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Kingdoms of Camelot is unique among social games in that it is not here to coddle its players. The game contains a lot of depth, and players are not discouraged from attacking one another. Far from it – war is a key tenet of the entire experience!
Most pundits insist that games on Facebook need to remain simple, but the team at Watercooler is clearly doing something right. Kingdoms of Camelot is still growing steadily, and is now enjoying nearly 4 million monthly active users.
We recently had the opportunity to pick the brain of Kingdoms of Camelot studio GM Wayne Chan about how they built a deeper social game, how Watercooler squashes bugs, and what’s next for KoC.
Social Game Central: For readers who aren’t familiar with Kingdoms of Camelot (who missed our excellent write-up), how would you explain the game to them? Is this a hardcore game for the Facebook crowd or a Facebook game for the hardcore crowd?
Wayne Chan: Kingdoms of Camelot is a Facebook game for players who are looking for a deeper, richer social gaming experience. As opposed to many of the lighter offerings on Facebook, the gameplay is more involved and strategic. It looks and feels like a real game. The game is a Medieval era strategy game, with players fighting against both barbarians and each other for control of the land. While the construction aspect is core to the game, we made sure that the game would also provide something for players to do with all the castles and troops they were building. What we wanted to do was create a game for those on Facebook who were bored or turned off by the more casual offerings out there. We’ve designed it for the Facebook crowd with a focus on a number of social elements, such as chat, banding with other players to form alliances, and competition through in-game events.
SGC: Kingdoms of Camelot is the only expansive role-playing game made by Watercooler (other titles include sports and quiz games), what inspired you create something so ambitious?
WC: The driving force behind our titles has always been tapping into passionate communities. We’ve built a number of very in-depth games such as Bracket Challenge, for NCAA basketball, Fantasy Football for the NFL, this year adding in great content from Sports Illustrated, as well as a number of other fantasy sports games. As we explored what other genres our users were passionate about, we found a large interest in strategy games, both within our own company and across our communities, and we felt it was a perfect extension of what we were already doing.
SGC: The game was a little daunting with all the depth available, even in the beginning. Were you ever afraid it would turn away a portion of gamers?
WC: We didn’t design the game to appeal to a mass audience; we designed it to attract a community of highly engaged players, and it has. Moreover, our core users actively share the experience with their friends, so the game is more viral than we originally expected. We think this speaks to the growing number of social players who want richer gaming experiences. We’re used to passionate users, especially with our sports apps, and while we were a little worried about this type of game overwhelming users at first we felt if we could ignite someone’s passion they would engage much longer than they would to a typical Facebook game that might be consumable in 5 minute intervals. We have a three year history of developing for Facebook and other social networks and we were confident that as long as we could build something that appealed to a core set of users, that they would feel compelled to share that experience with their friends.
SGC: How does a team like Watercooler handle bug fixes/glitches in a game of this scope? Is the work ever done?
WC: Our priority is always to make the highest quality, best user experience and to continue to grow and evolve the game over time. We are lucky that our users are so passionate about the game. With bug-fixing, the more information we can get from our users, the better. We prioritize bugs based on how severely they might impact enjoyment of the game and the number of users that are being affected. That’s important to us, because we have a lot of players who return frequently to the game on a daily basis. In a game with as many users as KofC, even minor bugs can seem huge to the few players affected by them, and we understand that all players want to have a game that runs smoothly at all times. One of our key metrics we watch carefully is user engagement and bug fixing is just a small part of the ongoing changes occurring weekly in game. We are always adding new features and complexity while at the same time looking to find ways to simplify the first time experience. With the dynamic environment and depth of this game, the work is never finished for the development team.
SGC: Are community members actively participating in the “beta” aspect of Kingdoms of Camelot? How much contact do you receive from players concerning fixes/other game issues?
WC: We receive thousands of e-mails from our community members on a daily basis. The more information we can get from our members on their problems, the easier their concerns become for us to solve. We also get lots of ideas for the game from our users and try to take some of those into account, while considering whether the suggestions will enhance or damage the game experience for existing/new players. We really love hearing from players, and really value their input.
SGC: Will there ever be a way to stop over-powered players from ransacking underpowered ones, or is it simply the point of the game to always be out there, with the risk of being attacked present?
WC: The risk of attack is something that distinguishes Kingdoms of Camelot from other Facebook games and makes it a much more compelling environment for our players. However, we’re also exploring options for advanced players and alliances to compete in ways that don’t involve developing players who may be caught in the crossfire. It’s important to keep in mind that even while the game has achieved popularity with long-time players, due to the very nature of Facebook, new players are discovering it every day, and we want them to have an enjoyable experience.
SGC: So, we’ve just started making our way through Kingdoms of Camelot, but what can players expect in the endgame? Once all your buildings are completed, where do you go from there?
WC: The current endgame is heavily focused on alliance combat and tournaments. While I don’t want to say too much about where we are going, you can definitely expect alliances to play a much larger role competitively and cooperatively, with players being rewarded for their participation in world changing events.
SGC: What separates Kingdoms of Camelot from similar MMO-RTS style games on Facebook, including Evony and a few others?
WC: There are a number of similar games out there, but what separates us from others is the focus on making sure key elements of the game have been designed from the ground up to integrate elements that have made Facebook successful. Each of these games borrows successful elements from the other, and we believe we’ve made a much more social experience that players will want to play with their Facebook friends.
SGC: What’s next for Kingdoms of Camelot? Are any new features currently being considered that we’ve yet to hear about definitively (full-screen mode, etc.)?
WC: The game is constantly evolving. We have players that are now playing into their seventh month and are still heavily engaged with the game and looking for more. We are going to fill that need! Look for barbarians to play a much larger role rather than simply being farms for players. Other features include the introduction of new buildings, new ways for alliances to interact with each other, and introducing an overarching storyline to each of the worlds that players can help shape through their actions.
SGC: With Kingdoms of Camelot a success, how long do you plan on supporting it (as your flagship game) before moving on to Kingdoms of Camelot II, some other game or whatever ambitious title is next from Watercooler?
WC: Kingdoms of Camelot will be supported as long as we have users that love our game and play on a regular basis. We’re looking to involve the community on a much more regular basis and plan to work a significant portion of the feedback into game features and upgrades. As far as other games, we have a number of other titles and major media announcements tied to our games that will be coming out shortly. Without saying too much — think World Cup! Our goal is to continue to building off of users passions in sports and beyond and to ignite new passions by creating the most engaging and rich games for our players.
SGC: Thanks for your insights, Wayne!