How Merlin on Facebook is anything but 'a marketing exercise' [Interview]

Merlin Facebook game
Merlin Facebook game

We'll admit it if you do: Raise your hand if, when you first heard word of the Merlin Facebook game, you let out a sigh. Branded games, much less those on Facebook, don't exactly have the best rap in the gaming world. But UK-based Bossa Studios, the developer behind the award-winning Monstermind, hopes to change that with its social rendition of Merlin.

We recently sat down with Bossa Studios co-founder (and creator-in-chief) Imre Jele to find out more about Merlin on Facebook and the developer's ambitions to create a different kind of branded Facebook game:

Can you give us the elevator pitch for Merlin on Facebook?

What we wanted to do was to create a game that meaningfully extends on that universe. That doesn't just exploit the audience's love, but gives them something which is extending the experience that they have on the show. And we do it around three key emotions that are found in the show, which are bravery, heroism and adventure. And those become slated down into a team-based game about heroic deeds around Camelot, fighting evil and, of course, adventures. All the stories that you can find in the show [you can find] similarly in the game. We hope to introduce a bit of drama, a bit of comedy and a bit of romance.

Merlin Facebook game screen shots
Merlin Facebook game screen shots

Players can choose to play as either a knight or a wizard. So, how will players interact with the game? What's the combat like? What's the general play loop?

We wanted to make a game where we have a free class system. Because what you find is that, obviously, the Arthur in the show is a knight. But Merlin, even though he's very bad at it, can pick up a sword. But throughout the story, there have to be several characters who can both wield swords and at the same time have magic, and we wanted to reflect that in the game. As for the infrastructure, basically, the game works in a way that you have a central hub universe, if you will, which you share with your friends. So, you can see them walking around, you can see them go about their daily business, you can interact with them and then you can decide to go to a quest.

A quest is usually a mission where you're at a dungeon or independent part of forest. When you go there, it's like you automatically own that area. You're there with up to four of your friends and it's real-time combat. Now, what's exciting about this is it's not just multiplayer, but social, because you actually share the game space. So, if I play it I can see your character there at the same time. That is not something you can find in many other Facebook games. So, it becomes real-time cooperative combat and during that combat you can use equipment like a sword, and you can use special abilities similar to spells from the show or I can pick up like a war cry, which makes the enemy scared.

When you play together [on consoles], it is sometimes very hard to organize. The beauty of a platform that's so easily accessible is that a lot of people can connect to it. Real-time connectivity is not difficult most of the time. We wanted to go beyond that. It's just good fun, when somebody's about to be beaten by the skeleton and you rush in there and save him at that last minute. This just makes it really cool. And we wanted to give that experience to players and give the same experience to people almost simultaneously.

Merlin Facebook game screens
Merlin Facebook game screens

Of course you can play with your friends, but will there also be a matchmaking system for people who may not have a lot of friends to play Facebook games?

We are going to start with a system where we limit this to your friends. But we're not ruling out anything, so in the future we might decide that we can extend it and we're going to add the matchmaking feature. The reason I would like to start with the option of playing with friends is because it's just better. You know, it's much more fun for me that, even if we're not in the same room, I can imagine your face. I know if you're laughing, and I have an emotional connection with those people. So we wanted to start there, but in the future that might change.

How will this game's story tie in with the Merlin show?

We explore two main directions. One, the completely useful line, which is going to be taking around your character, basically your story. And then there is a second storyline, which is very important which is linked with the show. Now, what we do is that we go back and we look at the first four seasons, and say okay what were the most important elements of the story? What are the areas that we think we can go beyond and explain something more, which might have happened around those episodes?

For example, let's say a character appears in one episodes and then appears again in a couple of episodes later. What happened with the guy between those two stories? That's the connection we would like to explore. And then, of course, in the future this relationship is gonna get hopefully closer and closer. So, we can tell stories together with the TV show by season six.

Merlin Facebook game concept art
Merlin Facebook game concept art

How do you guys intend to keep Merlin alive on Facebook beyond the end of the fifth season and then into the sixth?

Why I believe our game is going to last longer than the season is because it's not a marketing exercise. It's not designed to just sell the TV show. It's designed to be a part of a rich ecosystem where you have the toys, the collectible cards, books, of course the TV shows, the DVDs--a bunch of products. How do all of them add something to this universe and stand on their own?

This is exactly what we're going to do. The big benefit of this is that there is a very engaged audience, and that audience is engaged all year round. Not just a trivial three or four months when the show is airing. So, we can see that there is a thirst for content. You can tell that from digital distributions and interactivity on forums. You encounter that people are eager to get that content. If you provide high quality, then they are very engaged. I feel that very strongly.

For us it's a very short cycle. In maybe a couple of weeks, I can provide you new content because I know that's what the community wanted. So, it becomes a very, very strong cooperation and relationship with the audience. Just to give you an example, with our last game, Monstermind, we did a competition where they asked people to design monsters for us and we had some amazing inputs. We had some silly ones as well, but the amount of engagement that we got was brilliant. This is not a product, but it's an ongoing relationship.

Click here to sign up for the closed beta of Merlin on Facebook Now >

Are you excited for the launch of Merlin on Facebook? What gaps in the plot do you hope the game will explore? Sound off in the comments. Add Comment.

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