Ubisoft, Loot Drop breaking new ground with 'Commander'

Facebook games — whether they tie into larger entertainment properties or are island unto themselves — tend to have a formula.

Make sure players can interact with their friends in some way. Don’t deviate far from the established handful of models that have proven successful. And never, ever, make a game that targets the core gamer. Facebook is casual territory.

Ubisoft and Loot Drop are looking to break new ground with Monday’s release of “Ghost Recon: Commander,” a game the companies are promoting as the first Facebook game for traditional gamers.

At the same time, the companies are hoping to win over the current crop of Facebook players, by offering something that, while it doesn’t include any sort of farming, is still familiar.

“I wanted a game that made the core gamer and the casual gamer feel comfortable,” says Brenda Garno Brathwaite, COO and co-founder of Loot Drop. “I did not want to make the mistake I’ve seen some traditional game makers make — where they reinvent the interface that 100 million players are used to.”

Loot Drop, while it is the maker of Facebook games — including the successful Ravenwood Fair — knows the core gaming market. Co-founder John Romero was the co-creator of popular titles like Doom and Quake, while Brathwaite cut her teeth on the classic Wizardry role-playing games.

Still, “Ghost Recon: Commander” faces a unique challenge. Tactical combat games are untested territory for the Facebook crowd — and the players who tend to embrace the “Ghost Recon” franchise often turn their noses up at anything on social media platforms.

To help woo that audience, “Ghost Recon: Commander” will offer perks that extend into the upcoming console game “Ghost Recon: Future Soldier.” Rewards unlocked at the end of a mission also unlock in “Future Soldier” and “Ghost Recon: Online.” (Similarly, items unlocked in those games can be played in “Commander.”)

The game also ties in with Ubisoft’s Uplay portal, letting players spend points earned for certain achievements in a variety of other — non “Ghost Recon” — titles.

As for the Facebook audience, Brathwaite believes it’s ready for a change, even if the players might not realize that themselves.

“The Facebook audience is maturing,” she says. “If you look at the early Facebook games, there were a ton of things players had to learn. They had to learn levels. They had to learn experience points. They had to learn about health. They’ve had to learn all of these game conventions just to have platform literacy. The Facebook gamer has gotten to the point where they understand that.”

The push for making traditional games a part of the Facebook landscape is something several developers are betting on.

And for Hollywood, the advantages can be significant. Traditional game publishers are less open to making games based on film licenses these days, since the sales rarely justify the development costs. (THQ, which used to be the go-to publisher on these sorts of things, has shut down the division, as the company struggles to avoid a delisting on Nasdaq.)

Increasingly, the console world is about giant hits — and there’s less tolerance for marginal successes, which movie-based games tend to be. Facebook development costs are significantly lower, though — and success there can still be immensely profitable — as evidenced by Zynga’s first quarter sales of $329 million.

For “The Hunger Games,” Lionsgate opted to bypass the traditional game market and instead release Facebook (and mobile) versions of games tied to the film. The game averages 130,000 daily users and 990,000 monthly users.

Part of the key to appealing to both audiences is to offer items familiar to them both. “Ghost Recon: Commander,” for example, allows players to choose one of three difficulty settings — a common option in console games, but something that’s rare on Facebook.

Facebook players will be able to gift items when they reach new levels.

And, if Ubisoft’s dreams come true, “Commander” might actually outlive the latest console installment of the series, since players don’t have to commit to long play sessions — and there’s less pressure from the next blockbuster title stealing the spotlight. Additionally, like other Facebook games, Loot Drop plans to regularly add new content to the game’s existing 10 levels.

“I absolutely see us outliving (the standard game),” says Brathwaite. “The Facebook gamer doesn’t always travel in the same circles as the core game and isn’t necessarily breathing the same media as the gamer.”

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