Disruptor Beam got a pretty nice present from Facebook just before the holidays. It came in the form of Facebook’s games team naming Game of Thrones Ascent a staff pick as one of the top games to debut on the social network in 2013.
Though Game of Thrones Ascent isn’t just a Facebook game since it’s playable through more than one site (and will be headed to mobile, which we’ll get to in a bit), the nod was still a significant one. For starters, it served as a validation that high quality games can succeed on the network even at a time when the total number of people is down from its peak a few years ago.
It also helped reinforce the idea that Disruptor Beam is doing things right when it comes to its story-driven, highly social take on Westeros. Ideally, it serves as a way for hardcore Game of Thrones fans to be able to interact with their favorite fantasy world, an attractive way for core gamers to get compelling gameplay in bite-sized chunks, and as a “gateway drug” for people who know the IP but have yet to dive into the books or the HBO television series.
That’s a tall order, but as Disruptor Beam CEO Jon Radoff told Gamezebo in a recent phone conversation, the game does indeed seem to be reaching all three audiences.
“There’s a lot of people that have played core games before, and some of them have less time than they used to, or even if they have time, they’re looking for things they can snack on for 10 to 15 minutes at a time,” Radoff said. “So that’s one market, and then I think we really appeal to Game of Thrones fans. In some cases, those people haven’t played games before, and they’re now playing our game as their first really heavy duty experience. They’re looking for something that brings them back into the world that they really love, and that’s what we’re trying to do.
“For people who haven’t watched the show, haven’t read the books, we’re another way that you can enter into the world of Westeros. The kind of character-driven dynamics and storytelling, diplomacy and backstabbing, all of these things are hallmarks that you experience in the game, and we achieve that by being so authentic to what George R. R. Martin’s vision of this world was.”
During the times when the HBO series is airing new episodes, the game ties in closely with the show. Weekly content updates introduce quests and items on Monday that viewers saw on screen the night before.
The rest of the year, Game of Thrones Ascent still pushes out weekly content updates, continuing a pattern it set up from the time it was first released. Westeros is a big place, after all, and there’s plenty more to show than just what ends up on TV.
“Between seasons, it’s more the expanding world and other places in Westeros, focused more on the story of your own character and how your character is advancing through the plotline of this world,” Radoff said.
On top of those content updates, Ascent has seen a number of new features added over the past 10 months. Radoff pointed out two areas in particular that have been beefed up: the ability to improve equipment, and the alliance versus alliance system that went live back in the fall.
“A few months ago, we implemented item enhancements, adding a whole new aspect of strategic character and equipment customization,” he said. “We launched the alliance versus alliance war, where for roughly a month, alliances are going to battle each other. And we have more coming: more content, more interesting ways that you can send groups of adventurers off to go and do things for you. We’re adding new forms of crafting to the game. We’ve got a pretty long roadmap of things we want to do.”
One of those things is to bring the game to mobile players. Though Disruptor Beam is happy with Facebook and its other online partners, it also understands the importance of having its products available to play through as many channels as possible.
With that in mind, Game of Thrones Ascent is slated for release on both iOS and Android “in the near future.” Players will be able to link their Facebook accounts for true cross-platform play or start up completely new games on their mobile devices if they’d rather go that route.
Some big news that broke a few months ago means that Disruptor Beam won’t be alone in bringing the Game of Thrones brand to the mobile gaming market. Telltale Games, famous for its much lauded episodic take on The Walking Dead, is working on its own game set in Westeros as well. That might seem to put the two companies on a collision course, but since they’re going to be making two different types of games, it’s possible they may complement each other instead.
“I don’t think that Game of Thrones Ascent and the Telltale game are directly competitive, because people in this fan base are going to play both games,” Radoff said. “As with any IP, whether it’s Game of Thrones or Star Wars or Walking Dead or any of these that just become super popular, you’re going to start to have multiple games. If everyone was making the same kind of game, that would be a problem. But to my knowledge, all of them, including the console games that came before us, are all quite different. None of us are replacements for each other. They’re different ways that you can get the Game of Thrones experience through different forms of gameplay.”
Time will tell if that view is correct. For now, Radoff and Disruptor Beam are simply pleased to be recognized for the approach that they’ve taken in getting the game to its current state. Facebook games may not be what they once were in terms of sheer cultural mass, but with titles like Game of Thrones Ascent offering much deeper and more compelling experiences than the strictly casual games that once ruled the roost, there’s no question there’s more variety on the social network now - and that’s never a bad thing.
“I think that the market is getting increasingly sophisticated, so these things like story-based gameplay and more stat-heavy game mechanics are the kinds of things that you’ll see increasingly on Facebook,” Radoff said. “We’re honored to be in the list that they chose, and I think we’re leading the way in the types of games you’re going to see more of on Facebook going forward.”