Justin, from Game Layers, talks about their new Facebook Game Dictator Wars
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Interviewer: I’m here at Austin Game Developers Conference and with me today is a special guest. How about you introduce yourself?
Justin: Hi, my name is Justin Hall
Interviewer: What are you working on now?
Justin: So, I work at a company called GameLayers, and we have a game called Dictator Wars that’s out on Facebook. What we did is we looked and we said, “What are the games that everybody is playing on Facebook?” Oh man, there’s a ton of people playing Mob Wars, Fashion Wars and all these games.
Interviewer: Drug wars.
Justin: And drug wars, and we said, “They’re all playing alone. They are massively single player games. Let’s stitch people together in a new way, so now we built Dictator Wars with foreign affairs where if you want to develop domestic drug production you’re going to need some patsies; you’re going to have to bring your friends in.
If you want to develop foreign intelligence context, you’ve got to get your friends to help you kidnap the diplomat and put them in the limo and stitch together friendship into circles of international betrayal and, you know, power grabbing.
Interviewer: Nice. Is this in PHP, or is it in Flash or how is that?
Justin: So, our back end technology is Ruby On Rails which allows us to build really fast, and we just inject the whole application within Facebook through an iFrame.
Interviewer: Oh, wow. What were the challenges with developing it in terms of game play mechanics and stuff like that since it’s considered a different space or new design space?
Justin: Yeah, thanks for asking. Dictator Wars has been, I think, pretty easy to build because we were able to get the core mechanics up fast, because it’s not graphically intense. So, we could use place holder art. We could use some place holder content and get the basic feel for the game. What does it feel like to fight people? What does it feel like to get people to help you do things in Dictator Wars?
We did all those things. We got the game up, and our play testers have been great. And we’ve made a ton of changes, and the wonderful thing is we don’t have a client. Nobody has any downloaded software, so if we want to make a change, we make the change. It goes out immediately.
Interviewer: What’s the viral loop for the game, like how are you growing it and how do you get people engaged into keep coming back?
Justin: That’s a great question. So, what we do at Dictator Wars is if you play, you can play alone but only to a point. You reach a point where you say, “Man, I’m going to need some help to get through this game”, and that’s when you invite your friend in. And then, once your friend is playing, the two of you can earn like twice as much experience and money if you work together. So, the single player game is one thing, but if you play with just one other friend, you’re like doubling the speed and your wealth within Dictator Wars.
Interviewer: Sure. What have been some of the biggest surprises or learning lessons that you’ve had working in this space?
Justin: That’s a good question. I think it’s just that, I mean, it’s always that people on the Internet are ready to be passionate about something for good or for bad. So, there’s some people who they’re like, “Oh, man, I really don’t like this because it’s about dictators and that’s lame”. And there’s some people who are like, “I always wanted global power. I love Dictator Wars”.
So, you know, what is Facebook? Facebook is just the Internet. It’s just this little closed garden of the Internet, but it’s the same people who are crazy passionate in good and bad ways about what you do.
Interviewer: What are the other games that you played in this space and that you find intriguing? Do you think that this is a new space, or do you think it’s just hyped up MMO propagation?
Justin: That’s a good question. You know, when I think about these types of games, the first games that I played that were like this, I was playing in 1989 on bulletin board services when you dialed in with a modem. They had the same types of games where you got 10 turns a day. It was Yankee Trader or Trade Wars 2000, and all you did was you did your little planetary upkeep for 10 turns and that was it. And then, you had to wait until the next day, and that’s it.
I think these games are very much like those old games, and so I played a lot of Jacuzzi Wars and I played a lot of Mobsters II and I played Mafia Wars. And I played all these games that are contemporary, and what they really add is that now when I’m playing all my friends from grade school who are also playing the game are in the game.
So, that’s nice because they just come with me into the game and that’s an add. But otherwise, the game plays not much different than it was 20 years ago.
Interviewer: It’s the network effect, and it’s also the business model which seems to be very powerful.
Justin: Yes, the business model is powerful because you basically say, “Look, play as much as you can, and then if you want to play more, you can play a little bit to play a little more, pay a lot to play a lot more”. So, you give people flexibility, so it’s not just like: you have to pay $10.00 to play our game. It’s like: play and if you want to play a lot, you pay more.
Interviewer: So, how are you monetizing your game yet, or is it mainly an experiment, or how is that going?
Justin: So, Dictator Wars, you can spend a little bit of money to buy, basically, in-game credits, virtual currency, and then you spend the virtual currency to buy more time in the game, or you can spend it to buy more cash that allows you to buy that aircraft carrier that you couldn’t afford before. Or you can spend the virtual points to buy mercenaries who will help you in battle.
So, it’s very much a straightforward virtual currency thing in Dictator Wars. We think that this is a market that people understand today. It’s a question. There are 33 million people playing Farmville on Facebook or whatever.
Interviewer: Yeah, 40 million.
Justin: Forty million, maybe, it’s 42 by now. It’s six o’clock or whatever. Do those people understand micro-transactions? We think so, so we said let’s do something familiar for them.
Interviewer: What’s then next in store? Are you going to focus on this game, or are you going to focus on other games? What’s the road map?
Justin: Well, I think people who play games, especially games in 2009 that are on the Internet, people respond to games where they are actively maintained and the developers are engaged in paying attention. So, we have content updates planned for Dictator Wars, and we’re just…
Interviewer: Is that every week or every three days or four days?
Justin: So, we don’t have a schedule. What we do now is we’ve been out for a week, so we’re still getting bugs and like, “I don’t understand where to find this thing. OK, let’s make that more clear”. So, we’re responding to the initial stuff, and then basically what we want to do is see how fast people go through the game and give them more content where they’re running out of content.
So, we actually wrote – let’s say, we wrote 100 percent of content when we initially released the game, and we released 70 percent so we have that 30 percent to say, “OK, now two weeks later, three weeks later, let’s put that out. Now, it’s time”. People have come through. We see where they are going. We see where it would be good to put that other stuff.
Interviewer: How’s that week – you said you released for a week. How is that going? Is Facebook still the Gold Rush that people have talked about in previous years?
Justin: I think what’s amazing on Facebook, Action, is that just a ton of people play games and they don’t just play one. Once you play one game, you’re just like, “Oh, I’ll just try another one. I know what’s involved. I know it’s not going to hurt me. I know how to control the experience”.
And so, we see that there’s, maybe… We’re seeing great uptake. We’re optimistic because people say, “Hey, I played this other game. I played Mob Wars, but I like this game better because you put more time and polish into it”, or “I like the art. It’s better”. And so, we’re finding that the work that we did to put the little extra spin on Dictator Wars is bringing people in from other games, and that’s been going really well during our first week.
Interviewer: And where can the audience play the game?
Justin: So, if you go to DictatorWars.com, there’s a link from there to our Facebook app.
Interviewer: Any other things or suggestions you want to give for other developers who want to get into Facebook games out there?
Justin: I would say that if you want to make a Facebook game, it’s really easy to build something small and put it up there and invite your friends to be developers, to experiment with you. And so, you should just put something up and plan to continue to improve it. So, get started.
Interviewer: Thank you.