With the new consoles stealing all the news print and the mobile and online markets flooded with free-to-play titles from (nearly) all corners of the planet, now doesn't feel like the best time to be selling an MMO. But that's exactly the job of Olivier Comte, COO and group managing director of Ankama, the home of MMORPGs Dofus and Wakfu.
Dofus launched internationally in 2005 and Wakfu followed in February 2012. Comte's latest challenge is to make those games, which have found success in other territories, resonate with the UK audience. GamesIndustry International spoke to him about that process.
Q: What challenges as a territory does the UK present when building a loyal MMO audience?
Olivier Comte:The UK is traditionally a console oriented market which makes it harder to find an audience for MMO games there. Dofus has a lot of French and Latin American fans but we need to do a proper re-launch of both our games in the UK for them to get the attention they deserve.
Q: Elsewhere in Europe you have an animated series and comics built around the Dofus and Wakfu universe, how does that help with marketing and awareness?
Olivier Comte:Transmedia is in Ankama's DNA. Everything is conceived to come to life in different media: comic books, anime, board games, etc. This helps forge a very strong IP. Each different medium helps the others by increasing brand awareness. This strategy makes it important to bring our TV series to the UK audience. It's a very tough market to enter but we're coming to it with high quality productions.
Q: What were the factors that made Islands of Wakfu a good investment for Ankama?
Olivier Comte:Islands of Wakfu was the first console game developed by Ankama. As such, and with it being an XBLA title, it gave us the opportunity to learn a lot about that way of distribution, about the relationship with 1st parties, about game design constraints, about development milestones and planning. It was also a very good project and exercise for us to adapt our never-ending-and-very-rich-universe (the Krosmoz) in a time limited game.
"Consoles even seem to have become more and more MMO and F2P friendly, with titles like Dust 514"
In our MMOs, we have lots of opportunities to tell and expand the storyline of our universe without any time constraint, whereas in a console game, you have to either end your story or close a chapter then develop a sequel later. Overall, as a result of working on this title, if we come back to console development at some point, we'll have a solid foundation on which to build very good games. Consoles even seem to have become more and more MMO and F2P friendly, with titles like Dust 514, Ascend: Hand of Kul and Spartacus Legends.
Q: Who are the typical Wakfu and Dofus players?
Olivier Comte:This is a hard one to answer, because with more than 2.5 million active players per month, our audience is wide. We have a huge fan base: more than 60 million players have an Ankama account. That said, the average Dofus player is around 13-18 years old, plays very regularly and for quite long sessions (more than 90 minutes), and is really involved in the game, its storyline and the community (enjoys commenting on the forums and meeting other players at IRL events for example).
For Wakfu, the audience is a bit more mature, around 15-30 years old, due to the fact that the game itself has features that involve taking more responsibility, like the environment, politics and economic management. This means the players are deeply involved in the game where they can really impact the universe with their guild friends. There is also a good proportion of players who are huge fans of the anime TV show, and who know all the background storyline of the game. Those players can be a bit younger and tend to enjoy exploration, combat and narrative quests. For both games, if you meet ten players, you will likely meet eight gentlemen and two ladies.
Q: There is more competition than ever before in online gaming, how are you fighting back?
Olivier Comte:This fierce competition motivates us! Our strength is our universe, called the Krosmoz. It was created more than ten years ago and so today the content is very rich. A new player can play for two or three years without getting bored. And we add new content each month.
Q: How do you see the market evolving over the next few years? How will you take advantage of that?
Olivier Comte:If I knew, I would be rich. The market exploded and it is now split between different kinds of games, and you need a mix of mainstream and core gaming titles to last in this industry. The number of platforms is also booming and so are the opportunities to play, especially with smartphones and tablets. Our goal is to bring our universe to players through each platform and game genre.
Q: Are the next-gen consoles an opportunity or a threat?
"Console gaming is a fantastic but complicated world"
Olivier Comte:A new generation of consoles is always an opportunity. Console gaming is a fantastic but complicated world. It's way different from what we're experiencing now. But we always love a good challenge.