Looking at Nexon M's mobile game portfolio, Evil Factory stands out as something of an anomaly.
Developed by Korean studio Neople, it's a game that wears its retro influences on its sleeve with pixel art, giant bosses and an arcade-esque focus on skill above all else.
The twist is that instead of going for the traditional shoot-'em-up approach of spraying bullets, there is instead a touch of Bomberman as the player relies on the strategic placement of explosives to take down enemies.
It's a game of the kind we're more accustomed to seeing from smaller, independent developers, so how has it ended up alongside DomiNations and Oz: Broken Kingdom in Nexon M's portfolio?
And how has a company whose business model is free-to-play set about approaching a genre that's yet to produce a true F2P hit?
PocketGamer.biz: Evil Factory is a departure from the mobile games for which Nexon is known. What appealed to you about it?
Lawrence Koh: There’s been an exciting resurgence of iconic retro styles in entertainment over the last five years.
From movies to TV shows to video games, people are definitely interested and excited about retro experiences.
Evil Factory hit that retro theme on the nose while marrying together the modern mobile gameplay mechanics.Lawrence Koh
With Evil Factory, Neople Games really hit that retro theme on the nose while marrying together the modern mobile gameplay mechanics and features that today’s gamer is interested in.
Evil Factory is a title that's clearly influenced by retro games. What were some of your inspirations?
Jaeho Hwang: I have always thought the best part of retro games are the boss battles.
I believe most gamers have experience meeting badass bosses in Zelda, Contra or Megaman and the triumphant feeling when they beat them with their hard-earned skills.
It definitely requires some trial-and-error to defeat the boss, but it's still fun. My goal was to bring that old school experience to modern devices.
I wanted to focus on speedy boss battles with high replayability to keep players engaged, as mobile game play sessions are much shorter than video games.
When did you realise that a bomb mechanic could work well within the framework of a traditional shmup?
Jaeho Hwang: As far as most mobile action games go, designers have to give up the traditional "hard-hitting" feeling that comes with mashing buttons.
Among all the classic games I loved, Bomberman was the only one which gave me the same feeling without mashing buttons.
I applied the bomb mechanic to our prototype and it fit perfectly!
I have to admit, we did have to sacrifice a little control smoothness to make Leo set the bomb next to the boss boldly - instead of using auto firing weapons like in 1945, or Xevious - but I felt it was our way of making Evil Factory’s gameplay more intense.
How did you design the levels and New Game+ system to ensure that players would keep returning?
Jaeho Hwang: Originally, we planned to have Evil Factory be more casual, with it consisting mainly of a boss rush mode without much story or character.
Neople is part of the Nexon family, working on massive hits like Dungeon Fighter Online.Lawrence Koh
But later, we found we needed to give players stronger motivation to keep playing.
Not only did we include more story, but adding things like extra objectives to obtain new helmets, or the mini arcade games, really helped lessen the tension for the boss battles and keep players engaged.
How did you first become aware of Neople Games and the Evil Factory project, and when did you sign it up?
Lawrence Koh: Something everyone might not know is Neople is part of the Nexon family, working on massive hits like Dungeon Fighter Online.
When they revealed their new passion project Evil Factory to us, we knew the fresh and different approach they were taking would make it stand out.
We started working closely in the summer of 2016 to bring Evil Factory to markets worldwide.
How did the two companies work together, and how often were you in contact?
Lawrence Koh: We were in contact every day! Even with both teams being on different sides of the Pacific Ocean, we were in lock step.
Neople brought a great foundation for Evil Factory to the table. We were here to support a great design and to provide insight into what works best in western markets.
How big was the team on Evil Factory, and how long was the total development time?
Jaeho Hwang: The team was five members, including myself, which is actually the second smallest team within Nexon development.
I served as game designer/producer. We also had two artists and two programmers.
In total, it took about a year of development time. Nexon wanted to let developers pursue their creativity, so the gave us all the time we needed to make an awesome game.
What are the biggest challenges you faced in trying to make a game with retro sensibilities but free-to-play monetisation?
Jaeho Hwang: That’s a very good question. Since retro arcade games are completely skill-based, it is hard to fit the traditional F2P monetisation structure to the game.
We can’t charge 25 cents per play like an old stand up cabinet and we also didn’t want to make beating bosses impossible and unfair without paying.
Nexon allowed us to focus on the gameplay, not the monetisation. This is really rare.Jaeho Hwang
We would never want to make players feel like they needed to pay to upgrade their weapons in order to advance.
So the toughest question was, “how do we make this game really fun?” If it was not fun, players wouldn’t return to take on the next boss, let alone consider purchasing in-game currency.
In terms of monetisation, one option was to make the game a premium app. But frankly, I wanted as many retro game fans as possible to try Evil Factory and enjoy the experience first.
So as an alternative, we are selling Unlimited Fuel for $1.99, which allows players to decide if they want have unlimited play.
Nexon allowed us to focus on the gameplay, not the monetisation. This is really rare in the industry. I’ve been in games for 10 years, and rarely do you find a case like this.
They have been nothing but supportive the entire way. It's my hope players enjoy the game enough to make a purchase.
Did Nexon have any input in the game's monetisation design?
Lawrence Koh: As a whole, we wanted to support Neople’s passion project.
At Nexon, we feel supporting creative experimentation is the key to creating fun games people love to play.
We wanted the monetisation to focus on helping players who wanted to progress quicker, not to obstruct the flow of gameplay.
Arcade-style titles have proven popular on mobile in the past, but tough to monetise. What are your thoughts on this in regards to Evil Factory?
Lawrence Koh: Above all else, our main goal has always been making a game that’s fun and unique.
It’s definitely true that arcade-style titles are harder to monetise on mobile, but that was not a major concern of ours.
Because this was a passion project for Neople and Nexon, our focus has been on the gameplay experience overall.
What did Nexon and Neople Games learn from Evil Factory's soft launch, and what were the biggest changes enacted as a result?
Lawrence Koh: Soft Launch was a time for us to understand the player experience. The challenge of Evil Factory was finding the line between difficult and frustrating.
Most of all, we wanted the game to be fun, but still test player’s skills throughout. We recognise there is a science to balancing, and soft launch helped us understand and create a rewarding experience for players.
How happy have you been with the global launch? Any surprises?
Lawrence Koh: Everyone here at Nexon and Neople have been ecstatic with the positive reception received around Evil Factory’s worldwide launch!
Evil Factory was featured in over 100 countries, and we were also able to surpass one million installs!Jaeho Hwang
As for surprises, I would say seeing the incredible player response and love and general affinity towards Evil Factory’s retro arcade style has really impressed us.
Jaeho Hwang: I couldn’t be happier with the reception at launch, which saw featuring in over 100 countries.
We were also able to surpass one million installs worldwide! The reactions have been super positive from around the globe.
It’s really fun to watch the replays of Evil Factory fans around the world taking on and conquering all of the challenging bosses in the game!
What's next for Evil Factory?
Lawrence Koh: Fans can expect new weekend boss events coming very soon. Each boss has three different tiers for players to take on over the weekend.
If you complete it, you get an exclusive helmet for Leo, including all new bonuses.
We are also working on new weapons for players to collect and new episodes for players to challenge their skills. There will be much more evil coming to the Evil Factory!
Jaeho Hwang: We plan on adding some new bosses and exciting game modes to expand Evil Factory in the coming months.
The best thing though, is for the awesome Evil Factory community to let us know what they want to see us expand upon in the Evil Factory world!