Interview

From The Boys to Hellboy, four years of partnerships in Legendary: Game of Heroes

From The Boys to Hellboy, four years of partnerships in Legendary: Game of Heroes

It is often said that nothing is truly finished and it's a saying the games industry has taken to heart in recent times.

Long gone are the days of developing and publishing a game without the need to tweak, adjust and patch it after launch, with new titles requiring constant operation and updates to keep them at the forefront of consumer thought.

Here at PocketGamer.biz we want to take the opportunity to highlight games that have bucked the trend and found an audience that has kept them thriving long after launch.

In this entry of our Live and Kicking series, we spoke with N3twork production lead Danil Monsur regarding the four-year anniversary of Legendary: Game of Heroes.

PocketGamer.biz: With Legendary: Game of Heroes now more than four-years-old, how do you reflect on its performance as a series - from launch to the title it is now?

Danil Monsur: Legendary: Game of Heroes has been on a constant path of growth since launch.

While the game has always retained the core tenets of a match-three puzzle RPG, we have added so many features and content through live ops over the years that it's become a deep player experience.

It's unlike any other game on the market because of the unique way the team works together with the community to ensure player satisfaction and thus, retention.

I feel comfortable saying we're one of the only developers who players can directly message, and it has made Legendary better.
Danil Monsur

It has been amazing to go on this journey with players who are so invested and passionate about the game.

To date, Legendary has been downloaded millions of times, has thousands of cards for collection, and as a team, we've released 240 events on a regular weekly cadence.

It has been really humbling to be part of a game that provides so much enjoyment to so many people over such a long time.

Legendary has had three key periods in its development, which we refer to as generations. In gen one, the game was in its base form, with just a main campaign and supplementary dungeons, one new hero each week, two types of events (Bounty Hunter and Slayer), and Guild vs Guild PVP functionality.

In gen two, we added the Master Collection as a way to reward players for collecting Heroes. We also started introducing five new heroes each week, each with new gameplay styles, and Intensity, a system similar to Magic: The Gathering's Mana, so as to introduce resource management to the puzzle battle.

And finally, in gen three we added Ultimate Forms, the most powerful Heroes in Legendary to date. We also opened the Vault, giving players a way to obtain heroes more easily, and the Prestige system.

Prestige provides every level of player the appropriate difficulty during an event; we added this because our community has both players who had been around since launch, and brand new players, some of whom were experiencing their very first event!

How big is the team currently handling live ops?

The Legendary team is currently about 30 people strong, with producers, designers, analysts, QA, artists, engineers, customer support, community managers, and more.

We have members who have been around for many years, like myself, and newer members who have already contributed so much towards making Legendary a better game.

How important do you consider customer support and updates to be? What has been your approach to this?

I truly believe that N3twork's approach to customer support, which is key to Legendary's growth and maintenance, is unique and industry-leading. One of our core cultural pillars is delight, and that's why we believe in building close and delightful relationships with our players.

Legendary partnered with Lionsgate and Millennium Media to bring the characters of Hellboy to the game, which co-insided with the Hellboy 2019 film

I'm sure every company says this, but we have the actions to support our words: I speak directly to players on a weekly basis and any player can directly message myself or other front-facing members of the team through the N3twork app, which currently serves as a chat app connected to Legendary. I feel comfortable saying we're one of the only developers who players can directly message, and it has made Legendary better.

What steps have you taken to ensure that Legendary: Game of Heroes maintains a sizable and active player base all this time after its launch?

Updates are the core of Legendary, and without it the game wouldn't be what it is today. Legendary has grown to become a hobby as much as it is a game, and we always want players to have something new and exciting to play.

We release a new event every Tuesday with new Hero and Relic cards to collect as well as gameplay changes where necessary.

While these can be balance changes, they are usually unique and sometimes temporary game features that allow players to complete collections for special rewards, join global teams, or in one case, win themselves a trip to South Korea for their entire guild, just by killing bosses.

Within the weekly event, we also have regular weekday releases which include gifts for players or balance changes to the event as needed.

How do you balance in-game advertisements so it doesn't affect the player's overall experience?

We are huge fans of The Boys and thought that it would be a great fit for Legendary.
Danil Monsur

Advertisements break the flow of playing a game, and since part of Legendary's appeal is its approach to dark fantasy, we especially want to avoid breaking player immersion. We use ads as sparsely as possible. Legendary only has a few areas with in-game advertisements and no new ad breaks have been added since launch.

How did the partnership with the comic series The Boys come about?

We pride ourselves in having a large variety of character types in Legendary so we had the luxury of casting a large net when looking for partnerships.

We are huge fans of The Boys and thought that it would be a great fit for Legendary as well as something that our players would love. We reached out to Dynamite Entertainment to acquire the rights to the comics, and the rest is history.

Last year, we also had a special in-game event featuring Hellboy, which coincided with the premiere of the 2019 Hellboy movie. Just like The Boys event, we brought the heroes of Hellboy into the Legendary world so fans of Legendary and Hellboy alike could build them into all-powerful decks and play with their favourite characters.

The difference with The Boys is that we realised players wanted to enjoy these characters for more than just a week, so they could try out different deck combinations, and so we've made sure this current tie-up with Dynamite Entertainment's epic IP will run over five weeks.

To what do you attribute Legendary: Game of Heroes consistently impressive grossing performance, and how do you sustain it?

I feel Legendary comes up pretty frequently in the industry as an example of best-in-class live operations for mobile games, so that's one thing. The other factor is probably the emphasis we place on player Guilds.

The Legendary team is the most experienced and hard-working team I've ever worked with, and it shows in the game that we have made together. Because of the live operations systems built by our amazing engineers, we are able to build entirely new gameplay loops without any engineering work, and without Apple/Google submissions.

With these systems, we iterate on new live ops features quickly and have built a team that is able to implement even quicker.

We create a new deck of Cards every week, which bring new Heroes, Relics, and Skills. We change the event gameplay just as quickly. And if any of the new changes don't work, then we're just as quick to iterate on it, or in a worst-case scenario, retire it.

On the other hand, fundamentally, a game only sustains because players keep playing it. We built Guild functionality into a game because a sense of community is important for retention. Players come back to play when their friends ask them to, or they want to keep logging in because, while grinding out boss after boss is hard, it's a lot more fun when you do it with a team.

Can you tell us how you have approached the game under the current pandemic? Any changes you have put in place?

Earlier in the year, we joined the #PlayApartTogether initiative, and dedicated time to finding out how we could delight our players. Many players were turning to games to get them through sheltering in place, and we wanted to be there for ours.

One idea we came up with (that was implemented recently) was Gem Crush, a complete renewal of how the match-three puzzle board plays.

We wanted to give players something new and refreshing to keep them going in this time, rather than the same old experience. You can check it out now in Legendary. Separately, we also offered the deepest discount ever on Vault pulls (our in-game Card pack) during the time where most of the world was on lockdown.

What would you consider Legendary: Game of Heroes biggest achievement since launch?

There have been times when we've changed Legendary with the best intentions, but it wasn't what players wanted.
Danil Monsur

Running a live game means you're on a constant journey of iteration and exploration, so it's hard to pick any one thing we've experienced so far as Legendary's biggest achievement. I am proud of a few things though.

1. We have built a game that has sustainably generated revenue week over week for four years with an extremely lean team.

2. We have created the environment to nurture a community where people find friends, and even family. We know at least one couple that got married after meeting in Legendary, and we are frequently contacted by many guilds wanting to do right by their guildmates (who may have been hospitalized etcetera. and cannot play for the time being). Legendary has made a difference in many lives and I'm proud of that.

3. Late last year, we attempted to move Legendary into a new meta called the New Dawn. This was met with huge player resistance and many players left. Even though we had poured tons of time into the design of New Dawn cards and their meta, we decided to throw that out the window and to work the game back to what players enjoyed.

We regained that DAU loss in a short window of time. I'm proud of the team (and myself) for being able to let go of something we dedicated a lot of resources to when it didn't work. This sounds like a strange answer to your question, but acknowledging when you're wrong, and being willing to do what's right requires the right culture. Successfully building and maintaining that culture is a huge accomplishment.

4. Finally, it's the team that we have working on Legendary today. Many of my colleagues have sacrificed holidays to be on-call for live issues, as well as personal time to resolve any problems that crop up after hours. Legendary would not be where it is today without them.

Any KPIs such as downloads, DAU or retention you’re willing to share?

Each week, we release a new event. Legendary is currently on its 240th weekly event.

Each one of those events has more than 30 million minutes of playtime by our players. That's billions of Legendary minutes!

What lessons have you learned/are you still learning from Legendary: Game of Heroes? Is there anything about the game that, in hindsight, you'd now handle differently?

When you've worked on anything for four years, there are countless lessons to be learned. There have been times when we've changed Legendary with the best intentions, but it wasn't what players wanted. If I could go back, I would have started forming relationships with Legendary players earlier to avoid these situations, like the New Dawn changes I mentioned.

When we eventually reverted Legendary back to the meta game that players preferred, we realised we could have avoided a lot of fallout if we had sought player feedback sooner.

Their feedback is immensely valuable, and they know the game better than anyone in the world. The customer is always right and it may be cliche, but it's true as long as you can break down their feedback effectively.

Staff Writer

Matthew Forde is the staff writer for PocketGamer.biz and also a member of the Pocket Gamer Podcast. You can find him on Twitter @Forde999 talking about Smash Bros. and everything pop culture related - particularly superheroes.

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