Armello is a digital board game that we’ve covered a few times on GameCloud before, and over the past year since it’s release things have been mostly good. I spoke with Jason Bakker about the game at last year’s PAX Aus, and I left pretty excited about what was to come. As time has worn on, the game has received some pretty big updates, new features, a major DLC release, with another on the horizon. When returning to the game with the Usurpers DLC that released a couple of months back, there were some noted changes to the game itself, of which I wasn’t very fond. The DLC characters were also pretty powerful in comparison to those from the base game, and it was hard to miss the fact that the DLC’s content was just four characters for half the price of the base game. This year, I caught up with studio producer Lisy Kane to ask some questions about all this, and where the game was headed.
I spoke with Jason Bakker at last year’s PAX Aus, not long after the game had released. What have been some of the biggest changes to the game since then?
Well, I think the biggest change that we’ve made is we’ve added four new heroes into the game. We released some DLC about two months ago now, so that was something we’d been working towards. We’ve been continuing to add new cards to the game, as well, obviously just polishing things off, and adding new features to the game to make things better.
One thing that was mentioned in the previous interview, and in online posts from League of Geeks, was the Bandit DLC. How’s work on that going?
The Bandit DLC is out, it was an exclusive reward for our Kickstarter backers, so that came out last year when it released. We are looking to release it publicly to coincide with the launch of the iPad version of the game, so Armello is coming to iPad next year, which is very, very exciting, and the Bandits will come out at the same time that releases.
There had been some dicussion that the Bandit Clan was meant to release earlier, perhaps already. What was the reason it’s been delayed?
Um, no. It’s always been planned to coincide with the iPad release. We’ve always said that from the very beginning.
How long did the Usurper DLC pack take to develop?
That’s a good question! It probably took about three to six months, and that’s multiple people – having an art team, animation, coding, designing, and all that kind of thing. Plus we do make all of our trailers in-house, as well, the amazing assets that you would’ve seen come out for marketing, that’s all done in-house.
There’s been player feedback online around the Steam forums and other areas that the Usurper DLC characters are perhaps a bit too OP. What’s your reaction to that and how long did the DLC spend in play testing?
We basically start playtesting from the very beginning, but with that we do keep an eye on all the stats, we do have analytics in-game to track all that kind of stuff. Similar to games from companies like Blizzard, they always have people saying that certain heroes are unbalanced, but we obviously can’t just go through balancing straight away because there is a new meta. It’s completely changed the game by adding new heroes, we’ve already seen people shift around how they play with those characters, and how to deal with them. So, from the stats we’re happy with where things are at for the moment, but we’ll continue to watch that and add any changes that we need.
With the cost of the Usurper DLC being half the cost of the base game, what went into the thought process to reach that decision?
Well, we look at how much it cost us to make the product, as well. The thing is that when we set the price of the base game, and people are like “Uh, the DLC is half the price of the base game,” that’s kind of a bit of a funny statement to make. Because we make the game at a certain price, the game itself, even though it’s about twenty dollars, is not that much, when you think about the fact it took five years to develop. We need to sell the product, and we can’t have the product too high, but the DLC is a different beast altogether. We do a lot of research, so we obviously don’t just pick a number out of a hat; we have a lot of indie friends that work in the game scene, as well.
So, when we do our research, we go around and ask other studios what works for them, and what doesn’t work for them, we also talk to Valve, we have a very close relationship with Valve, so obviously we run a lot of this stuff past them, too. And obviously, we’re experienced game developers, as well, we know what’s going to work, and what’s not going to work. If people don’t want to buy it, they don’t have to buy it, they can actually play it still if they queue with somebody in the game, but it’s up to them if they want to buy the DLC or not.
Regarding the microtransactions, as they were a late addition to the game, such as the war chests and keys, is that to help with producing further DLC?
No, not at all, basically the incentive for creating this inventory system in the game, like I said before, we have a very close relationship with Valve and this time last year, we thought we wouldn’t be working on Armello anymore. We had no intention, when we launched the game for release, we were like, “Okay, that’s it, awesome game, let’s go.” Armello is a multiplayer game, it lives and breathes by its community, obviously, so we had a huge, really successful launch. We had people buying the game, and we were doing these rolling updates and kept seeing people coming back and the player groups were spiking every time we did an update.
So, what we looked into was how are we going to make that online multiplay community really strong, continue to grow it, and expand it into different territories. We looked at games that Valve are very strong with, like CS:GO, DotA 2, and the commonality there is creating that player loop, and creating an incentive to come back to the game, and that inherently is where the dice skins have come out from. We already started doing that awhile ago, we were doing things like Winter dice, and all these klind of random drops, and that really worked. But we wanted to create a more robust to basically give us an opportunity to have low code, so the system itself, once it’s built, it’s maintenance load is high on art but low on code. That means we can keep our coders working on other features, so we wanted something that was quick enough for us to get content out there, but brings people back to the game, and it’s proven to be completely successful. We’ve been really happy with how it’s all turned out.
When I last spoke with Jason Bakker, he said that you were planning on possibly expanding the universe with alternate media, like with books, animations and so on. Are there still plans to do that sort of thing?
We’ve still got our novellas coming out, probably next year, and that’s a full set of novellas based around the different heroes of Armello. We already have our soundtrack out, and at this stage we also have an art book planned, but nothing else right now. From this time last year, we’ve had discussions with different companies about different options, but none of them have really come to fruition. So, nothing yet, no Armello TV series yet, haha. Maybe one day – it’s definitely one of our most frequent requests!
What’s your plans for future content for Armello, and have you got anything else outside of Armello in the works?
We’ve still got heaps of plans for Armello, we definitely have new things coming out that will probably be announced shortly after PAX. There’s the iPad version next year, like I said before. We’re not working on anything else at the moment, but we still have lots of plans for Armello, and we’ll probably still be here next year.
So you definitely see Armello going for quite awhile yet?
Yeah, definitely. As long as people keep buying it and playing it, we see no reason why we should stop supporting it, and adding more content.
Here are some other places where you can show your support for Armello: