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Jason Citron on bringing accessible MOBA gaming to tablets with Fates Forever

OpenFeint co-founder returns to his roots
Jason Citron on bringing accessible MOBA gaming to tablets with Fates Forever
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It's a mark of how fast the industry is moving that someone as youthful Jason Citron can claim the title 'veteran'.

Maybe not in terms of years.

Given his record as one of the early success stories as an iOS developer with the Aurora Feint series, then creating the OpenFeint social gaming network (bought by GREE for $104 million in 2011), he's pretty much been at the heart of things.

But since his never-well-explained departure from OpenFeint almost two years ago, he's been keeping a low profile.

Doing bits and bobs of consultancy, he surfaced briefly to announce his new "post-PC" studio Phoenix Guild 12 months ago.

And its debut - planned for release before the end of 2012 - has finally been revealed.

Into the arena

Keeping us on our toes, the studio has been renamed Hammer & Chisel, while the tablet-only Fates Forever sits firmly in the suddenly-popular-on-mobile MOBA genre.

"I've spent an ungodly amount of time playing League of Legends," Citron says, which perhaps accounts for his recent low profile.

"We knew we wanted to make core games on tablets, and taking it as inspiration, we started thinking about how we could innovative in the genre.

"For most games, developers will change the UI or the theme. We wanted to do something more."

The result of this is Fates Forever's skill-based combat system, which uses gestures to trigger signature attacks.

"It's not about pressing buttons. On a touchscreen, you don't have the precision of a mouse so we've added this Paper Toss-style mechanic that feeds into the game's pacing," Citron explains.

Animal crossing

This is combined with the game's art style: a sort of Asian-looking, steampunk version of Winds in the Willows.

All the characters are anthropomorphic animals including a ninja rabbit, a frog knight, a mole, a red bird (loosely inspired by Angry Birds), and a pig.

"I call it Lord of the Rings with an middle eastern or Indian twist," Citron says.

In terms of gameplay, Fates Forever's arenas are based on League of Legend's Twisted Treeline map, for 3-on-3 matches, and in keeping with mobile's play cycle, games are designed to take around 15 minutes.

World of opportunity

As for finding an audience, Citron points out there are 70 million players who are familiar with the MOBA genre.

At least, that's League of Legend's registered user base.

Obviously some percentage of this total won't be interested in playing on a touchscreen, but he thinks there are plenty of casual MOBA players who will enjoy the experience.

First screenshot of Fates Forever

"Accessibility is key for us," Citron says.

"We're also keeping it simple in terms of matchmaking and social aspects. And obviously we're not a pay-to-win game. You'll pay for options not power."

Indeed, his view is that while card-battling games such as Rage of Bahamut very aggressively monetise a niche market, and Clash of Clans aggressively monetises a wide audience, Fates Forever will sit somewhere in the middle, albeit without the aggression. 

"It's a different type of monetisation," he explains. "The game doesn't make you stop playing if you don't pay, and you can't pay to get an unfair advantage.

"I think if you build a respectful monetisation system, players will pay."

We'll find out more about this as the game approaches release. It's due sometime during the summer - "it's ready when it's ready," Citron says - initially for iPad, and later for Android tablets.