When Vainglory launched six months ago as a major hardcore game on iOS tablets and high-end iPhones, skeptics noticed that it didn’t make it far into the top-grossing games list before it started declining. They wrote off the multiplayer online battle arena game (MOBA) from Super Evil Megacorp as a failure.
But Kristian Segerstrale, the chief operating officer of Super Evil Megacorp, said in a talk at the GamesBeat Summit that those critics didn’t understand what has been happening under the radar and that they were using the “metrics of the previous generation.” By contrast, community growth and usage metrics are heading in the right direction, and they mean that the company’s goal of creating a “game franchise that lasts for decades” is still intact, Segerstrale said. During his talk, Segerstrale outlined five major lessons about making the hardcore MOBA for a tablet, and they’re listed below.
Vainglory is one of the most ambitious mobile games ever made. Its creators intended to take the idea of a fast-action PC MOBA — like League of Legends — and make it playable. Segerstrale noted that the critical reception was good, with 84 out of 100 on Metacritic and 4.5 stars out of 5 on the Apple iTunes App Store.
“These are the numbers we’re focused on, and community is something we focused on from the start,” Segerstrale said. “We’re very early, and we’re very encouraged. If we were a PC game, we would still be in beta testing.”
The five lessons are as follows.
The game engine matters
Segerstrale’s team spent more than two years on Vainglory because they created their own proprietary engine to enable fast-action graphics, sub-30-millisecond controls, 60 frames-per-second play, and 1.3 million polygons rendered. By being more ambitious with its technology, the company became a magnet for talent, and it gave its artistic team much more to work with when it came to a playground for creativity. Apple admired the game’s visuals so much that it used Vainglory in TV and web ads to sell its iPhone 6 smartphone when Vainglory debuted.
Design for gamers
Vainglory’s developers say that their game is unapologetically a core game, meant for hardcore players. Each match lasts about 20 minutes, not the usual 3 minutes on mobile phones. It uses controls that work for gamers, with no gimmicks such as gesture controls or accelerometer controls. Players simply tap on the touch screen with their fingers to guide characters and attack — and they do it as fast as they can. The first day retention is tough for any game, but 30-day retention matters a lot, Segerstrale said.
Work with the community
“Great gaming franchises have always been built by the community,” Segerstrale said. “Nothing that is a big gaming franchise today has ever been built overnight. It takes weeks, months, years.”
The company hasn’t spent any money on user acquisition. It has focused on one-to-one virality, and it has targeted people who are more like celebrities in the MOBA community.
“We invite players to play, we invite them to become part of the community, and we feature them inside the community,” Segerstrale said.
Segerstrale noted that alternative measures of progress are good for showing the growing level of engagement with the game.
Moreover, he said that Vainglory generated more than 500,000 streaming views on gameplay livestreaming site Twitch in February. That grew to more than 900,000 views in March and 1.1 million views on average.
The average sessions for the game are 75 minutes, far above most mobile games. In Japan, where the game just launched, the average session time is 110 minutes.
It takes a long time to build a community.
“Every time, we are measured through the metrics of the previous generation,” he said. “If it’s not in the top 10 in the first two weeks, it should be killed. That’s true for the previous generation. With this generation, however, you cannot acquire your engaged community overnight.”
He noted that Valve’s Dota 2 MOBA game has grown to a huge size over years. Successful games grow steadily over time, under the radar. One step in Vainglory’s journey is that ESL, the biggest independent e-sports league in the world, picked Vainglory as the first touch-screen title for a tournament series among its professional gaming athletes.
Segerstrale also noted that the company launched in Korea six weeks ago, and self-formed teams were busy creating videos proclaiming that they were the best in the world.