Many passionate developers will at some point in their career have the urge to work on a game whose theme is very close to their heart. There’s nothing more we strive to achieve for than working on a game that is personally significant to whom we are and what we do… we’d all love to do that, right?
Personally I tweet and blog about two things… Video Games and Martial Arts.
So when the opportunity came to me in the form of Bruce Buffer (famous MMA announcer) you can imagine my delight, excitement, passion, etc. all rolled into one.
If you’re not familiar with the world of Mixed Martial Arts, or Bruce Buffer… Well…
MMA is the fastest growing sport in the world, with the UFC leading the way as the largest promotion. Over the last 15 years or so MMA promotions have paved the way for many stars and celebrities to find their niche – like Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Rampage Jackson, Ronda Rousey (the list goes on). And Bruce Buffer has been working in MMA since the sport’s birth, and as such, you can imagine, he’s very well connected.
The original concept was simple, in theory – to produce a game for MMA fans, that, while they progress and take part in the game, earn ‘Real-World Rewards’ from the world of MMA. He had the vision that while people took part in a casual social game, all the time they could earn ‘points’ that could be traded in for prizes.
The concept was amazing! From a true MMA fan’s perspective, could you imagine playing a game that you enjoyed playing every day, on your tablet or mobile, and all the time knowing that your efforts in the game would eventually lead you to earning signed memorabilia, tickets to live events and the opportunity to meet the stars behind the sport?!
So, fast forward a month and I’m working with Bruce and his team to set up a brand new gaming concept. We take his core concept of offering real-world rewards in a digital game and push it out even more! What if a game merges with ‘fan lifestyle’? What if the game is an accessory to the player’s passion for their favourite sport? What if the data in the game was actually REAL data, and as the real world evolves, so does the game itself?
I was excited. I was taking the concept of combining the real world of MMA, to the digital world of a game, and seeing how far we can push it. The boundaries between real world and digital world were blurring, all tied together in a neat little MMA bow.
What we came up with was MMA Federation, a game designed for Mobiles, Tablets and the Web, playable on multiple operating systems and devices. It had to be this widespread. It had to be available on whatever device a player had with them at that time. It had to accompany their lifestyle.
The game itself had to also be truly social. It had to put the player, themself – not a character representing them – at the centre of the game, and have them and their actions have an impact on gameplay, the only fiction (for the majority of players) being that they would be branded a professional MMA fighter.
This also means that their real life friends would also be fighters, which means that they can also challenge their friends, train with their friends, and even set up teams with their friends.
And the real world social side of things didn’t stop there. In the game there are news feeds from the sporting world of MMA, from popular journalists and sites like MMA TV, Sherdog and Fighters Only Magazine. These feeds are also coupled with news articles about the player and other fighters in the world… fake interviews if you will, with real world organizations.
The same applies to sponsors. Digital sponsorship deals in-game could offer virtual currency for the player (the fighter) to earn, which could then cross over to real-world prizes… get a sponsorship deal with ‘TapouT’ and receive a t-shirt in the post.
But the real unique offering of MMA Federation is regarding its partnership with the real-world MMA Teams around the world. For those of you unfamiliar with the MMA industry, most fighters belong to Teams (or camps) and it is through those teams that most deals are done, be it sponsorship deals, contracts with promotions etc. (for the most part). And it is the Teams who have the true unique offering.
So it is with this affiliation with Teams that the unique foundation of our own ‘ReAch! Engine’ was born. In MMA Federation we combined a traditional gaming achievements mechanic (albeit very deep) with real-world activity and prizes. Players would affiliate themselves with a Team (or Teams) and through their own endeavours, would gain access to their own Team’s Achievement tiers (of course we would allow players to change Teams as they choose).
So to reflect from here, we have a game, based in the sport of MMA, which is a mirror of the real world, giving players REAL tangible rewards for playing the game. Easy right? :o)
However, there’s an issue!
If the game is pitched as being ‘real’, with real Teams, Fighters, Sponsors, News etc. then how do we maintain the game as the real world evolves after launch (without a team of 50 people maintaining it!)?
Simple – we design the core game mechanics to use the data that is fed into the game via real-world feeds from the MMA sports industry. Have you ever seen a fight that, half way through a round, pops-up some random data about the fight so far like ‘how many significant strikes have been landed so far’ etc.?
Well, all of that data is provided by Live Feeds to the televised event. All we needed to do is use the same feeds (which gives us all the data we could ever want) and design our game mechanics around it.
By using Live data in our game, coupled with the data that players generate themselves, we suddenly have a game that evolves with the real world!
So with all this in mind, you have probably gathered by now that the core gameplay is more of a management simulation game, as opposed to 3D characters being controlled kicking the crap out of each other? You’d be right.
The ‘reality angle’ needed to apply to the creative as well, and the interface needed to feel more like an interface into the MMA world, as opposed to a traditional game. So the game begins to take shape in the form of something similar to ‘Football Manager’ or other business management sims, except you’re managing yourself as a fighter, not a secondary team or business.
The other difference is that the event itself, the fight, doesn’t just play out based on previous decisions that are made. Of course your strategy leading up to the fight, your weight cut, your training, all has an impact, but we wanted the fight itself to be just as Live as the real thing, but be more strategy-based as opposed to skill-based.
Throughout the fight players will need to make informed decisions on the fly, assess the current fight situation, the damage taken, the damage inflicted, how their ‘real’ opponent is behaving, and also listening to the advice of their ‘real’ corner-men, coach, cut man and referee.
So we have our core concept, we have our prizes, we have our engine, and we have our gameplay dynamics in place.
What is the final part to our story that makes a fan-based lifestyle so unique and ‘alive’?
Our core ethos to the development of MMA Federation is that it is ‘built BY fans, FOR fans’. Not only would this allow us to build the game in such a way that we KNOW the fans will love it, but also allow us to build a community of players throughout the course of development. We needed to find a Beta Team who was behind the project, who were passionate about what we wanted to do, and who would be with us every step of the way.
So we turned to Kickstarter.
We worked out a list of amazing rewards we could offer from the world of MMA. We worked out roughly how many Beta Testers we would need, and we put a figure as a target goal. With this exercise the money wasn’t the priority, it was the community behind the project. For as little as $10 we were asking fans to become part of our Beta Team, giving them early access to the game and giving them back their pledge as in-game currency. Of course for the backers who wanted to shoot for the huge rewards, like Ultimate UFC Weekend experiences, they could do, but all we NEEDED from the community was the small $10 pledges to show their support and involvement.
Which brings us to the present day… It’s been an energetic journey so far, and now we’re turning to the Games and MMA Community to join us to help complete this game, and bring the true real-world community spirit to the game, which it truly needs.
Our Kickstarter page can be found at - http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/186837350/mma-federation
We welcome as much feedback as possible to the project, any suggestions you may have, and most importantly to me, how you see these unique concepts affecting games going forward?
I hope this blog post is the first of what will become a Developer Diary for the project.
Thanks for reading.