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After 2.5 years of work, PennyPop is launching a massive role-playing game called Battle Camp aimed at capturing hardcore but time-stressed mobile gamers.
The title is an ambitious game with a huge pantheon of cute characters and a sophisticated proprietary engine that allows the company to create a monster-catching title on top of a rich virtual world. The goal is to combine Pokémon and World of Warcraft in a mobile game, according to PennyPop founders Gordon Su and Charles Ju. It’s an example of how mobile game creators are making bigger investments to bring a console-like experience to mobile.
“It’s a mobile massively multiplayer online game that is universal and accessible,” said Su in an interview with GamesBeat. “We didn’t want to just shrink Pokemon or WoW to a shitty four-inch screen. We designed it for mobile.”
In Battle Camp, the player becomes a Ranger, part of an elite group of monster fighters. To capture monsters in battles, you have to match gems, like in Bejeweled. You can strategize with your troop of friends to raid big bosses. And you can fight rival human players in real-time player-versus-player combat.
The title is the first game from San Francisco-based PennyPop, which has just 11 employees. Ju and Su are cousins, they came up with the idea to do a game startup at a wedding. Su is a former investment professional at Farallon Capital Management and Ju was the founder of Playmesh, an early iPhone game developer that created in-app purchases based virtual goods before Apple did so in 2009. Playmesh games such as iMafia hit more than 10 million downloads. Over time, it released 55 titles that hit the top 25, and the company’s total downloads topped 35 million. After Ju left Playmesh, now called Quark, he went on to form PennyPop.
The founders felt that asynchronous games, where players fought each other one turn at a time, was “fake social.” In titles like Clash of Clans or Rage of Bahamut, you battle players that aren’t really there. In Hay Day or FarmVille, you visit neighbors who aren’t really home.
“We want users to engage in more than fake social interactions,” Su said.
In Battle Camp, players can fight in a synchronous fashion and chat in real-time. You can, for instance, change your character’s hair style in real-time and other players will see it happen. The average beta test player plays about 12 sessions a day for a total of over an hour. The title has hit the top 50 in its test markets.
“The engine took a bunch of time,” Su said. The custom engine allows the company to create new environments, quests and characters in a rapid cycle. “The first year and a half was the engine. Then we created a demo. And then we took about a year to do Battle Camp.”
The game is launching on iOS now and it will debut on Android and the web later. Rivals include Gree, DeNA, Zynga, SuperCell, PocketGems, and TinyCo. Investors include family and friends.
“What really separates us from other mobile games is our persistent virtual world,” said Su. “Instead of the tired standard of UI-based gameplay where players tap to quest and attack other players who aren’t really there, Battle Camp is built on top of a massive virtual world where players interact with real people in real-time, chat live with people all around the world, join together with friends for synchronous raids, and clash with rivals in real-time PvP.”