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Super Evil Megacorp reveals plan for tablet domination

"The next really big growth wave in computer gaming is likely to come from gamers shifting to tablets," says Kristian Segerstrale

Super Evil Megacorp is based on the idea that tablets are the next big market for games - and not just any games, but the core games that appeal to gamers and create the dedicated audiences that lead to multi-year, billion-dollar franchises. It's a vision that requires several elements to come together: The market, the talent, and the game design and execution. Super Evil is building AAA tablet games for a market that is mostly potential right now. Can hardcore gamers be convinced that a tablet can offer the type of game they love?

Co-founder and CEO Bo Daly and COO and executive director Kristian Segerstrale spoke at length about the challenges ahead for Super Evil Megacorp in this exclusive interview. Daly comes to Super Evil with a background at Rockstar and Gazillion, originally as a game programmer and later in corporate development. Segerstrale's background includes co-founding Glu Mobile and Playfish, and a stint as EVP of Digital at EA after it acquired Playfish. Later, his venture capital firm Initial Capital led the seed round of investment for Supercell. These guys have a track record of success in games, and they are not at all casual about the games this new company will be making.

"The games that we make are unapologetically core games," said Daly. He's not interested in making the casual type of game that's the mainstay for mobile games these days. The opportunity he sees is a different one. "Super Evil was founded about two years ago to take advantage of this opportunity that we see where core games are moving to tablets in a robust manner," said Daly. "We feel that's the next big sea-change in terms of the industry, and we think that the opportunity is potentially larger than anything that we've seen in games in a while."

"We feel [tablets are] the next big sea-change in terms of the industry, and we think that the opportunity is potentially larger than anything that we've seen in games in a while"

Bo Daly

"Everything that we've ever seen that supported success in games in those markets is playing out on tablets in a real meaningful way right now," Daly noted. "What that opens up for us is the idea that we can build the types of games that bring players into the fold and have players play for very very long periods of time."

Super Evil has raised over $15 million so far, with $11.6 million coming in the company's most recent financing round. That's a massive amount for a tablet game, but Super Evil sees it in larger terms. "The lion's share of the $11.6 million is being able to make sure we can really take our time getting it right," said Daly. "The team that we've assembled so far is experienced with this, we've got folks from Blizzard, Riot, Rockstar, Guerrilla Games - people who really know how to deliver quality. More importantly, to build the trust of the players and that community over time is really critical to the business. We want to make sure we're not making decisions to squeeze revenue today, but to prepare ourselves and try to build a brand that will resonate with players for decades to come."

The market for touchscreen-based games is already large, and it's growing rapidly. Broadly speaking, touchscreens are part of all smartphones and tablets, and are increasingly common on laptops and hybrid devices like Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 and Intel's hybrid reference device is just introduced. There are already over 200 million iOS tablets in the market, and when you add in Android tablets you've got a market considerably larger than the best-selling console in history.

Most games on touchscreens so far have been casual, or what's come to be known as "mid-core" - meaning a game with some deeper gameplay elements, but still one that's designed to be very easy to learn and play. Super Evil wants to change all that, in the belief that hardcore gamers will bring their dedication and willingness to spend money over long periods of time to touchscreen games that are sufficiently compelling.

Convincing hardcore gamers that there's a game for them on the tablets they sneer at will be a challenge, and Super Evil is well aware of the difficulty level. "Hard core players are reticent to change, they are in love with the platforms they are already playing on, and that's one of the better reasons for the capital raise," Daly said. "I have no doubt that in time when there's an ample supply of great content core gamers will find these devices and shift to them as primary platforms."

Segerstrale agreed. "The next really big growth wave in computer gaming is likely to come from gamers shifting to tablets - discovering them, if you like - as their primary gaming device," Segerstrale noted. "Right now they see consoles and PCs as their primary gaming platforms and they're also playing on mobile and tablet. Increasingly tablets are outselling PCs, and people are shifting from PCs to tablets, there is an incredible opportunity to create games that ultimately will convince core gamers that these are worthwhile primary gaming platforms."

The effort involved is considerable, both in building a game and building a company. "This large investment round is not so much how do we spend it as quickly as possible or or how do we make sure that we create the greatest possible game," Segerstrale said, "But rather it is a reflection of the fact that we want to build the gaming company that is the best home for the best core gaming talent in the world. Instead of working on a tired sequel on a console or a PC, we said come and work on what will be probably one of the biggest revolutions in core gaming of the past decade."

Super Evil's initial game, Vain Glory, is a hard-hitting multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) style game that immediately suggests games like League of Legends or DOTA 2. Unlike those games, Vain Glory is a tablet game, and that's challenging on many levels. "One of the really interesting things for a MOBA style game like Vain Glory, is that in some ways touch controls can actually be a superior to a keyboard and mouse," Segerstrale said. He noted that sometimes you may want to move in one direction and aim in another, which is hard with a single point of control like a mouse but easy when you can use two index fingers.

"When we went through the process of designing this game, we spent the lion's share of our development time early on in making sure that the controls were just right," Daly added. "To some degree our proprietary engine technology lets us get down to the metal or the glass, so to speak, and process input very, very quickly and make sure it responds to pro player level of expectations."

Segerstrale was quick to point out that the point of the control design was to bring out the best gameplay, not to be fancy for its own sake. "One of the really fundamental tenets of the game is no gimmicks," said Segerstrale. "We're not trying to create gesture control or control with a gyroscope or anything else like that. We're trying to get the iPad out of the way, getting you into the action with the simplest, most natural control scheme of tap-tap-tap."

"We're trying to get the iPad out of the way, getting you into the action with the simplest, most natural control scheme of tap-tap-tap"

Kristian Segerstrale

The massive success of eSports and its role in driving the rapid growth of League of Legends and other games has not escaped Super Evil's notice by any means. The game is being tuned for a pro level of play. "We do want it to remain approachable, but we have designed it and tuned it to be viable for pro level eSports players," said Daly. "Their main requirement when they're playing is that their skill shines through - they can never fail because the input is wrong."

"If you build it right for all the way up to the pro level it will also be great for emerging players," added Segerstrale.

It's not enough to build a great game these days - success requires that you build a great audience as well. Super Evil knows this well and is prepared for the struggle ahead. "Acquisition costs have risen, and more than anything the app acquisition space has evolved incredibly quickly," Segerstrale noted. "Facebook has gone from being nowhere to being the dominant channel for acquisitions."

"I think there are a couple of things in our favor." Segerstrale continued. "For core gaming we are fundamentally not locked in the same battle for arbitrage, trying to acquire masses of faceless users. We are far more needs and wants driven. We are not trying to compete with a hundred other match-three games through superior acquisition marketing to get an edge, rather we're offering an entirely new experience for consumers. Not only are we in categories that are fresher and sparser, we're also able to leverage social media, the fact that this game caters to playing together physically with friends"

"The players who enjoy this type of game play tend to enjoy things like creating videos, streaming gameplay, sharing their build guide, sharing their ways of playing the game. Certainly right now in our very, very limited release we're seeing a very active community that are doing a lot of work in spreading the word about the game," Segerstrale said.

"We can help people re-invent the LAN party," Segerstrale said, describing how much fun people at the company have every day bringing their tablets to a couple of tables and doing battle. Super Evil's ambitions are great, and the co-founders hope their quest for glory is not in vain.

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Steve Peterson

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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.