Sometimes even successful mobile games need to shake things up. Titles with solid player engagement and monetization still can’t afford to simply rest on their laurels with new competition hitting the App Store and Google Play all the time.
With that in mind, DeNA is putting a big push behind “Transformers: Legends” during the entire month of September. Despite the company’s satisfaction with the game’s performance, it’s hoping several new kinds of events and the appearance of big name characters like Optimus Prime, Megatron, and the Dinobots will help inject some more excitement into the player community.
Weekly events—or episodes, as they’re known inside the game—aren’t new to “Transformers: Legends.” But according to producer Tom Hess, they’ll feel fresh this month even to experienced players because they won’t all be structured the same way.
“We really wanted to make a big impact in September, both in terms of the characters we used , and the fact that the third week in September we’re releasing for the first time a PvP-themed event,” Hess said to GameSided. “Now we have three different event types, so with a boss event type, the hardcore players can play and challenge each other to try and win some great cards, and then in our special campaign episode, it’s all about all players having a chance to get some really good cards. And then in the final week, the PvP event, what we’re trying to do is now that you’ve played really hard and got these great cards, it’s all about just battling other players.”
The episodes work together, so cards earned during the first two weeks will have special bonuses that carry over to the PvP event, which begins on September 18. And during this episode, players will be able to earn ranks that Hess describes as “almost military designations” that will provide stat boosts going forward.
If that sounds similar to the system used in another DeNA card battle game, “G.I. Joe: Battleground,” it’s not a coincidence. Hess says the various DeNA studios compare notes often while still maintaining their own creative directions.
“Ever since DeNA has kind of taken over ngmoco, we’ve been really learning from the Eastern design, and then each team is trying different things, and things that work well, another team may adapt,” he said. “So we’re definitely taking and sharing ideas, but at the end of the day, we’re trying to make sure that the games feel different, and that the IP works well within that structure.”
For “Transformers: Legends,” that means figuring out how often to use the marquee characters from the “Transformers” universe. If they appear too often, their impact is blunted, which is why Optimus Prime only made his first episode appearance earlier this month. Yet events focused on more obscure ‘bots don’t always capture the imagination of the player base in the same way, creating the need for a balancing act by the development team.
It also means a game known for its dynamic card art needs more versions of certain characters every time they show up. Fortunately, there’s a system in place to ensure new, original artwork is always in the pipeline.
“We kind of came up with a more modern look for the characters that we like, and we found a ‘Transformers’ comic book artist,” Hess said. “His name is Guido Guidi, and he actually wrote a book for Hasbro on how to draw ‘Transformers.’ He’s one of the many sketch artists that we now have, and they draw official comic book-looking versions of the character. So it’s just a pencil sketch, and then we take that and we send it out to our artists. And then using the art style that we’ve kind of adapted, they really bring these characters to life.”
A big “Transformers” fan himself, Hess says the idea during the art process is to stay true to the iconic forms fans have known since the 80s while ensuring that the game’s art style looks modern at the same time.
“Even as a kid, I knew who the character was when they were in robot form, and then when they were a car,” he said. “I knew all the time, because the visual language of the characters was so good. We wanted to make sure that we captured that, but then the original cartoon was very simple in its cell shading and amount of detail, and we wanted to bump that up but keep true to the original designs of the characters.”
With systems in place for both artwork and content, “Transformers: Legends” should continue to keep changing in a way that’s only fitting for a game about shapeshifting robots. Even once September ends, players can expect the multiple event types to be a fixture, and the team behind the game should be in good shape to continue rolling out things they haven’t seen before.
“I came from the console industry, and the big thing at one point everyone was talking about was running episodic content, and everyone was really hot and heavy about that,” Hess said. “And while it seems great, it just took so long to build the content that players often forgot where they left off, and not a lot of game teams executed it successfully.
“What these events allow us to do is, instead of building a new section of a game, we’re building a framework that just requires us to add new content each time. That is easier for us to manage, so once we get a couple different event frameworks up and running, we can start theming them differently, making them intertwine together, and adding new small features to each one so players constantly feel like the game is evolving and getting better.”