Four years after the founding of Zynga, social game makers are still breaking ground on new titles and venture capitalists are giving them money. The hope is that the social game revolution is still in its beginning stages and that any group of talented game developers can steal a march on the industry leaders with a little bit of creativity.
Woodland Heroes is a story-based strategy battle game where cute and not-so-cute animals battle each other. I’ve tried it out and the game has an original approach to strategy and it works well in the asynchronous, or one turn at a time, style. As with Angry Birds, you can toss stuff via catapults and cannon at the enemy, but the game is played from an isometric, or slightly askew overhead view.
It is just one of many Facebook games. In spite of the presence of big rivals such as Zynga and Electronic Arts, Row Sham Bow’s founders believe they can succeed by targeting an under-served niche within the Facebook gaming market. And this isn’t a pure shot in the dark; Row Sham Bow’s founders spent many years at Electronic Arts sports game studio in Florida.
The company was started by Philip Holt, chief executive and former EA manager, and Nick Gonzales, chief technology officer and former EA Sports software architect. They’ve hired a number of former EA, Disney, and Cartoon Network employees. Their aim is to take their console experience and break into free-to-play games, where users play for free and pay real money for virtual goods.
“We feel like we have the opportunity to take a lot more creative risk,” Holt said in an interview. “I feel like we’ve seen more creativity in this part of the industry in the last two years than we have seen in the last 15 years in consoles.”
Observers such as Facebook’s game partnership chief Sean Ryan have noted that there are plenty of game genres that haven’t been popularized on Facebook yet.
Holt said his company looked for funding on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park, Calif., but found that investors weren’t interested in funding a faraway company that hasn’t proven itself yet. So The company raised $3.5 million in funding from Intersouth Partners, a venture firm in Durham, N.C. The company was founded in March and it was funded in April. Six months later, it has its first game ready for Facebook. The company has 23 employees and contractors.
Woodland Heroes has intricate two-dimensional art with a cartoon style that goes over well on social networks such as Facebook, which draw a more mainstream game audience than the hardcore gamers on the consoles. The company believes its target market is males and females ages 13 to 24.
The player has to defend the forest from an invasion of bears and other creatures. Players lead woodland creatures to freedom and discover the truth behind the disappearance of the hero’s father. The game pits the heroic creatures against the King Bear and his army of evil forest predators. The adventure takes place across 56 locations in six distinct regions, from lush lowland forests to swampy and barren bogs. You have to use strategy to take out your enemies and race them to find the best weapons on the map.
The game starts with a couple of easy levels that are accompanied by a tutorial that teaches you how to play the game. You shoot live pigs at the bears via catapults, always trying to locate the bears’ secret weapon before they locate your own forces.
“We felt like the games in the social market were a little lacking in game play,” Holt said. “We were disappointed and felt we could do better.”
He said the current games are “souless,” or not very fun, even though they are carefully tested and based on detailed analytics.
“We wanted to make the game fun and have consequences for getting things wrong,” Holt said. “We want the player to make decisions that matter. We want an emotional connection to characters in the game and the story. We want people to be attracted to the game because of its core mechanic.”