July 21, 2012

'Line Pirates: Bringing High Quality Gaming to Facebook

There's something unusual happening in the world of games today: someone wants to make a high quality, complex strategy game that you can actually play with your friends - on Facebook, a platform traditionally known for simpler games.

Kim Lumbard, the leader at Spudnugget Studios, is dissatisfied with the standard offerings. "Many Facebook games are sadly just time wasters. You click, and then click again an hour later to collect a bunch of junk. That's unfun. It pains me to see people play games like Cow Clicker... especially when there's not only some good Facebook games out there but also a mountain of gaming best practices from PC, console, and mobile that hasn't made it into the Facebook mainstream. That's why we're building the game 'Line Pirates: to bring higher quality gaming to Facebook."

"The reason why many great games haven't made the leap to Facebook is because of a mismatch between audience playstyles, " Kim explains. "Most PC and console gamers have long stretches of time they can devote to a single play session. They come from the World of Warcraft mentality, where spending an hour to run an instance is no big deal. Most Facebook and mobile gamers are time-constrained; they have to deal with the kids, jobs, commute, shopping, etc. and have less time they can commit. Those casual gamers have 5 to 15 minute play sessions and are willing to accept lower quality games if they can play and leave them at will. Our company slogan is Playstyle for your Lifestyle. We combine short play sessions and real accomplishment to accommodate busy people. We believe that formula is part of the success of otherwise modest games like Angry Birds and Words with Friends. Just because you're busy doesn't mean you should miss out on great games. We can deliver a quality play experience with depth and mastery that slowly unfolds... 15 minutes at a time."

"We're going to shake things up with our new game: 'Line Pirates," Kim states confidently. "'Line Pirates is a blend of the best from several genres: great strategy and replay value from CCGs, a gripping storyline and evolving characters from RPGs, cooperative teams and scripted boss fights from MMOs, and real competition and fast PvP from RTSs. We're basically transferring what already works in other games and bringing it to a new audience. Toss all that into the pot and actually start harnessing the social aspect of Facebook instead of spamming your friends with ally requests and you have a recipe for a potent new kind of game. 'Line Pirates will be the most Stimulating Strategy Game on Facebook."

"One of the innovations in 'Line Pirates that we're really excited about is Real-Time Turns (RTT). Turn-based strategy games have classically had a player cap limitation, because with too many players each one spends most of their time doing nothing. In 'Line Pirates, everyone takes their turn at the same time! This enables us to do two major things. First, each game fits into the same time footprint whether you are playing with 1 person or 20. So we can deliver boss fights and cooperative play to those busy casual players. Second, RTT allows us to create a sports culture online: with teams in league that duke it out for the tops spots at the end of the season. That means we can appeal to highly competitive players in a social context. RTT is a massive leap forward for this class of game."

Kim has the air of a veteran gamer about him and you can hear his passion for fun games in his voice. He was one of the original LPBs in Quake when FPSs were first taking hold. In City of Heroes, he was the infamous scrapper Leprechauna that discovered the "perma-unstoppable" exploit. Acclaimed as a Dungeon Master extraordinaire, he ran the New World Campaign openly online. But Kim is more than just a typical gamer. He's participated in several successful startups, a few in Silicon Valley during the boom. He's worked for most of the national labs and done classified government research. He's a renaissance man with interests ranging from math conjectures to public health... with a shrewd sense of business and future trends.

"Equally important to what we're going to do is how," Kim elaborates. "We're specifically designing a game that appeals to both genders. Women are now the dominant force in tech spending, and pretty soon they're going to lead in gaming, especially social games. Most gaming companies cater to men and are missing half their market because of major errors. They pander to female stereotypes that turn women off and lack gameplay that actually appeals to women. 'Line Pirates has a strong female main character (Ezzy) in a story with compelling characters and an unfolding plot. Our game is inherently social and team-building is an integral part."

"The average age of gamers has grown up, and that has several consequences for gaming. Adults lead busy lives and don't have the ample time they used to. They also have considerably more disposable income than teenagers, and tend to value quality experience and convenience over price. The content dealt with in most games not only can be more mature, there's an increasing expectation of sophistication in games. One direction that has headed is production value: a game like Mass Effect 3 made by a big label is as complicated as a movie, with the same entertainment expectation of their audience. We're heading in the direction of sophistication of strategy and storyline. We have to assume our casual Facebook gamer is using a modest computer system, so computationally intensive elements like high-end rendered graphics can't be relied upon."

"We're also experimenting with funding models," Kim explains. "Rather than seeking traditional venture capital, we've started a Kickstarter project to get seed funding. We're trying to involve our audience right from the get go and give them a say in shaping the 'Line Pirates. Kickstarter is a truly new beast that hasn't fully been explored yet. Not only is it connecting creators and consumers, it's generating self-selected target markets. I hate ads as much of the next guy (there will be no ads or ad revenue in 'Line Pirates) but when I support a Kickstarter project I _want_ to be involved. I want to get updates. Basically, I'm getting a say in directing the marketplace to meet my needs."

"Kickstarter is a compelling example of crowdfunding in action. This same model of connecting peers financially in small amounts is being duplicated successfully over and over. Micro-charities have gained traction, whether they use a loan model like Kiva or donations model like Microgiving. Lending Club, where people loan other people money, gives better returns than the stock market or other investments. At one point these kinds of places were viewed as a curio, but now they are outperforming comparable vehicles and funneling hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Crowdfunding is here to stay, and it's an interesting alternative to the dog and pony show of venture capital."

When asked whether there's anything else special in 'Line Pirates, Kim replies, "Oh my god yes. We've committed to being completely online and never having a print version of the game. That allows us to do interesting powers and effects that wouldn't be possible in other card games, like changing the probability you'll draw a certain type of card. Unlike other card games that evolved over time, we've mathematically balanced the entire game. So we can make, oh, around 2 billion fair cards without disrupting any balance issues. And don't even get me started on our unique UpClose Matchmaking system that accounts for both player rating and deck power, ensuring that every game you play will be close and fun!"

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