Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes has consistently ranked in the top-grossing games on iOS and Android. The Electronic Arts mobile battle game launched 11 months ago, but fans keep coming back and spending money in the experience.
We talked with EA Mobile about how it keeps the title going, which isn’t an easy trick in the $36 billion mobile-game industry. The turn-based role-playing release takes place in a cantina far far away, and it gives you access to all of the characters in the entire Star Wars timeline. You collect the characters and battle other players across the entire galaxy. You get a chance to live out your Star Wars dreams and fight with your favorite light side or dark side personalities.
When the game launched last year, it got a boost from the release of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie. And now, as the 2016 holiday season approaches, EA’s Capital Games, the developer of the title in Sacramento, Calif., is adding new features — such as characters from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the new film that debuts on December 16. But movie tie-ins alone aren’t enough to keep a game in the top-grossing ranks. With a 4.5 out of 5 rating by fans, the title is one of the highest-rated offerings on the top-grossing charts. And, according to measurement firm Sensor Tower, Galaxy of Heroes has generated more than $100 million in revenues and been downloaded more than 30 million times.
“We think it resonated because you get that feeling that you’re collecting figures and should go back for more,” John Salera, executive producer at EA Capital Games, said in an interview with GamesBeat at EA’s headquarters. “This is like a digital toy box, with a light narrative framing. We wanted the game to feel authentic across the whole experience.”
It might seem like the Star Wars name gives the release a big advantage. But not every game with a brand succeeds, and not every Star Wars game succeeds. Kabam, for instance, is shutting down Star Wars: Uprising. By contrast, Galaxy of Heroes appears to be the most successful Star Wars game on mobile to date. Players are pouring a lot of time into the title, an average of four hours a day. That is still going up even as the developers make the gameplay more efficient in terms of how much time it takes to play.
“The folks at Lucas didn’t want a brand slap,” Salera said. “We dug into it and realized that as wonderful as the brand is, Star Wars is not a checkbox for success. We knew we had to put forth as wonderful a game as we could create.”
As for why Galaxy of Heroes became such a hit, Salera said, “We always tried to take in a lot of feedback from the fans. We tested the game aggressively and ran various studies. It’s important to internalize that feedback, even if you are emotionally connected to the thing that people are saying they don’t like. We came up with something that felt right for Star Wars fans. It addressed the core fans and worked well for mid-core fans too.”
Oddly enough, Salera felt that the lack of a story was important for the game’s success.
“We deliberately didn’t go into a lot of narrative. We never tell you where you are or when you are,” Salera said. “We want you to be in the universe but not be constrained to events that may happen somewhere in the future. We wanted the narrative to be happening in your own head. Having the game feel authentic across the entire experience was important to us.”
The process of bringing on new players is also accessible.
“It’s a core game, but we wanted it to be welcoming to the mid-core,” Salera said. “It is complex, but we feed things to players over time, so they can learn it as they go.”
The cantina has holo tables and looks futuristic. The holo tables are full of Star Wars champions, and you fight in a bunch of holo games with a hundred unique arenas. You start out with light-side characters and fight against the dark side. Over time, you can earn dark-side characters and use them to fight against the light-side characters. The animations show each attack with sound and cinematics. You can unlock player-versus-player, and that lifts the restrictions. Missions take you to places like Hoth, Tatoonie, and Imperial ships.
By updating the game regularly, EA has kept the fans coming back. Galaxy of Heroes now has nearly 100 characters, including characters from the Clone Wars television show. Earlier this year, the developers added raids and battles with giant bosses. A bunch of players can fight against a Rancor in a player-versus-environment battle. The battles feature a shared health pool, and you share in the rewards based on how much damage you do.
“There’s a lot of deep strategy that happens there,” Salera said.
Players can join guilds and chat with each other and compete against other guilds to earn awards. If you want to micromanage the battles, you can. But you can also let the artificial intelligence take over and finish the battles for you.
“The cantina was done in a way so that we could keep bringing in new content as it gets developed,” Salera said. “The characters have five progression systems. There’s level, rarity, a gearing system where you can craft things together, and special abilities where the personalities come through. Han Solo has a special ability where he always shoots first. Lando can call in air strikes with his wrist communicator.”
Tournaments arrived earlier this month. You fight the squads of other players who are close to you in rank. Based on the number of points, you can get on the leaderboard and get payouts. Any day now, EA will be launching spaceships. Characters will be assigned to ships, and players will be able to collect Tie Fighters and X-Wing starfighters and other ships.