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Big Viking Games, Kickstarter, Community, and the next level of UGC

September 12, 2013 — by David Nixon

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KS LogoSince its inception in 2009, the crowdfunding site Kickstarter has seen successful funding of hundreds of game-related projects. From modest one-man projects requiring only a few hundred dollars to over $8,000,000 raised by the microconsole innovator, OUYA, little doubt remains that crowdfunding, and Kickstarter in particular, is a non-trivial force in the creation of new video game content.

 

Big Viking Games Taps Kickstarter

London, Ontario-based Big Viking Games hopes to soon join the growing ranks of game companies that have found creative independence, funding, and community support on Kickstarter with their new project, Tiny Kingdoms – kicking off today, September 12, 2013.  Founded in 2011 by Albert Lai and Greg Thomson, each individually successful social games industry innovators responsible for products like YoVille and Kontagent, Big Viking Games is “A passionate group of artists, designers, and engineers that love making great games as a part of a great team.” Big Viking pursues success through cross platform mobile and social game experiences based on HTML5.  For more information about HTML5, make sure to check out Chris Shankland’s talk on The Technical Challenges of HTML5 Development from Casual Connect USA in San Francisco.

Tiny Kingdoms is a free-to-play, RPG adventure game for mobile and social platforms.

So in the crowded world of crowdfunding, what makes Tiny Kingdoms stand out? First – a clear focus on User Generated Content as value of the community experience that comes with any good Kickstarter program. The campaign promises future backers that, “Through this Kickstarter campaign, you will not just be helping to fund this project, you will be helping us create it! We want to reinvent the game design process, and change what it means to be a funder. You will receive game updates, dev diaries and partake in polls which will determine the nature of future game assets.”

Albert Lai
Albert Lai, CEO of Big Viking Games

The message is further re-enforced by the company’s press messaging which states,”…what really makes this game different from any other is the way players will be able to influence the development of the game, with unprecedented access to the game creation process. When players become backers in this campaign, they will help craft the vision and direction of the game, along with the developers at Big Viking. They will be given the opportunity to offer ideas and feedback on characters, environments, items, features and tactical gameplay modes. Big Viking sees the backers becoming part of a tight knit development team, as they experience rare insight into the development process. To facilitate this process, Big Viking will host live chats, provide designer diary updates and conduct polls throughout development. This feedback will begin when the game reaches beta and will continue through and after launch as the game evolves.”

Albert Lai, CEO of Big Viking, sees this as a unique opportunity for players to leave their mark on the game and build the game they really want to play, saying, “We want our fans to go beyond just pledging their dollars to also lend their ideas and creativity. The ultimate goal will be to re-imagine the way players interact with game developers, through both Kickstarter and collaborative online platforms.”

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Greg Thomson, CPO

Second – a very modest initial funding goal of $50,000 coupled with the wide variety and professional polish of the assets developed to kick off the Kickstarter campaign suggests that while Big Viking Games could potentially bring this game to market on their own, they genuinely see value in letting consumers behind the curtain to become a part of the creative process.  While a few thousand extra CAD isn’t anything a successful games industry indie is likely to turn away, it’s clear to anyone familiar with the genre Tiny Kingdoms occupies that both Albert and Greg conceive of a game that is far, far bigger than $50k will buy. In a super-savvy move, the founders of Big Viking appear to tap the passion of the games crowdfunding community to guide their offering AND build their foundational community at the same time. The low funding threshold also virtually guarantees funding success while compelling stretch goals like free new characters, Co-Op and PvP Multiplayer functionality give ample ammunition for convincing their backers to pony up to the next level for those popular features.

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“When players become backers in this campaign, they will help craft the vision and direction of the game, along with the developers at Big Viking.”

Third – virality is built in from the very beginning. Tapping into the natural social component of today’s games, the RPG genre, and the crowdfunding community, Big Viking has built in social benefits even before the game is available by rewarding backers with bonus “buddy” rewards to share with friends. Clearly, the folks at Big Viking understand that gamers, especially midcore online and mobile gamers, want to share the love with their gamer friends, and in doing so, promote the Kickstarter campaign to the exact market most likely to find value in it.  With this core understanding of the power of virality and the gamer’s social networks, Greg, Al, and their team can surely expect to build strong social features into the game as well, completing and perpetuating social positive-feedback loops that enhance Tiny Kingdoms’ growth.

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More about Tiny Kingdoms

Tiny Kingdoms is a free-to-play, RPG adventure game for mobile and social platforms. In this game, players take on the role of adventurers on a quest to prove their worthiness to become the next ruler of the kingdom. To do this they must defeat deadly creatures through hundreds of strategic battles as they conquer the most insurmountable odds. They will have to choose a tactical team, craft items and weapons and find the loot that will strengthen their warriors. The powerful enemies in this gameplay can only be defeated through tactical strategy, item and weapon crafting and obtaining the amazing loot. The game is built using HTML5, which allows player to seamlessly play across different platforms, such as Facebook and their mobile devices.

To learn more or to contribute to the campaign, visit Kickstarter.  To learn more about Big Viking games, visit their website.

Video Coverage

Chris Shankland: The Invariable Lightness of…Games | Casual Connect Video

August 21, 2013 — by Catherine Quinton

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“Believe it or not, even in a magical language like JavaScript, you can still leak memory,” said Chris Shankland during his detailed session on the Technical Challenges of HTML5 Development at Casual Connect in San Francisco.

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Christopher Shankland
Chris Shankland

Big HTML5 Commitment at Big Viking

Chris Shankland is the Lead Developer at Big Viking Games. He came in with some experience in large scale web development, which proved extremely advantageous as Big Viking approached Mech Force, their first HTML5 title. Chris also had some experience working on large backend systems, allowing him to avoid common pitfalls while quickly creating a backend. He has discovered, “There is no experience that isn’t useful. The diversity of my past experience really helps me tackle any problem that might crop up on any given day.”

There is no experience that isn’t useful. The diversity of my past experience really helps me tackle any problem that might crop up on any given day.

Besides his interest in games and the game industry, Chris enjoys playing soccer, bicycling, tasting new and interesting beers, watching hockey and occasionally playing the oboe. His taste in music is eclectic; while programming, he prefers listening to little in the way of lyrics, but at other times, he enjoys all genres with the exception of country.

Chris’s interest in the game industry began through playing games, leading to a growing fascination with what made the games function. Early on, he was involved in games that had in-depth mathematical backing and room for min/max play styles. His start in the industry came during high school with a summer job with a company doing 3D graphics and simulation software; what Chris would now call “serious games.” Several high school projects allowed him to continue exploring his interest in games, culminating in a version of Hunt the Wumpus and a programmer art racing game.

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Chris is never bored at Big Viking Games

The Lightheartedness of Games

The lightheartedness of games is what supports Chris’s continuing involvement in the industry. He says, “People really do find great escapes in games, and I’ve heard and read stories of how games literally keep people from becoming depressed. It’s nice to have that potential upside.” At the same time, he claims he avoids the risk of being in a textbook on how not to do software engineering.

Another aspect of the industry that attracts Chris is the rapid pace, keeping him from ever being bored. Instead, he is almost overwhelmed by the breadth of the topics he needs to know to excel at games creation. As he sees it, this industry is unique in requiring expertise in all areas.

Big Viking Games' upcoming title: Tiny Kingdoms
Big Viking Games’ upcoming title: Tiny Kingdoms

If Chris was not in the game industry, he sees himself becoming involved in software endeavors related to healthcare. In the meantime, he has considered how games can be used in a way to enable doctors and other healthcare professional to save lives.

Big Viking Games is already heavily entrenched in HTML5 and are working on several titles with the technology, across multiple platforms.
Big Viking Games is already heavily entrenched in HTML5 and are working on several titles with the technology, across multiple platforms.

JavaScript Runtime – Ugh.

The biggest challenge Chris faces is ongoing: the language and runtime of JavaScript. The developer has little control in areas that are very important for game programming. There are also techniques that make little sense, but must be employed to squeeze out performance. As a result, Chris has acquired an appreciation for how sensitive platforms are to different implementations and has realized the advantages of more traditional programming languages and tools.

Chris, like many of his peers, expects HTML5 will be trending upward over the next three to five years. Exciting developments are occurring now, including WebGL, asm.js and the high level of competition between JS engine providers. “All these advancements can culminate in a more unified mechanism for distribution of games,” he adds. “Specifically, a single link should be sufficient to distribute a game across many platforms.” He assures us that Big Viking Games is already heavily entrenched in HTML5 and are working on several titles with the technology, across multiple platforms.

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