Goodgame Studios made headlines recently with compulsory dismissals of 114 of its staff.
The Hamburg-based outfit had previously proudly proclaimed itself as Germany's biggest game developer. It attributed the cuts to a renewed focus on mobile as it scales back casual and client-based PC game development.
In an interview at Gamescom prior to these cuts, the firm was keen to share its new direction with PocketGamer.biz.
“We are striving to do more, especially in the mobile space,” summed up Product Communications Manager Fabio Lo Zito.
“We right now have five [internal] studios working on different types of titles.”
Gunning for gacha
One of these teams was behind the firm's biggest mobile hit to date, Goodgame Empire, and is working on a new social strategy title called Legends of Honor - currently in soft launch.
But perhaps more surprisingly, there's also a 30-strong team within the Hamburg studio working on two Asian-style RPGs complete with auto-play and gacha systems.
Indeed, such is the firm's belief in what it's doing in this area, it even presented a sponsored talk at GDC Europe on the subject entitled Gacha Mechanics Successfully Adapted for Western Markets.
“The appeal of gacha is something that can be observed in every culture,” Product Marketing Manager Tobi Fink tells us.
“What it comes down to is people being emotionally attached to something and they just want to have it. It's the same with Pokemon… everyone likes to collect stuff.”
So why have massive Asian hits such as White Cat Project/Rune Story not made waves in the West?
“Some of these Asian games, for a Western audience, feel a bit cheesy,” says Fink.
Goodgame Studios' attempted antidote for this, then, is the currently soft-launched Infernals - Heroes of Hell.
Mechanically, Infernals Product Lead Oliver Kutnik says that the “backbone” of the game was inspired by South Korean developer Netmarble's Seven Knights.
We looked at easing the player into the mechanics, making it not so grindy.Oliver Kutnik
But set in a dark, post-apocalyptic world of demons and monsters, the game is overtly targeting western audiences with its theme.
“Even from a game design perspective, we looked at differences between Asian and North American games,” Kutnik goes on.
“Asian games are very fully-featured, have as many mechanics as possible, and are very grindy. We looked at easing the player into the mechanics, making it not so grindy, and a bit more exciting.”
Another area in which Goodgame has attempted to strike a balance between Western and Asian influences is in the extent to which gameplay is automated.
Autoplay is becoming more popular in Western mobile game design, with Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes being a notable example, but it's yet to reach the ubiquity it has in China and South Korea.
“We want to allow players to autoplay if they're just grinding it out, but when you take your team and your new loot and your upgrades into PvP, that's when you need to start paying attention,” explains Kutnik.
“So we have these two systems that are casual and more engaged.”
Better luck this time?
It's certainly an interesting gamble for the studio. But perhaps more importantly, it's an opportunity to diversify from the world of browser-based strategy gaming with which it has become associated.
“For us as a company, it's a really important step into the future to develop that knowledge and reputation in different genres,” says Lo Zito.
The last time Goodgame Studios attempted to do this was by starting a new casual games team in June 2015 - a short-lived effort, and one of the key victims of recent cuts.
The newly-streamlined studio will be hoping that it finds Asian-style RPGs a better fit, as Infernals accelerates towards worldwide launch.