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Parallel Kingdom Interview: When MMO Meets GPS

Dave Cook

Feature


Parallel Kingdom delivers a unique mix of MMO gameplay and GPS location features. We speak with developer PerBlue to learn more.

Published on Feb 22, 2012

Parallel Kingdom has just surpassed a million online players. If you haven’t heard of it before, trust us, you will wonder why you hadn’t after reading on. Blending classic MMO staples with GPS location functionality, this free to play title pits players against each other in a battle to claim real-world locations and territories.

You can learn more about Parallel Kingdom, and play it for free right here at the official Parallel Kingdom site.

To learn more about this superb concept, and Parallel Kingdom’s swelling fan base, we sat down with PerBlue CEO and Co-Founder Justin Beck.

Parallel Kingdom has just surpassed one million players. In ways do you feel that it is getting harder or easier for games in the F2P space to achieve such a large player base?

The competition for attention is fierce in the mobile games space. Our goal is to first get noticed and downloaded, but more importantly maintain a player’s interest once the download occurs. 

Stats show that two of the top app search terms during recent months were “free” and “free games,” but roughly one in five free smartphone games are abandoned the first day after downloading, and even fewer games are used after 30 days. 

Developers need to take the long view approach and offer a game experience that keeps players coming back. It’s significantly easier to add a millionth user if you haven’t already lost the previous ones.

How would you convince our readers to check out Parallel Kingdom? What are the key qualities that have helped the game stand out in this space? 

Parallel Kingdom’s defining feature for users is its use of location-based technology. Players interact and play in an environment already familiar to them and claim territory that they are emotionally connected to in real life. 

Instead of the game taking place in a fantasy world, players can battle neighbors to gain control of their own backyard. The emotional attachment our players develop to their real life location is part of what makes Parallel Kingdom so unique and so addicting.

The game has been running since 2008’s Age of Exploration hit the scene, in what significant ways has the game grown since it launched? To what extent is developing a game in the F2P arena a constant learning curve for you?

Our learning curve is always evolving and is largely player driven. We are constantly learning what it takes to keep players engaged and keep the game interesting for anyone who wants to play, from casual players who want to check in from time to time, to dedicated players that log in each day for hours at a time. 

Thankfully, our players have been largely supportive of changes and generous with feedback and suggestions. We’ve learned the game belongs to them as much as it does to us.  

One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned since our launch is that the location-based aspect of Parallel Kingdom can limit gameplay. While these features remain at the core of the game, ultimately we shifted to creating the fantasy of playing in your location rather than requiring movement on the player’s part. 

Another significant change and area of growth since our launch was moving Parallel Kingdom across platforms. We want players to interact with Parallel Kingdom where they feel most comfortable, so we’ve since crossed platforms to including the Web, and most recently Facebook. 

Parallel Kingdoms is like an RPG version of FourSquare.

Parallel Kingdom is a rare prospect in that it overlays a fantasy world over a GPS view of our real world. How difficult was this to implement back in 2008, and are you ever concerned about imitators on PC, and on both the Apple and Android app store trying to cash in on your success?

We’re proud of the fact that Parallel Kingdom was the first MMORPG to use location as a core game feature. We worked hard to create the infrastructure and server system that makes it all work seamlessly. 

However, the primary focus has always been creating a great game, which takes much more diligence and creativity than tackling GPS integration. I’m a big believer in location as a game feature rather than a major mechanic. 

Competitors have already and will continue to take advantage of the same technology we use, but our focus remains on creating an in-game environment where players immerse themselves and invite their friends to join them. 

Each time the game undergoes revision, you implement a new ‘Age’. What can you tell us about where you plan to take the game in the next Age? How do you decide what new features should be implemented with each update?

We are always exploring how we can continue to improve Parallel Kingdom and are constantly updating features. Within the last year we have moved away from releasing larger updates, ‘Ages’, to instead releasing smaller updates and bug fixes every week. 

Our players are a key factor in deciding what features are the top priorities at any given time. Recent examples include the seasonal features we’ve rolled out over the past several months, player specialization, new levels and city-based elements. We’ve been busy launching Parallel Kingdom on new platforms, but it won’t be long before there is more news to share.

PerBlue also boasts a run of games that in beta, such as Pirate Bound and Among the Undead. How challenging is it to juggle a portfolio of multiple titles instead of just focusing on one? What can you tell us about your newest projects to get our readers excited? 

Parallel Kingdom continues to be a major focus for us, but we have an upcoming launch in particular that will be very exciting for us. Unfortunately it’s a bit soon to share details, but we can say with confidence that each game adds to our enthusiasm in a different way. 

A new title isn’t a distraction from meeting the needs and expectations of the Parallel Kingdom community. What we’ve found is that the introduction of an additional title feeds our creativity and reminds us why we are working so hard on each.

Finding new locations in real world situations is surprisingly interesting.

To what extend is the indie, self-published route still a viable springboard for developers to achieve success? What challenges do you face on a daily basis by being indie, and how do you look to overcome them?

The self-published route is still a strong road for developers who have something unique to offer. Many of the big development companies today started with just one game and built off that success. 

My advice for other indie developers, is keeping your eye on the long view, measuring progress and adjusting as necessary along the way. PerBlue has grown from a bootstrapping startup, founded while I was still in college, to a thriving company with 40 employees. 

While it would have been great to have the resources and established brand recognition of a larger game publisher, I wouldn’t trade it the experience we’ve gained for anything. I wouldn’t hesitate to put our dedication to our players and talent for game creation up against anyone else’s.  

If you could narrow it down, what would you say is the greatest challenge facing F2P developers today, and if you had absolute power, how would you fix it?

The greatest challenge for free to play developers is generating revenue. There are sucessful models for ad-based revenue and premium features, but it is still hard for most developers to make games a profitable use of their time and talent. 

The biggest challenge within the “freemium” model used in Parallel Kingdom is getting players to make that first purchase. Once players go through the experience, they are more comfortable doing it again and again.

To overcome this challenge, we work tirelessly to make an emotional connection with our players and create virtual goods that have value to them within the context of the game.  

Finally, would you ever consider console development? What barriers to entry make it difficult for F2P developers to gain a footing in this space?

Console development is not on our immediate horizon. Mobile and online games are going through an explosion of exciting change, and while we enjoy console games personally, we don’t see an immediate need to produce one ourselves. 

Console games are largely graphics driven, and take longer to implement change. We enjoy the gratification of introducing new game features on a regular basis and the focus on game dynamics rather than the realism of our avatars. Parallel Kingdom is in the center of the action, and we wouldn’t change that.

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