It launched this week on Android and iOS, and it is part of Nexon’s ongoing quest to break into Western markets. Grand Cru CEO Markus Pasula said in a recent talk at the Casual Connect event in Seattle that he hopes the game has a chance to be a long-lasting one. I talked with Pasula and Lawrence Koh, general manager at Battlejack publisher Nexon M, in an onstage conversation about how to design games that last for years. A video of our chat is embedded below.
As a 17-year mobile game veteran, Pasula has experience with creating ambitious mobile games. Pasula started Grand Cru in Finland in 2011, and he raised $16 million to launch Supernauts, a Minecraft-like world building mobile game that debuted in 2014. The game managed to get millions of players, but it wasn’t able to retain them for a long period.
Koh and Pasula hope that Grand Cru will have success with Battlejack, which performed well in regional tests. It isn’t all that different from Puzzle & Dragons, the long-lasting title that combines match-three gameplay with a fantasy RPG. But rather than focusing on match-three mechanics, Battlejack uses blackjack, which is one of the most familiar and popular card games in the world. You battle monsters, and the blackjack results tell you the outcome of the battle. That helps take away any intimidation factor in terms of starting to play, Pasula said.
Supernauts started with similar ambitions to Battlejack.
“Our goal was absolutely to create a game as a service that lasted a long time,” Pasula said. “We wanted people to create an experience — like combining Habbo Hotel with Minecraft. We thought maybe the audience of FarmVille and Hay Day would like this type of building game. But we found that the older audience didn’t feel comfortable sharing the things they created, as young people do.”
The retention for Supernauts was good at the start, but for the long term, it was a bust. After getting millions of downloads, only tens of thousands were still playing after a year. The company eventually shut down the game.
And then, Grand Cru started working on other types of games, with designs that created reasons for players to still be playing after a year.
“We had to think about [the] kind of games that get boring over time, and we had to consider what people do in a social way,” Pasula said. ‘We also had to plan weekly and daily live events and updates to keep the game fresh.”
Koh said Nexon M’s team had a lot of admiration for the creative ambition of Grand Cru. About a year ago, they connected to talk about Battlejack and the ambition to make another big title. Grand Cru worked on Battlejack for a couple of years.
“You have to express what the value proposition is,” Koh said. “Even casual gamers, just like core gamers, are pretty savvy about what they expect from a game over time. You can’t put out a subpar-quality product.”
Battlejack launched with more than 100 levels, and it has a player-versus-player mode as well. Nexon hopes to find games that match the longevity of decade-old games like MapleStory and Dungeon Fighter. One of its recent hits is Big Huge Games’ DomiNations, which has generated more than $100 million in lifetime revenues.
Disclosure: The organizers of Casual Connect paid my way to Seattle. Our coverage remains objective.