How do you succeed with original IP in the license-heavy cellphone game biz? In this article
, Vivendi's Steve Palley discusses the trials and tribulations of creating Surviving High School
, which has sold over 10 million downloadable 'episodes' since launch.
After spending four years developing mostly generic or licensed mobile games with several slightly successful titles based on original IPs, developer Centerscore planted the seeds for what would eventually become Surviving High School
while pitching a concept based on the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series of books to T-Mobile. The carrier's representatives were skeptical of the concept, however, which was enough to push the studio to move on to something else.
The idea for a text-based adventure went into cold storage for a few years, while Centerscore toyed with other concepts. During one particularly intense brainstorming session, the developers came up with an ideal theme: high school. 'High school is universal. Everyone remembers it, and lots of people feel strongly about it,' Miao explains. 'There was a lot of passion behind the basic idea.'
Centerscore Design Director Leighton Kan took the first crack at a high school concept with a 'social RPG' called High School Kings. This concept looked like a cross between Final Fantasy and River City Ransom - you'd walk around high school beating up bullies, gaining levels, and shaking down fellow students for side quests.
These elements clearly would have appealed to experienced gamers, but the team wasn't sure it would do as well with casual players, who might be turned off by violent combat and RPG number-crunching.
Engineering director Winston She eventually suggested that the studio turn High School Kings
into a text-based adventure along gthe lines of the "Choose Your Own Adventure" concept, with the added RPG elements and its content reworked for the mass market.
For example, football stood in for fighting, and dating replaced item collection. The tentative title changed to High School Chronicles, which was more gender neutral.
Kan and She also replaced free movement with an on-rails story, featuring choice menus that popped up at important junctures. This way, players would still be responsible for all of their character's important decisions, without having to spend time traversing a map or managing an inventory. Those choices would have weight, too, because the game would have many different endings depending on how you played.
You can read the full feature
on Surviving High School
and Centerscore's history, including details on how the developer ran an innovative campaign on MySpace, which helped the team secure prime placement for Surviving High School '07
on Verizon's download deck (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from external websites).