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Interview: Kabam Targets Facebook's Core Gamers With Global Warfare

With today's wide release of Global Warfare, Kabam general manager Bryan Bennett talks about the challenges and appeal of designing core strategy titles for a Facebook audience.
Making social games that are more than the casual, strategy-free clickfests many people assume come from the space is nothing new for Kabam, the creators of Facebook strategy titles like Kingdoms of Camelot and Dragons of Atlantis. The company says it's trying to perfect that strategy with today's wide release of Global Warfare. "We were looking to utilize our engine in a much better way, to branch out into new themes and continue to augment our success in the strategy genre," Kabam general manager Bryan Bennett tells Gamasutra. That new theme for Global Warfare is a more modern take on an often fantasy-soaked genre, set in a militarized world that's been thrown into chaos after widespread economic collapse. While that story is told through short Flash animations, the rest of the tile-based strategy game was built entirely with Javascript and a PHP backend, Bennett says. "Javascript is actually a pretty powerful front end programming tool," he explains. "We don't even make use of close to all of what Javascript can really do. ... Flash [would] make things a little easier, but there's nothing we can't do with just Javascript." Sticking with open standards also makes Global Warfare one of the few graphical Facebook games that can be played directly on the iPad, which Bennett says wasn't "necessarily the intent, but it's one of the nice perks." Despite looking like a traditional strategy title, Global Warfare includes many of the trappings of Facebook games -- daily item bonuses for checking in, recharge timers for key actions, and a friends bar at the bottom of the screen measuring the leveling progress of your social network. But what differentiates Global Warfare from what Bennett calls "non-social" social games is the ability to actually coordinate with a guild-style "alliance" of fellow players. Fellow alliance members are more than just interchangeable resources -- everyone in an alliance can derive benefits when individual members achieves certain goals. Though Global Warfare is an asynchronous game at its core -- letting players attack opponents who aren't at their computers, for instance -- the alliance system means situations often develop in close to real-time. Bennett gave a gameplay example where an opposing alliance found a key location, triggering an email blast to everyone on the server and attracting him and a number of his alliance-mates to the game simultaneously. Bennett and his allies devised a strategy to take the location for themselves using a real-time in-game chat, he says. But minutes after their successful takeover, a third alliance had launched its own attack on the position, unseating them before they could build up the requisite defenses to hold the position. It took a good deal of real-time coordination to finally retake the position and fortify it against attacks from other groups, Bennett said. While Bennett says being on Facebook meant squeezing the interface into a smaller frame than a standard strategy title, the team didn't have to make changes to the core gameplay to make the game appeal to a stereotypical casual Facebook gaming audience. "They have 600 million users now, so [a Facebook audience] is really everybody at this point," he says. "People are hungry for real games on Facebook. A lot of other social games don't necessarily fill the need of the core gamer. Our target market for this game is core gamers that just happen to do their gaming on Facebook." That's an audience that's been proven to exist on the platform by Kabam's previous social games, says VP of brand marketing and communication Ted Simon. "We've grown the company from 20 people to 400 people in the last year and a half, primarily on one-and-a-half games," he said. "People are looking for a platform where they can leverage their social graph and extend their social graph [through alliances] that they can build real relationships with." Like most Facebook games, Global Warfare will be free-to-play and make money from microtransactions. But Bennett stresses that paying won't get players access to the game's most powerful items and weapons, which can only be found through play and exploration. In fact, paying real money simply gives players faster access to the same items they could get through free play. He likens it to a ski resort, where you could hike up to the top of the hill in snow shoes for free, getting in a couple of ski runs in a day, or buy a lift ticket and enjoy 15 to 20 runs in the same time. Nearly 200,000 monthly users have already signed on for the Global Warfare beta, and Bennett expects easily three times that many could become active players once the company starts rolling out heavy promotion for the full game and a six-month roadmap of new content.

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