creation of this transmedia event . . . did the first novel start things off, or was this conceived initially by the author and the game developers as a transmedia project?

Our developer, Digit Game Studios, conceived of a compelling world of dark epic fantasy. The gritty realism was a refreshing change from the more cartoony strategy games that are popular. The game is the lead product and the book is designed to accentuate the world. During development, it came to the attention of one the editors of the Game of Thrones books who’d recently moved to Penguin. With their interest, an author was commissioned and he worked closely with the development team to write the books.

The first book details how a great evil was unleashed, and the personal struggles of some heroes who fight a heroic rearguard action against it. The game begins with the survivors starting to build anew, and allows characters from the book to be commanders of player armies in the game. The second book, also launching with the game, follows the heroes into this new world . . . I can’t give away the plot, but of course “adventures happen.” The books give life to the commanders and troops, while the game lets readers experience it all firsthand. It’s a combo that feels fun.

In addition to being cross-media, the game is cross-platform, with iOS, Android, and web players (and others!) all fighting in the same world against each other. We’ve even given special commanders to the mobile players. It’s all about making a compelling world that players can enjoy anywhere or in any medium.

How did Kabam come upon this property, and what aspects led Kabam to sign this?

Kabam Publishing looks at a lot of games, but Kings of the Realm really stood out. People were literally standing around in our office admiring the city screen on a widescreen monitor, which has over 80 uniquely crafted and animated buildings, all hand drawn and of varied shapes and sizes. It’s really the most beautiful city of any strategy game I’ve played. That was the light bulb moment—it just looks better than any game out there.

When we met the high quality team, and they wanted the kind of monetization, marketing, and featuring expertise we bring, we knew it was a great match. Together we’ve iterated, localized, tested, and collaborated on design. It’s a tremendous partnership and I see a strong future in 10-30 person teams building something with passion and focus, and then being accelerated by a company like Kabam.

Will the book be available as an e-book and a print book? Will there be cross-marketing between the book and the game, and what form will it take?

The book is largely electronic. We’re going to do cool things like have tournaments in the game that have the books as prizes, trivia contests in the in-game chat that reveal some of the lore that the books contains, cross-promotion between Kabam and Penguin’s respective newsletters, websites, and social media properties. We have grander plans as well.

Is a transmedia property like this easier or more difficult to market, and why?

Players and readers seem impressed by it, but players generally are looking for a game to play and readers generally want a book to read. So it’s not necessarily easy to drive an install by telling people that there is a book also. The game needs to be awesome in and of itself, and likewise for the book. This probably helps more with retention than with acquisition. But mostly we’re doing it because it’s cool and seems right for Kings of the Realm.

What do you see as the future for Kings of the Realm in terms of additional content (both for the game and for the novels)?

The novels feature a lot of the Devourers, zombie-like undead who are kicking the butts of humans, elves, and dwarves. They don’t exist in the game . . . yet. They kicked our butts in the books, so you can bet there is something exciting coming to the game once they catch up to the players. So you can expect events, world bosses, and some unique gameplay coming from that direction.

We have a huge items/crafting system that we’re hard at work on. It will really change the game and add tremendous depth to an already very intricate strategy game. Armor sets and epic weapons crafted to defeat wall-mounted ballistae and defensive catapults Coming soon!

We have big plans for a robust, unstable alliance system. What are “unstable” alliances We’re very inspired by MMOs like EVE Online, and so we can expect a multi-tier feudal network when players will have incentive to cooperate . . . until they suddenly don’t! Maintaining a great alliance will take diplomatic skill as well as military might.

Kabam has done very well with licensing established IP, and Kings of the Realm seems like getting in on the ground floor of a new IP. Do you expect Kabam to sign more new IP projects like this one, or stick more with established licenses?

Kabam does have a great track record working with the biggest IPs in the business (Hunger Games, Marvel, Mad Max, and Lord of the Rings are all upcoming partnerships we’ve announced). But we’re intentionally balanced: we have great internal projects and published projects which have created their own beautiful worlds. We hope that Kings of the Realm is perceived in a few years as an established IP, but first we need to make the game great and players thrilled. The beta has been fantastic so we have high hopes.

What sort of marketing is planned for Kings of the Realm, and does this differ from marketing other properties that are not transmedia?

Kabam is really, really good at acquisition marketing for games. It will be interesting to see whether the tie-ins we’ve done (for example, links from inside the book to the game) will be significant compared to the huge numbers that classic UA and platform featuring generate. We’re learning every day, which is what makes the process so much fun.

Who is Kings of the Realm designed for?

If you want to build an epic city, Kings of the Realm is for you. If you enjoy complex strategic decisions about which armies with which commanders and troops to sack which district of an enemy city, Kings of the Realm is for you. Kabam pretty much invented mobile strategy games, but hats off to the team at Machine Zone for Game of War. It’s a great game, but if you like that, check of Kings of the Realm and compare the two. We think you’ll like what you find.