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Free-to-play action RPG launches on Facebook

Rebel Entertainment's Dungeon Rampage may redefine the RPG genre

Rebel Entertainment is bringing the action RPG to Facebook as a free-to-play experience with the release of Dungeon Rampage. This is a multiplayer action RPG designed to let friends play together cooperatively in classic dungeon-crawling style. Making this popular game genre free and readily accessible through Facebook (and soon, through any browser) may change what people think of Facebook games and what kind of an audience an RPG can attract.

"It's basically a modern TV game show in a fantasy setting"

Mike Goslin

The RPG genre has gotten a tremendous boost this year with the release of Diablo III, but Rebel is seeking to reach a much broader audience. "A dungeon takes 1 to 5 minutes of game play," said Rebel General Manager Mike Goslin. "It's easy for players to get in quickly and get out quickly." That accessibility is an important feature, one that Rebel hopes will let them build a large audience rapidly.

"Players will be able to connect to their social graph and bring in all their friends," said Goslin. "We match you with your friends, and they take precedence, but we'll also match you to players of your level." Synchronous game play has not been featured in all that many Facebook games, but it seems to be an idea whose time has come. Zynga announced multiplayer synchronous gameplay for Bubble Safari earlier this week, and soon for Ruby Blast as well.

The tone and style of Dungeon Rampage is very different than the grim imagery found in Diablo III. "It's a medieval style fantasy with modern sensibilities," said Goslin. "The story is that there's this king who, for his own entertainment and also to distract the people from the fact that he's a bad king, puts on these dungeon games called Dungeon Rampage. There are prizes for all the heroes of the land to come and compete by fighting the monsters in the dungeons. It's basically a modern TV game show in a fantasy setting. There's magic and swords and monsters and it doesn't take itself too seriously. The goal here is to have fun and enjoy the game."

Dungeon Rampage may be able to attract a very broad demographic with its light tone and easy game play, even though Rebel intends to appeal to both casual and more dedicated gamers. "Since we opened up to live players we've been adding a tremendous amount of content, we want to make sure there's enough there," said Goslin. "We tried to launch with the minimum viable experience so we could learn what works and what didn't. That puts the onus on us to keep expanding and making sure that when it's done it will be deep enough. It won't ever really be done. We're just going to keep adding more of the things people like.

Goslin also noted that while there are many easy dungeons for players to start with, there are also plenty of challenges for higher-level characters. Harder dungeons will require more careful team composition and teamwork in order to win. Players can have multiple characters, and swap them out between dungeons, so teams can be tweaked strategically when needed.

So far, Dungeon Rampage has been performing well in its beta release, but Rebel intends to do some more tweaking. "We have fantastic ratings scores from players now, and all indications are it will meet the standards we set for it," said Goslin. "We're not where we want to be on the monetization yet and we'll probably still make some changes, and we want to makes sure we get it right before we finally launch it officially."

"I'm very interested in the Facebook subscription offering"

Mike Goslin

Goslin's not depending entirely on viral marketing to create the audience. "We've been doing a lot of test marketing since we opened the beta. We've been getting very good viral numbers, frankly better than I expected. We also intend to market it quite heavily, too. When you get a certain number of friends playing it takes on a life of its own, but we know we have to prime the pump."

Facebook's recent announcement that game developers will be able to offer subscriptions appeals to Goslin. "I'm very interested in the Facebook subscription offering," Goslin said. "We designed the game around microtransactions, , but perhaps we can give some players a deeper experience with a subscription. Once you know that you like a game and you're going to be coming back, it makes a lot of sense. I think there's room for both. If you look at a lot of Asian countries that have a very mature marketplace, they have a variety of monetization models."

Along that line, Rebel intends to bring Dungeon Rampage to other markets as well as English-speaking ones. "As part of our testing we've gone into some international markets, and even though we haven't localized it we've seen some good numbers," Goslin noted. "Some of that's a testament to the fact that it's very accessible. I think we'll do even better when we start to localize, and that's in our plan."

Is this the future of the RPG? "I think there's definitely different sectors," said Goslin. "I think this is one where there's a lot of upside. You have people who are hardcore gamers, but they're at work and they want a brief experience. There are also people who just don't have time for a classic RPG but still want the experience. I think this is one aspect of a larger trend, of games becoming part of all of our lives, you can play them in more places."

It's likely that Rebel won't be alone in this space for long, as Kixeye has also dropped hints about working on an RPG for Facebook and browsers, and there are probably others as well. The appeal of a free action RPG is that it makes it easy for you to try it with your friends; you don't have to convince them to spend $60 before they can play with you. Can a free-to-play RPG create a larger audience than Diablo III? No one knows yet, but Rebel Entertainment (and no doubt other developers as well) would like to find out.

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Steve Peterson avatar
Steve Peterson: Steve Peterson has been in the game business for 30 years now as a designer (co-designer of the Champions RPG among others), a marketer (for various software companies) and a lecturer. Follow him on Twitter @20thLevel.
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