We’ve known that mobile is home to millions of casual players. Smash hits like Candy Crush Saga have proven that everyday people will pick up games on their smartphones and tablets, but now we also have evidence of the previously fabled “midcore” player on mobile.

But before things like the social-strategy blend of Clash of Clans proved that slightly deeper games could make a ton of money on mobile, a small developer called Demiurge teamed up with comic book company Marvel and publisher D3 to make a game called Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign.

Development started on Marvel Puzzle Quest back in August 2012. That’s before Clash of Clans made a name for itself or the successful role-playing match-3 game Puzzle & Dragons even debuted in Japan. Despite a market that was ruled by casual experiences, Marvel, Demiurge, and D3 had a hunch that the Marvel universe mashed up with the mechanics of the Puzzle Quest franchise could probably find some success.

Demiurge CEO Albert Reed.

Above: Demiurge CEO Albert Reed.

Image Credit: Demiurge

Puzzle Quest first debuted as a 2007 portable game for the Nintendo DS and Sony PlayStation Portable. It combines puzzle mechanics with role-playing elements like character leveling and magic. It earned a lot of fans and critical acclaim and even spawned an eventual PC and mobile release. Demiurge, Marvel, and D3 knew that Puzzle Quest like that would serve as an ideal basis for a free-to-play mobile game, but in 2013, they grew convinced they had a potential hit on their hands.

“We got going on development, and as we were making this game, this whole midcore space showed up from out of nowhere,” Demiurge chief executive Albert Reed told GamesBeat. “We just happened to be working on a game that was squarely targeting that space.”

The success of games like Clash of Clans and Puzzle & Dragons fueled Demiurge team’s excitement, and the studio decided at that time to double its efforts. It pushed through and ended up releasing Marvel Puzzle Quest in September.

The right skills for the right market

Marvel Puzzle Quest is out now, and it’s performing “extremely well,” according to Reed. The developer feels that his company hit an emerging and underserved market on mobile with the right game.

“Our background is in console gaming,” he said. “We built a work-for-hire business and helped make games like Borderlands and BioShock and Medal of Honor and all these big triple-A titles. We have this fundamental background in making high-quality games.” 

Demiurge’s problem was that it had to figure out how to apply those base skills to free-to-play games, but Reed thinks it was a nice problem to have. Prior to Marvel Puzzle Quest, Demiurge worked with mobile powerhouse publishers like Glu Mobile. The studio also released free-to-play title Shoot Many Robots to iOS and Android.

Reed says that his team was able to take lessons from those experiences and match it up with its game-making expertise.

“A lot of people are trying to instead learn the economics and business of free-to-play games, then try to figure out how to go make great games after that,” he said. “The end result is that Marvel Puzzle Quest has appeal to game-savvy players.”

The midcore audience is made up of that group of gamers that started having kids and ran out of time for games in the living room or on the PC. They instead want to pick up a few moments of easier titles here and there on their phones and tablets, and they’re a bit too sophisticated for something like Candy Crush Saga.

“All of those people feel very at home with Marvel: Puzzle Quest because it has this really great core appeal,” said Reed. “And then there’s also some people who actually are playing Candy Crush that end up looking for a deeper experience, and Marvel Puzzle Quest can give them that.”

No going back to consoles

“That actually feels like much longer ago,” said Reed.

The reason that September feels like ancient history to Reed and his team is that Marvel Puzzle Quest has already seen significant changes and upgrades since its debut.

“This is the thing — I never want to make another console game again if I can avoid it,” said Reed. “With console games, as soon as they come out, and you read the reviews, you think, ‘oh shit, we could’ve fixed that.’ But it’s too late.”

With Marvel Puzzle Quest, Demiurge immediately jumped on top of complaints from the community. For example, early on, players struggled with the character-upgrade system. Most people couldn’t even figure out how to improve Iron Man’s capabilities. This led to the studio completely reworking the interface gamers use to apply upgrades.

“In the data, we immediately saw a bump of eight percent in our day-one retention,” said Reed.

Instant feedback from a live community of active players is something Demiurge doesn’t want to give up, and the place for that kind of development is definitely on mobile.