[Gamasutra catches up with Russian strategy developer Nival, which is developing an internationally-oriented social game for the first time with Prime World -- and learns about an interesting gender-oriented angle to play.]
Although Russian developer-publisher Nival has been developing strategy games like Heroes of Might and Magic 5
since 1996, its forays into online and social games with its new Nival Networks arm are fairly new.
Now, CEO Sergey Orlovskiy believes the company's got a unique opportunity to combine strategy and social expertise to push beyond the traditional Russian PC audience it has primarily addressed in the past.
Nival Networks' latest project in development is Prime World
, a social strategy title geared in particular toward encouraging mixed gender groups to play together online.
, 2.5 years in development, represents an increased focus on development for the company as a whole, which has been focused mostly on its Russian game portal and other publishing activity. That arm of Nival's business is "working," Orlovskiy says, "so we want to focus more on developing and publishing our own games globally."
Orlovskiy describes Unity-driven Prime World
as a "AAA, full-blown client-based game with lots of social features and a pretty unique gameplay system."
In his view, it offers hardcore elements aimed at a traditional strategy and simulation audience, coupled with a more flexible portion -- what he calls a "mid-core, or even casual" layer -- so that gamers of all kinds can play together in a game that will match friends together based on a wide range of social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn.
"With Prime World
, the goal was to focus on international markets from the beginning," Orlovskiy says. "On the story side, we were designing factions keeping in mind their attractiveness for international markets -- not just for Western but also for Eastern."
A diverse faction system is one ready way to appeal to many different kinds of audiences, as many people are liable to find something they feel attracted to or that represents them; Prime World
has one group Orlovskiy describes as "more technological and more Western" and another that is more nature-oriented and spiritual, designed with an Asian-influenced art style.
It marks a big difference from developing only for Russia, Orlovskiy adds, which hinges on familiar cultural references and aesthetics. "The Russian gamer likes more desaturated colors; they're kind of serious. We have not that good weather and we're used to a little bit more gray color," he laughs. "So doing games for an international audience, the colors are usually brighter -- not necessarily as bright as Asian games, but substantially brighter than games for Russia."
Many companies -- particularly PC and online developers -- that go global quickly learn about different play styles and expectations among different regions of the world. "Asia in general they are much more PvP and Western players are PvE-centric," Orlovskiy suggests. "Russia is somewhere in between, which allows us to get the best of both worlds."
What Nival hopes is unique about Prime World
is its focus on social play -- and beyond that, social play that specifically intends to get mixed genders playing together. "Most of the social games we have at the moment, especially those on the social networks, are more viral than social," says Orlovskiy. "They use friends as a resource instead of actually pushing real socialization between people. We wanted to change it."
Looking at ways to push the medium of genuinely-social play forward, Orlovskiy says Nival realized that one of the most "substantially underdeveloped" elements in social games is male-female socialization; in the company's view, that social gaming doesn't appear to be something males and females do together as a social activity is a big missing piece.
"If you go away from computer gaming and into real life, it's very important who you play with; it's very natural, for example, for a guy to go to the cinema with a girl, and it adds a lot to the cinema experience. If you're a guy, going to the cinema with a girl is just cooler than going with a guy, and going with a guy is better than going alone, so that's basically the idea with which we started building Prime World
from the very beginning," says Orlovskiy.
In his view, it would have been unthinkable to try to market hardcore PC strategy games as gender-inclusive ten years ago; young males were the target audience. Of course, the diversification of the modern gaming audience means things are much different.
"But there is still no game where guys can play with girls without compromise on one side of the other," he asserts, presenting his view that male gamers are more likely to be off-put by the lightness of Cityville
, while female gamers are less likely to be drawn to the hardcore nature and previously-established culture and lexicon of games like Defense of the Ancients
With Prime World
, Nival is taking an unusual strategy: Incorporating a palette of different types of game mechanics with the intention that female players will gravitate toward some types of roles -- city-building, mini-games and resource management -- while male players will gravitate toward others, like treasure hunting or fighting, and that both will be able to complement each other in a way that's socially fun for everyone.
Orlovskiy emphasizes that all choices of play style are available to everyone regardless of gender -- it's not that Prime World
will force the female players to stay at home and mind the base while the male characters charge forth into battle, for example.
"Boys and girls are helping each other on the front line as well," says Orlovskiy." If the guy has critical XP, the girl has an automatic feature to heal him instantly, or vice versa. There are many layers of these communications depending on what kind these guys and girls want to do."
Four producers worked on Prime World
-- two male and two female, which "gives us lots of internal feedback instantly on the team about who prefers what in the game," says Orlovskiy. "Also, we see the reaction on the testing, which helps us to focus certain gameplay -- more support abilities for the girls and more front-line abilities for the guys, but all of them could have it the same if they wanted."
Girls prefer support behavior in strategy games they play with guys? There are exceptions, but "in general, yes," Orlovskiy suggests. Part of this may be cultural -- women who tried to join in DotA
games were often immediately targeted and ganged up on, and this might be the case in any genre that was traditionally male-dominated.
"We had to come up with ideas to make the girls less attractive as a target for the guys," such as abilities that grant invulnerability early on in a session until the female player feels more comfortable and less like an outsider in a hostile world, he said.
"The key thing is that if you have a guy and a girl playing together, it doesn't matter where they match up on the hardcore to casual," Orlovskiy adds. "They're going to be able to give each other advantages they wouldn't have alone."