Kabam on the fun at the core of its skill-based F2P brawler Marvel: Contest of Champions

It's Marvel. Don't mess it up

Kabam on the fun at the core of its skill-based F2P brawler Marvel: Contest of Champions

Search any app store for superhero games , and even the most hardcore fan should consider themselves spoilt for choice.

Everyone from DeNA to D3Publisher, Warner Bros., Gameloft, and GREE has been mining the recent rich vein of comic and movie blockbuster licences, looking for commercial gold.

On this basis, the arrival of Kabam's Marvel: Contest of Champions could be considered saturation, particularly as the hardcore fighting genre is already supported by Warners' highly successful Injustice: Gods Among Us, while DeNA's Marvel: War of Heroes covers card-collection action.

Yet, according to Kabam Vancouver's creative director Cuz Parry, sitting in the intersection between these two genres is a sweetspot.

"Marvel is pretty smart about positioning its games," he says.

"They came to us because we have console experience and could nail the required gameplay. Our goal was to make a fighting game that is differentiated from other games. We need to stand out."

The core

Of course, that's an internal mission statement. For gamers, the point of Marvel: Contest of Champions is to provide an enjoyable free-to-play experience.

"I know we can make a game look good, but it needs to be fun," Parry says.

"We starting prototyping back in March and quite early on we had that Eureka moment that you need at the core of your game. It was fun."

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It might sound like a fundamental aspect to any game development project, but as most developers have experienced at some stage in their career, the process of making a game can become central, driving out the core user experience.

Layered approach

In the case of Contest of Champions this balance was a particular subtle one as the beat-'em up gameplay is simplified for touchscreen, while there's plenty of F2P meta-gameplay surrounding the core experience.

We had that Eureka moment that you need at the core of your game. It was fun.
Cuz Parry

Both will be important to the game's overall success.

"We weren't going to force buttons or joysticks on a touchscreen game," says Parry, of the decision to restrict the skill aspect of 2D movement swipes to dash and retreat, which are combined with weak, strong and special attacks to provide the tactical palette.

"Fighting games can be niche, but Marvel is a global brand," he comments.

Adding additional layers onto this skill-based gameplay are the elemental-style character class system, a RPG levelling up system (which is inspired by card-collection games), and team system, which generates synergy bonuses depending on which superheroes you team up.

This is also encouraged by two different modes, the PVP Arena mode and the PVE story mode, in which some characters are more suited to certain environments than others.

What's next?

Now released for iOS and Android, the task for Parry and the development team is to shape Marvel: Contest of Champions for the longterm.

"When you start making a game, you dream big - a behemoth - and then have to cut back for launch so we have plenty of features on our roadmap for 2015," he says.

Some of the F2P meta-game and monetisation options in Marvel: Contest of Champions

High on the list are social features. Like most Kabam titles, Contest of Champions shipped with a global chat, and Facebook groups are already springing up to discuss the best strategies and to enable bragging between players. Some sort of clan or alliance system is also being considered.

But, in the meantime, the development team is just happy to have released a game they're proud of.

"We're fanatical Marvel fans who grew up playing Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom," Parry says.

"For us, the most important thing was "It's Marvel. Don't Mess It Up!"

Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.