By David Radd
Game of Thrones almost overnight turned from a fantasy series generally only appreciated by the relatively nerdy to a pop culture phenomenon with millions more people that have read the books and watched the TV show. It's expanded out into the gaming sphere as well with an announced free-to-play MMO and recently released RPG. Westeros will also be the basis of a social game called Game of Thrones Ascent. We got a chance to talk with Jon Radoff, CEO of developer Disruptor Beam, to find out what the plan is right now for their new social game with a very hot license.
[a]list: How did you come to acquire the Game of Thrones license?
Jon Radoff: We've been working with George R.R. Martin for a while now. Initially it was just the license for the books for sometime and then we worked on it with HBO after the success of the TV series. We have an agreement with both now. Visually, we're following pretty close to the TV series, like the way the Iron Throne is depicted.
We were originally going to work on this regardless of the TV series, and it's great that HBO has brought the following of their show to our game.
[a]list: Why do you feel like it's a good match for social games?
Jon Radoff: A lot of typical fantasy worlds like Lord of the Rings have clear cut good and evil where good guys form a band to fight evil and that's not very dynamic for social games. In Game of Thrones Ascent, you can evoke all the feelings of the series. Westeros is a fascinating world for players to play in and be able to live out similar dramas and political intrigues that happen in the show.
[a]list: There are other, more traditional video games that have released based on Game of Thrones...
Jon Radoff: Ironically, I don't think it's a good environment about classic single player gamers. I have nothing to say about any games that might be set in the same universe. Traditionally, most RPGs are about beating up monsters and getting loot; that doesn't work well in Westeros, but it's a good universe for a strategic gameplay. For us, it was about looking at the authenticity of the world and Game of Thrones Ascent really reflects those type of things you see in that world. Part of it is swearing allegiance to certain houses; we'll talk about the particulars over the coming weeks.
[a]list: What did you get from the hands on experience you got from George R.R. Martin?
Jon Radoff: He's an interesting guy, he likes games but hasn't played a lot of games and isn't on Facebook or Twitter, but he still gets it. He's a genius - he doesn't have to use it to understand the experience. He gets the use of the web-based experience and he gets what makes it memorable. He wants the content of the books, with the adventure and treachery, and likes the idea that we're going to bring those actions to life in the game.
Not in the game (yet).
[a]list: What flavor of the show are you looking to include in the game. Will we see any actor likenesses?
Jon Radoff: We wouldn't rule out it, but at this point we're not planning on including it. Tyrion will definitely be in there, but you're not going to see Peter Dinklage's image in the game. Visually, it's inspired by it, but we're not using digital images from the series; it's more of borrowing from an artistic look.
[a]list: Will recent happenings in the show influence the game?
Jon Radoff: After Ascent comes out, one of the goals of the game is to put out content in concert with episodes arriving to make it feel like you're living in the same world as the TV series. That's one of the more exciting aspects of integrating with the show.
[a]list: Tell me about your plans for beta.
Jon Radoff: We'll go through multiple phases of closed beta, and they'll go to a more open phased beta, and we'll go through a number of months in that - I don't want to set expectations of when the open beta date is just yet.
Really, it's about making the game good. I consider us to be fans of George R.R. Martin's work and the HBO show. I think some social games have been rushed out, especially for licensed stuff, but for us, we want to make something exciting and new. We're a business, and we're looking to create something that people are engaging in. The best game businesses are building teams that are truly passionate about what they do, and you see that around the whole tech industry. Whether it's Apple making iPad or Valve making what they make, you have to have passion.
[a]list: How will Game of Thrones Ascent be monetized? Will it be virtual goods?
Jon Radoff: It will be virtual goods. We're not doing something extremely novel. It's the production values and the gameplay itself that's doing something interesting. We want to make it quite comfortable for everyone, whether they've played social games or not.
My big picture on this game and the market, all these games that were created for a social graph, using it as a way to propagate a business has run its course. You have to pay close attention to engagement and not build something people have been playing for years; you have to create something with depth.
[a]list: John, thanks.
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