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Look out, Angry Birds. Here comes the Angry Bulls. Zynga is releasing its Running With Friends mobile game on the iPhone today around the world.
The San Francisco-based social mobile gaming company previously released the game in Canada as part of a test for its first “endless runner” title, where players control a runner in a 3D scene and swipes the screen to move one direction or another. This sort of mobile title is critical to Zynga’s future as it shifts from a desktop-based social game company, dependent on Facebook, to a broader mobile gaming firm.
In this game, the player has to take part in a cartoon version of the Running of the Bulls festival in Pamplona, Spain, where participants have to outrun live bulls. Running With Friends competes with other indie titles like Tiny Wings and Temple Run. Zynga wants to differentiate its game by making it more social, where you challenge your friends to running matches.
Travis Boatman, the senior vice president of mobile games at Zynga, said in an interview with GamesBeat that the developers spent a lot of time absorbing feedback from players and revising the game so it is easier at the outset. That’s consistent with the guidance from chief operations officer David Ko, who said that Zynga had put up more “guard rails” to ensure that each game launch is successful.
“A lot of that has to do with how levels are laid out and how they appear to new players or those who have played a few times,” Boatman said. “For the better players, we make sure that they have a real challenge.”
In the title, which is the seventh in Zynga’s With Friends series, you have to switch paths, jump, duck, and sometimes hitch a ride on the back of a bull — all under a time crunch. The levels are endless in the sense that they can be generated dynamically, on the fly, so you never run out places to move. You do, however, run into tougher challenges and time limits.
Zynga’s made Running With Friends with Eat Sleep Play, a game studio that has previously work on console games like Twisted Metal: Black and Warhawk. Zynga contributed its own know-how in mobile and social games, while Eat Sleep Play focused on making the game more fun.
Eat Sleep Play worked on the 3D engine and other engineering to make the game fluid. Eat Sleep Play was founded by Scott Campbell and David Jaffe (who has moved on). The team worked on it for a while to make sure the title was polished and that its levels were well crafted.
The social aspects comes into play through the “With Friends” label, which comes from Zynga’s successful franchises such as Scramble With Friends (which Cooper worked on) and Words With Friends. You can challenge your mobile phone friends or your Facebook friends to matches, where you try to beat each other’s scores and times. It’s easy to create challenges, sends messages to friends, and check your score on the leaderboard.
As we noted before, Zynga critics may ding the company for copying someone else. But Boatman’s view is that the team differentiated its title with details like crashing through destructible objects (barrels, haystacks, and barriers) and its slot machine, which runs before each match. The reels can land on different bonuses, such as bonuses for destroying the most boxes. Since the slots can change every time, the feature adds replayability that affects which strategy you use, Boatman said.
Zynga also tried to make the most social endless runner game. On top of that, Boatman said that endless runners may be a vast category, much like the first-person shooter genre is on the consoles and the PC.
You can run as a ninja, a ballerina, or a zombie. You can jump up to higher levels to avoid the bulls, and threats come to you from behind or ahead of you. You can smash through signs and knock down other humans, including your friends. If you’re good enough, you can ride on top of the bulls and destroy everything in your path. You can run down an alley and take a short cut. You get more points sliding into humans or riding on the bulls. Boatman said it’s easy to play but tough to master.
It requires split second timing, or you have to start over. If you want to keep running, you eventually have to pay coins to do so. And that’s one way that Zynga monetizes the game.
Zynga also inserts ads into the game, and it will have integrated branding as part of a partnership with Dunkin’ Donuts, which will provide players with nine expert in-game tips for better play. You can pay for the game to skip the ads, Boatman said.
If you’re ready to hold onto your horns, take a run on the cobblestone streets. The game is launching in nine languages including English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Traditional Chinese, and Simplified Chinese. Zynga has more than 253 million monthly active users. No Android version is scheduled yet.
Here’s a trailer of the gameplay action.