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Transcript of iGames Chat with Gary Gattis - Pocket Legends, Star Legends & Beyond

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Radio Interview 05/18/2011 iGame Radio Chat

Omaha Sternberg from iGames Radio interviews Gary Gattis, CEO of Spacetime Studios, about Pocket Legends, Blackstar, Star Legends and beyond. Pocket Legends recently celebrated their one year anniversary by opening up most of their game locations for free. We talk about the anniversary celebration, the Mac/PC version soon to come, the mobile MMOG Star Legends soon to arrive, and more.

To listen to the podcast of the interview head to: iGames Radio

Host: Omaha Sternberg
Special guest: Gary Gattis, CEO, Spacetime Studios

Omaha: Hello and welcome to another addition of the IGame Radio Chat. Today we are talking with Garry Gattis from Spacetime Studio and Pocket Legends and their recent one year anniversary of the game. Gary thanks for taking some time to talk to me.

Gary: Hi Omaha its great to be here thank you.

Omaha: Terrific, so why don't we start with finding out a little bit what Pocket Legends is. Why don't you tell me a little bit about the game.

Gary: Sure, Pocket Legends is a mobile, massive player, online game. Its a 3d game that plays all around the world on a global server sets, over wifi, 3G and Edge Networks. Its been downloaded over 4 million times and its played in over 200 countries.

Omaha: And its a fantasy based game so when people get on there playing, what type of characters are they playing, is it all like elves and orcs and goblins, or what?

Gary: It’s the traditional classes, so you've got your tank class, your damage class and your healing class. We abstracted them a little bit into the furry world, so the warrior character is a bear, the dps character is a bird and the mage character is a subject of some controversy (both Omaha and Gary break into laughter-) theories are; elves or some squirrel, or rabbit or something along those lines.

Omaha: I like the idea of a squirrel that would be interesting.

Gary: It’s a squirrel. (Omaha laughing ...)

Omaha: So let’s let it settle as a squirrel. So when you get the game is it free, how much does it cost to get, how much does it cost to play?

Gary: Free to play, and we used to have a model where we would let you play up to level 13 then you'd have to register and we'd let you play up to level 18 and the you'd have to start purchasing content. We recently changed that with our 1 year anniversary, were you can download it for free and play all the way up to the level cap without paying us a thin dime.

Omaha: So why don’t you tell me a little more about that, and about that 1 year anniversary.

Gary: So, we watched the way people were playing over the last year or so. When we launched, Pocket Legends was a very small game. It contained two campaigns and one town. Over the last year we've been adding significant number of systems, moving it more and more into the realm which you would expect from a premium PC based MMO. I’m talking about things like player vs. player combat, auction houses, things along these lines. We've also added a lot of geography to the land. We've added more levels, more areas to play and more room for your character to level up. We looked at the way that eastern MMO's were basing their monetization models off of and in those games you play for free the whole game. If you want to purchase things that can augment how quickly you level or augment the appearance of your character, you can do so but the conventional wisdom that was coming from was, the more people are playing, the more fun they are having, the better your options are for monetizing. So, we gave it a shot with our one year anniversary where we kind of unlocked at least the main spine of content, what I mean by that is, the main campaigns that are required to level up your character and the results were tremendous. So we decided to keep it free.

Omaha: So basically what you did was open up what was the essence of the game and if you will, the wings of it, the outlier parts of are still ones that people would need to pay for in order to get to, but there not the parts need to be played to enjoy that part of the game.

Gary: That is correct, you play through, essentially the world is open to you and then there are some periphery areas that have, you know, special loots, special objects, and special types of boss encounters that if you want to play you'll need to purchase them.

Omaha: And so you said you've had a really good response to that.

Gary: Yes we have, it's been fantastic.

Omaha: A lot of people getting into the game and when you've had a lot of people getting into the game you've noticed that has really improved peoples game play experience, having more and more people in the game regardless of whether it meant that people were actually paying to actually play those portions of the game.

Gary: Not so much. The way that the game is built it's a heavily instanced game, so single server set. Everybody plays on the same server set, but because of the limitations of the mobile devices and the inherit bandwidth limitations we've kind of chopped it up into these different instances and so our towns have a maximum of 25 people that are in the Towns and the combat instances have a maximum of 5 players that are in the combat instances. But the way that we matchmake is, we have a set of parameters kind of based on what level you are, what quests you’re going on, who your buddies are and we will always kind of drop you into these preferred instances with other people that are doing similar things to you. So while our concurrences have gone up, in the amount of time that people are playing the game has increased. I don't think the game feels anymore populated, that’s not to say that the worlds did not seem populated to begin with. The way that it’s set up it feels about the same.

Omaha: So it feels less like people are having to do any waiting in order to match up.

Gary: Yea what we were seeing when we examined the level curves was people were stacking up at 13 and they were stacking up again at 18, which indicated that people were playing up to there, but were not willing to pay to go beyond those levels; and we've seen once we opened it up those level curves have moved to the right and down so people are continuing to move on threw in the content.

Omaha: So what can you say about your experience so far in this transition going from basically a small, light, and mostly paid style game to a mostly free game with in-app purchase style game in order to get your revenue model.

Gary: So its always been a free to play micro-transactional game and we sell a wide variety of different things, not just content, so we've always sold things like additional character slots, additional auction slots, elixirs that would augment your leveling experience. So I can get a 2X elixir or a 3X XP elixir, we sell vanity items and premium items and things like that. So really, we just removed one category of purchasable item form that item table and you know the change has been we see more people playing for longer and the general theory is, the longer people play the more likely they are to monetize in the game and were starting to see that be true as well.

Omaha: So what other activities did you have to celebrate this 1 year anniversary of Pocket Legends?

Gary: lets see, we decorated the land. So our engine gives us a lot of flexibility. We've got this MMO engine that we built for a PC based product a few years back and it's a very heavy weight engine. We invested about 10 million dollars in the technology and it allows us to do some really incredible things, including updating content on the fly without having to go through the app store approval process.

Omaha: Nice.

Gary: So were able to drop in stuff, significant stuff and for the 1 year anniversary we through in some ,you know, birthday cakes, and balloons and some quests and things like that and then it happened right around Easter time as well, so we kind of rolled our Easter content up in that, and I think I was out of town for this whole thing; but the team put in these bunny ears, like 13 different sets of bunny ears and you had to go on quests to find them, and you could purchase some of them. These are the types of ears were if I would wave at someone that was wearing them, I would be equipped with these and then after you collected all of them, I think you got the ability to lay like a Peep that would bounce around or something like that. (Both Gary and Omaha laughing) Just wacky stuff, you know, our team is a fun loving bunch of guys and our engine allows us to some really, really crazy stuff so traditionally around holidays they'll throw in some kooky things.

Omaha: So real outrageously funny stuff. So you had that very silly video out there that was talking about the 1 year anniversary and announcing the amount of sections of the game that are now free as well, that was amusing, I think someone commented on the you tube video that the guy who was doing the video would be perfect for a Sham Wow salesman.

Gary: Yea that was clearly the inspiration for that video. That was my partner Cinco. Cinco Barnes and I put that together and then our director for marketing Fernando Blanco, shot it for us. But yea, very much, very tongue and cheek, I hope nobody really took that seriously.

Omaha: Well if they did they'd be drinking something.

Gary: Yea, yea, no doubt. We had a lot of fun with that; I think we'll probably see Cinco Loco come back again a time or two, for sure.

Omaha: That should be fun. So you mentioned on your website as well that in faq, there is no Mac and PC version of Pocket Legends, but it is in the work. So is there any kind of little details you might be able to tell us about that?

Gary: Sure, so we play in house on a PC client right now, and our engine was originally Pc based. So from the very beginning we've played on a PC client. We decided to focus on the mobile market because nobody else was doing it and it's still fairly wide open. So our focus has always been on the mobile side of things. However, we'd initially anticipated people would play this for 3 minutes at a time, 5 minutes at a time, that how we designed it. Right we designed these levels to be able to have a meaningful experience very quickly and be able to access the content in an immediate fashion. We though that people would just play it for that, then stop and put it down and then pick it up again. But we've found that people play hours at a time. People will go home and plug there phones into their computers so that it would keep a charge and play. So I think the demand is there, you know, our vision moving forward with our products are this ubiquitous game space were I’ll play at home on my PC and then I’ll jump on the bus and ill play when I go to work and then on my break at work ill play back on the bus going home and then I’ll play again at home and you'll stay in this game environment all the time.

Gary: You know, its in the works that’s a pretty lame for saying I don’t know exactly when it’s going to be out.

Omaha: It’s done when it’s done

Gary: Yeah, it will be. There’s a whole host of other issues that arise when you bring a PC client in, including botting and IP address spoofing and the ability to ban ne'er-do-well from the game. On the mobile side of things we have a unique device ID so that we pretty aggressively moderate our game because a lot of kids play and as a result we ban a lot of people that act like jerks and a lot of those guys don’t like that. And they’ll come back and cause as much trouble as they possibly can and on the PC that problem is just exacerbated. So, there’s some legwork that we need to do. If I had to guess roughly when we got Star Legends: The Blackstar Chronicles coming out very soon which we may or may not talk about and after Star Legends comes out than probably early fall we’re going to be looking to get our PC client out.

Omaha: So what I’m hearing is that because of the way people are actually playing Pocket Legends on iOS, you’re not going to be developing the version for Mac or PC any differently. You’re not going to be making it a more expanded instance. It’s going to be pretty much the same as what we’re seeing on the iOS.

Gary: Yeah, same game. So, on the iPad…There are different resolutions of the UI, basically, and the engine can register at different scales as well and on the iPad it is 1024x768 and that’s the client that we play on the PC side of things and it looks beautiful and runs beautiful. We’re not trying to compete with Rift or World of Warcraft. We’re not trying to do next gen art pipelines. We’re trying to make a really fun, casual, pick up and play experience that you can experience anywhere at any time with anyone.

Omaha: Terrific. So, well you actually hit upon one of my next questions which is: your other MMO in development, mobile MMO which is Star Legends, and I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit more. And you already did, a little bit more, which was that it’s close to coming out. So, again, a little more details about that. We’d love to hear a little more about when it might be coming out and what Star Legends is.

Gary: Sure. So, I’ll give you the 30 second Spacetime Studios spiel first because it’s relevant to Star Legends. We’ve always been PC MMO guys. So my three partners, Anthony Sommers, Cinco Barnes, and Jake Rogers, and the four of us built and ran Star Wars Galaxy for Sony Online Entertainment and we left in 2005 to build a very large scale ground and space based PC MMO for NCsoft and it was called Blackstar. The requirements for it were next gen everything: ground and space, hybrid combat, 6-D flight mechanics… kitchen sink basically. That’s the reason why we built our engine the way that we did.

The pre-production on the game was intense as well, so, it was in pre-production for about three years, designed to be hundreds of hours of content. We hired a guy to be the visual director on it, a guy named David Levy, who went on to do the vizdev for Tron: Legacy- just an absolutely, amazing, beautiful painter. The work that was done for this game was really, really phenomenal.

So it was canceled in 2008 and it was a soul crushing experience for all of us, but then we realized that we had this great engine and technology and that’s what led us to do Pocket Legends on the iPhone. And when it came time to do our second game we had several IPs that we kind of developed internally but none of them really holds our love like Blackstar does so it was kind of a no-brainer to pick up and [make Blackstar into a mobile MMO that we’re calling Star Legends: The Blackstar Chronicles].

Where it is now, I would say, is pre-alpha, but we’re getting close. We play it every day in the office and we actually have a play test coming up right after this call. It’s looking and playing beautifully. It’s similar to Pocket Legends in a lot of ways- three different classes, two different sexes for each class, which I think is breaking news. I don’t think we’ve told anybody that so, that might be a fun thing. The game plays differently, we’re adding different types of mechanics. We’re adding all these environmental mechanics, these doors and pressure plates and “I can only hack this terminal if I’m this type of class” and it really changes the way that the game feels, where it’s not just a really, super light kinda run around hack-and-slash like Pocket Legends is. It adds this layer of collaboration and complexity to it that, hopefully, will be very well received. It certainly feels different and feels a lot of fun, too.

Omaha: Now, considering where Star Legends’s roots come from, is this a game that we’re going to, at some point in time, see come out for the Mac and PC as well, and will it be what we’re going to end up seeing on the iOS or is it going to be a more expanded version of what you originally had wanted to see when you were planning on developing and publishing it thru NCsoft?

Gary: So, when we come out with our PC client it’ll be an integrated component of our engine so any mobile game that we do will, from there on out, have the PC component as well, and in a similar fashion to it being the same game client in Pocket Legends, it will be the same in Star Legends as well. So one of the things that you didn’t mention, but might be curious about, the initial game was about space and space flight. And it had vehicles and this iteration of it, the mobile launch version of it will not. It will be a ground based game, but space flight is near and dear to our hearts. We did jumps to light speed and some of the guys worked all the way back to Wing Commander days in the building, so it is something that we know and we love and we’re pretty good at, too. It would not surprise me to see a space flight component occur at some point in time in Star Legends. Certainly not going to promise anything…

Omaha: That’s good to know.

Gary: Well, that’s at the back of our minds--it’s a fictional universe-come on--we know how to do these things, we know how to tie galaxy launch with a ground game first and then have a very successful space game integrated with it, and we’d like to see that too. And certainly that would follow from the mobile to the PC client, too.

Omaha: That would be a stellar thing to see that’s for sure.

Gary: The Net of it is is that the game that you are playing on the tablet devices will be very similar to the games you are playing on the PC devices.

Omaha: Terrific. So, in closing, where do you see Pocket Legends five years from now?

Gary: Wow…Can we do two?

Omaha: Okay, let’s do two.

Gary: Five years from now I don’t know. Omaha, we might be dead in five years.

Omaha: Ah, no no no, we’re supposed to be dead May 21st, remember?

Gary: That’s true. Well, in that case it was great. So, you know, Pocket Legends, it will continually expand, it’s a live product. I think that we will get to a point where most of the systems are complete. There are still a few main systems that remain; Guilds is one that we do not have implemented yet, but we’ve designed and it is on our road map. There’s still some more system that will go into Pocket Legends and who knows how games will evolve over that amount of time. We will always put out new content for the game and we will always be raising the level cap and having new places to go and new things to do because it’s a live service and that’s what we do, right? MMO’s are not just about building a game, they’re about running the game after it’s done and that’s really where our teams’ pedigree and experience comes from is in building and supporting these services. It’ll still be here for sure and hopefully lots of people will be playing it.

We’re going to be having a whole suite of projects by that point in time, so our vision at Spacetime is not just to build and support one product or two, but to build multiple products and have kind of a Spacetime brand of these mobile games where your login to Pocket Legends works in Star Legends, works in Game X and Game Y- which are in pre-production right now which I can’t say anything about, but, you know, pick a genre and we’ve got an IP for that genre already developed and it is very easy for us to spin out these multiple products. You know, if I could expand the question a little but, in five years I would see us having multiple products all across these different product suites. A community of players that play across these games and our ability to cross promote. You know, log in to Pocket Legends and we’ll give you this in Star Legends, log in to X game and we’ll give you this in Pocket Legends and your same currency that you…I’ve got… If I purchase platinum in Pocket Legends than I’ll be able to spend that in Star Legends and across the rest of the suites of our products as well.

Omaha: Well, that’s awesome.

Gary: Yeah

Omaha: That’s a great idea. Well, I guess that if you did Pocket Legends as a fantasy MMO and you have Star Legends as a Sci-Fi MMO than I guess you have to do a historical MMO.

Gary: That’s one. You know, pick a genre. You know there’s horror and there’s western, there’s World War II, there’s superheroes, they’re not too hard to figure out. We want to be much more of a Zynga model than a Blizzard model, right. We don’t want to build just one game and have that try to be the ‘end all be all’. We recognize that people like to play different types of games, different play experiences, and we will be continually evolving the way that our mobile MMO’s play. Pocket Legends launched with just a little bit. Star Legends is able to leverage the best of Pocket Legends development so it will come with all of those systems that Pocket Legends has, plus a few, and then we’ll roll those systems back into Pocket Legends and then forward them into our next game which will have another layer of interactivity on top of it that we can only now just start to plan for.

Omaha: Terrific. Well, Gary Gattis of Spacetime Studios, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me about Pocket Legends, Star Legends, and where you’re headed for in the future.

Gary: Omaha Sternburg of iGame Radio, it has been a pleasure, thank you very much for the opportunity.

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  1. ratava's Avatar
    Thanks heaps for the transcript. G8 q's by Omaha, tons of interesting stuff.