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Gaming on mobile is starting to feel really rote — you have Clash of Clans and a million Clash of Clans clones. But one studio wants to see if they can shake up the formula for success.

Developer JuiceBox Games has already released its next game, called StormBorn: War of Legends, on iOS and Android in Canada and Australia. This is a testing phase that will eventually lead to a worldwide debut of the mobile character-focused role-playing game. Smartphone gaming is a $30 billion business, and the studio wants to grab a piece of that while also continuing to make products “with soul.”

StormBorn is JuiceBox’s followup to HonorBound, which the studio released in early 2014. That company aimed HonorBound at the fabled “midcore” player, which is a person who enjoys complexity and depth but only has time to play games on their phone, and that led to some success. HonorBound made more than $7 million after 5 million installs. And while that is a long way from billion-dollar hits like Japan’s hit Monster Strike and the aforementioned Clash of Clans, JuiceBox chief executive officer Michael Martinez says that it was only a start.

“This game takes everything we learned with HonorBound and applies it in a way so that we’ve ended up with a much better and much bigger game,” Martinez told GamesBeat in an interview.


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Like with HonorBound, Martinez says StormBorn is still about producing an RPG with soul for mobile platforms, but it’s also about making that kind of game catch on with Western players.

“We know RPG as a genre is extremely successful in Asian countries,” he said. “Puzzle & Dragons and the history of games like Final Fantasy, but we haven’t seen that kind of game do really well in the West [on mobile]. And we think that’s because you need a Western studio to make a game for a Western audience. That’s what we’re doing.”

And what does a Western-made fantasy RPG appeal to Western players? For JuiceBox, it’s all about focusing on characters.

“We think the next blockbuster gaming franchise on mobile is going to be more character-based,” said Martinez. “Players will have more of a connection to the heroes and more of a connection to the story.”

Martinez admits that this different when it comes to generating a significant profit on mobile right now.

“Over the last two years, we’ve seen these army base-building games dominating the app stores,” he said. “But those use generic and anonymous forces.”

Martinez believes that — despite the success of Clash of Clans — people will respond to having a cast of characters that they really bond with. JuiceBox played with this idea a little bit in HonorBound. That game was all about collecting heroes, but Martinez notes that his team may have overwhelmed the player with too many options.

“A big change in this is the number of characters,” he said. “In HonorBound, we generated over 1,000 characters for our players. In StormBorn, there will be only 60 characters at launch.”

This means players build their squads slowly and deliberately. It also means that you’re much more likely to know exactly the type of hero you want next to fill out your ranks. This is in opposition to the Boom Beaches and DomiNations, where your troops are dispensable. It’s also counter to HonorBound; because you have so many choices, it’s hard to get excited about collecting any one particular hero.

If StormBorn’s approach sounds familiar, that’s because it definitely has a tinge of XCOM or Fire Emblem. Those are both games where players slowly piece together their armies with characters you get attached to — although Martinez points out that the game doesn’t have permadeath.

Of course, StormBorn isn’t completely discarding ideas that work on mobile. You’ll have a base, and battles are not super-demanding. In the video above, you can see a lot of the DNA of the “modern mobile game” in the first 10 minutes of gameplay. But it’s also clear that JuiceBox didn’t set out to make another Clash of Clans clone. And, according to Martinez, that was never even an option.

“For us, it would be a risk not to make something different,” he said. “Making games is really hard, we want to make sure we’re having fun doing it.”

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