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To Star Wars: The Force Awakens and beyond: How Disney is shooting for midcore mobile success

Nate Etter on the opportunities ahead
To Star Wars: The Force Awakens and beyond: How Disney is shooting for midcore mobile success

Given the countdown until Star Wars: The Force Awakensis almost a week away, it's little surprise that any game with a connection to the IP is thinking hard about how it can make the most of the marketing opportunity.

For the team at Disney's newly formed Midcore Games studio in Palo Alto, Silicon Valley, this shouldn't be too much of an issue.

After all, they've been successfully operating mobile strategy game Star Wars: Commander for over a year.

Yet, the game's setting - inbetween A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back - meant supporting The Force Awakens wasn't a shoe-in.

Lost in time

"It was a challenge to see what content we could add to the game," comments VP of Midcore Games, Nate Etter.

The studio's proximity to the film's team at LucasArts (as well as the fact Disney now owns LucasArts) meant that talking about potential characters and settings did eventually lead to some good candidates, however.

(Although, no, they didn't get to read the script or see the film, just gaining access to concept material.)

One result is the introduction of lush, watery planet Takodana, which is an unaligned full of pirates and smugglers.

The Dowutin Hunter and Luggabeast Munitioneer in action
The Dowutin Hunter and Luggabeast Munitioneer in action

Not only does it give a strong contrast to the more desert planets that dominate in Star Wars: Commander, but it also provides one of the two new units, the Dowutin Hunter.

“Everything we do is about strengthening the vision of Commander as a Star Wars game”
Joe Canose

A new species unveiled in The Force Awakens, these are lumbering infantry units, carrying starfighter blasters and thermal detonators.

The other new species taken from the film is the Luggabeast Munitioneer.

Described as "like an elephant with a robotic head", this supply unit provides ammunition; something that's reflected via its in-game ability to apply a damage buff to nearby friendly units.

More to come

Of course, while the new film provides a strong marketing opportunity, Star Wars: Commander is its own product, with its own direction and cadence of content updates.

For example, the recent Worlds in Conflict update saw the addition of five new planets and a new event system.

"We update the game every four to six weeks," explains lead designer Joe Canose, adding that The Force Awakens will be just one element in the game's future.

After all, it's the first film in an ongoing slate of films and content that the design team will be able to dip into over the coming years.

Disney's Midcore studio is gearing up
Disney's Midcore studio is gearing up

"Everything we do is about strengthening the vision of Commander as a Star Wars game," Canose says.

"We're always checking that what we're doing aligns with the goals of this vision."

It's a big galaxy

In this way, the team expresses no impact on their game from the other Star Wars mobile titles that have recently launched: Kabam's action-RPG Star Wars: Uprising, and EA Mobile's card-based RPG Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes.

"There's a good clean space around each title," says Etter, of the competition.

"We know the size of the market and think there's still tons of growth. The new film will lift all Star Wars games.

"Certainly we haven't seen anything negative with the launch of the other games. We have very strong retention."

And anyways, the studio isn't a one product outfit. Although nothing has yet been announced, other mobile games in development.

Etter won't give any clues about content, merely to point out his definition of what midcore games entail: strategic depth, competitive aspects, deep social play, and short play sessions.