What makes one quit your day job at a bank to start a games company and create a game on Facebook that does not involve growing crops? And how do you make a role playing game work on Facebook? We posed these and many more questions to Robert Winkler (Chief Operating Officer) and Stephen Pladson (Chief Executive Officer) of 5th Planet Games, the developers of the hit game Dawn of the Dragons on Facebook.
Before you with your partners starting 5th Planet Games, you were working at a bank. How did you switch from working in finance to creating social games?
Robert: I was always a hard core gamer, especially online games. When the opportunity arose to start 5th Planet Games and actually make a game of our own, it was a dream come true. We saw Facebook a bit like the Wild West, a place where if we made a good game and supported it the right way, we could be successful.
Your first social game is Dawn of the Dragons. Why did you decide to take the risk of developing a role playing game on Facebook instead of a harvesting game like FarmVille (the path taken by most new social game developers)?
Steve: The simple answer is we are more comfortable developing games about which we are passionate. While we could create a harvesting game it wouldn’t carry the same labor of love feel that our RPG does. Also, being big RPG fans ourselves we felt that we understood what made these types of games fun and thought we could innovate a bit from what was already seen on Facebook.
One of the most interesting features of Dawn of the Dragons (as we noted in our 4 star review) is your guild system. Can you tell us more about the Guild system and how you designed it around the social graph of Facebook?
Robert: One of the big things we felt was missing from many of the RPGs currently available is the lack of social interactions outside of a player’s existing friends. We come from a MMOG background where you can meet up with people from around the globe and quickly form relationships. In this way we allow friends to be created rather than requiring them to already be in place. Our Guild system taps into this and brings that social experience back into social gaming.
Another feature unique to Dawn of the Dragons is that it’s a flash RPG game. What were the challenges designing a RPG (a relatively more complex type of game to design) in flash? What have been the advantages of designing the game in flash?
Steve: There are challenges no matter what technology is used but one of the first things we noticed was a lack of examples to use as a basis for creating Flash-based Facebook applications, specifically in regards to an RPG. Much of what we’ve learned is through painstaking trial and error.
On the flip side we feel our engine offers features that a flat gaming system might not. Flash gives us a rich tapestry upon which we can integrate music, sound effects, animation, tweening and anything our imagination desires. It increases the immersion in our game and allows us to tell our story in many varied ways.
According to an interview you did with Inside Social Games, Dawn of the Dragons is making more money per user than the average social game. Can you share with our audience any new statistics? What do you attribute to the game’s success rate in monetizing users?
Robert: Dawn of the Dragons continues to monetize well, we just crossed the three month mark and have steadily seen our numbers improve. We feel that the game continues to monetize well because we have frequently added new content and we heavily weight what is going to be fun for our player base in our business decisions.
With the recent changes at Facebook (removal of game notifications, Facebook Credits), we’ve noticed a lot more role-playing and strategy games being released. As Facebook becomes less viral, do you think the games released will be less casual and more hard-core?
Steve: I don’t think games will become less casual because of the breadth of the market. However, I do believe games that cater to both will have a clear advantage in the long run. As a developer we are continuously looking for ways to push the envelope and allow people to play the game however they choose. Being casual friendly but having layers of complexity to appeal to the hardcore audience is something we will always be trying to perfect.
What is the inspiration behind Dawn of the Dragon’s unique story? What made you decide to add a deep story (a rarity in many social games so far)?
Steve: The lore behind the story has two decades worth of material from which to pull. Dawn of the Dragons takes place in the Age of Shadows, a time when mythical creatures are returning to wreak havoc on the world. The story element adds another layer to the gameplay and has been extremely well received. We feel that any RPG should have a rich history which gives the players an immersive element. It allows players to feel like they are actively part of the world as opposed to just watching from an impersonal, heavenly perch.
What is the story behind the name 5th Planet Games? Does it have anything to do with Jupiter (the 5th planet to the sun in our wondrous galaxy)?
Rob: Ha ha, you wouldn’t believe how often we are asked that question! The answer lies in the lore for the games we create. Within our Solar System there is a gap between Mars and Jupiter wherein lies the asteroid belt. Our games all take place on the mythical planet that was there prior to it exploding.
What new features do you plan to add to Dawn of the Dragons in the future? What other games are you working on?
Rob: We have TONS of new things to add to Dawn of the Dragons. Guild vs Guild battles, revamped PvP, a Workshop feature, additional Quest content, new Raids, a dragon’s cart full of new items, and many other surprises to keep our players interested and longing for more. We are not content to sit back and are constantly looking for ways to improve what we have.
We are currently looking into other ventures and have several things in the works. It would be premature to comment on what we are doing but it is a very exciting time for us to say the least.
The San Francisco Bay Area is the home to many top social game developers (Zynga, Playfish, Playdom, LOLApps, to name a few) but I have met quite a few social game developers up I-5 where you are in Sacramento. Can you tell us more about the growing game developer scene in the state capital of California?
Steve: One of the things that is most interesting is the large amount of technical people in this area. We have had an influx of major corporations bring top-notch talent into this part of the state. Silicon Valley will continue to shine as the core of technology in Northern California but as that market gets saturated more and more people are looking east to relocate and find a career in gaming. We’re fortunate to be in a position to offer that opportunity.
What are your favorite games (aside from Dawn of the Dragons of course) that you are playing right now?
Steve: Honestly, between Dawn and the other projects we currently have I barely have time to sleep much less play other games.
Rob: I am enjoying Lucky Train on Facebook right now, I am also still playing through Final Fantasy XIII.
Any final words to your fans out there (or words of wisdom to other independent game developers trying to make a living on Facebook)?
Rob: To our fans, you guys are awesome! We really appreciate everything you do for us and how strongly you have supported us. Your feedback has been crucial to making Dawn of the Dragons more fun and engaging. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you!
Steve: To any independent developers there is only one word I would use, perseverance. You will go through some very difficult times but if you want to make a game you need to persevere. You need to believe in what you are doing when nobody else does. It takes a great deal of hard work, a lot of sacrifice, finding people who are as passionate about the project as you are, and being able to connect with others in the industry. In our case the journey has been so much more rewarding than the destination. I can’t wait to see what happens next.