The “very intentional” building of mobile action RPG Fableborne

In the latest episode of his podcast series Blockchain Gaming World, Jon Jordan spoke to Kam Punia, the CEO of London-based F2P mobile game developer Pixion, which has been working on its mobile build-and-raid RPG Fableborne since 2021.

In the interview, Kam talks about the

  • iterative process of coming up with Fableborne — which is Pixion’s fifth game,
  • how the developer verified the fun of its Clash of Clans-meets-Diablo (with UGC) pitch,
  • why it thinks blockchain adds to the game experience, and
  • how it hopes every player will find their own way to express the play style, whether they are building bases, raiding bases or doing both.

Check out the episode via YouTube, Spotify or your podcast provider of choice. You can even get paid sats to listen through blockchain podcast app Fountain.

This transcription has been edited for length and clarity. So the news is that you’ve announced a funding round.

Kam Punia: Yes, it’s a tough market but we’re very happy that we’ve been able to close a round of $5.5 million. We’ve got some incredible investors that have really believed in us –  the likes of the Avalanche Blizzard Fund to Merit Circle, Shima Capital. We’ve got some great guys from Asia like Mechanism Capital as well. 

What’s the raising process been like?

It’s definitely the hardest market I’ve ever raised in but I think there’s also been a benefit that it’s really cleared out those investors that were looking for short-term flips, and looking for tokens to use as exit liquidity at the expense of the teams and the communities. They’re just not there anymore. And so on both sides, you’ve got teams that really believe in the space and trying to deliver new experiences and you’ve got investors backing these teams that have the same conviction. So strong teams will continue to raise capital. The benefit I’d say is there’s really credible investors on the opposite side of the table too.

Can you talk about the process of coming up with Fableborne?

Our journey to Fableborne, yeah, there’s quite a few games in the graveyard. We are very intentional with what we spend our time on. We’ve also got a really experienced team. That gives us a good barometer to gauge and consider ‘Can we build this game to a large scale’? And if we don’t have that conviction, straight away after a prototype, we kill the game, regardless of whether it’s eight weeks or eight months we’ve been building it. We do our post-mortem, then we take those lessons into the next prototype. 

We’ve killed five games over the last three years. Some that have been 10, 12 weeks into development and we play it and go, actually, this is not the one. Some games are in soft launch, generating revenue, but we’re not able to scale them.

If we get to a point where we’re very bullish on a game, we essentially build out an MVP and put that into a stealth launch. We look at four main KPIs: retention; data playtime; number of sessions per player; and then a KPI specific to the game. For Fableborne, it’s the number of raids per day. Other games, it’s the number of battles, number of matches etc. 

This gives us a health check on whether the core loop is really fun. Is it keeping players coming back day after day after day? Is it a strong base on which to build meta layers. If we cannot be very confident, we kill the game. 

With Fableborne, we started to prototype an idea, which was blending two genres together to create this diverse meta-game for multiple different player personas and player motivations. On paper that sounded cool, but what’s the actual game? 

The pitch from the game design team was Clash of Clans-meets-Diablo with two main differences. Firstly, in Diablo, those worlds that you’re raiding they’re created by the developer. In Fableborne, they’re created by players and can be owned by players, so user generated content is natively part of a core loop. 

The second point is unlike in traditional raiding games, where you drag-and-drop units and watch the action unfold, here you have complete control. You decide what to attack, how to attack, when to attack – you control the hero. We believe the end result is a much more engaging raiding experience, much more action-packed, much more watchable, but also much more satisfying because you have so many clutch moments that you’ve created. Every player will have a different raiding experience. 

This was the pitch so we prototyped to see if it stacks up, and what we found early on was that, even with the same units, we’d all build different bases. We’d have different layouts, we’d have different strategies. Some would try to create a really early block and bombard you. Others would try and methodically create a corridor for you to go down and then bombard you. So it was interesting to see everyone’s strategies change with just a small amount of units. 

But what was really exciting was watching each other raid the same base and every raid was different too. This was when we thought ‘This is really exciting’ because a small amount of content is creating an exponential amount of different ways to play the game. So we got a game we believed in. 

We prototyped it to get a health check on the KPIs and got some strong data that gave us the confidence we should put more resources into this. And that’s when we put Fableborne into production – nearly 16 months ago.

So you came up with an exciting game design. Why add blockchain?

I’ve personally been interested in blockchain since before 2017, but after we killed our fourth title back in 2020, we started to look at blockchain for our games. 

We’ve always centred our thinking around two main questions: how does this technology either create a completely new experience that doesn’t exist for players; or how does it exponentially improve the current player experience? And we go back to these two questions all the time. If we couldn’t come up with real reasons that add value to the player, then we wouldn’t add blockchain.

For example, we’ve been very intentional about not releasing a token, not releasing an NFT collection before having a game that we can scale or believe we can scale. 

The game will be F2P and not require NFTs so what’s your thinking about onboarding?

The first few sessions are going to expose the player to the core game. If you don’t have a player that retains and engages, you’ve got no economy. So the first sessions are going to be focused around the core game, the building mechanics, why and how to raid effectively, why it’s important to build a base. Then we’ve got a couple of ideas of how we onboard players. One is with different heroes, and since you can take three heroes into any raid, you’re going to be incentivized to have heroes of different classes. Heroes are going to be personalized with abilities and equipment so how your hero plays compared to mine, even if it’s the same hero, could still be very different, based on what you’ve equipped. 

The second is through Pixion League, which is our tournament platform. The investment that we’ve just closed will go some way to help us build that platform. Essentially what it is is supercharging our liveops, giving players the ability to enter an event that will be timed, have specific winning conditions, different rules, different rewards. And that acts as an exciting on-ramp for players that want to get involved. 

How do you think players will approach the different gameplay options?

Before we wrote a line of code, we were very intentional about building a game with a deep meta that can provide multiple routes of winning for different players with different motivations within the same experience. That’s where we started to blend the action RPG and base-building strategy genres together because it allows us to create these deep meta games and different player motivations. 

Some players don’t like to raid, they’re not good at raiding, and so they focus their time on building an impenetrable base. Others prefer the more action-orientated side of the game. They focus a lot on upgrading their heroes; they spend all their resources on their heroes, and they create a very different experience for themselves compared to the base builders.

Equally, because UGC is a native component of the game, we’re excited about the bases that are on-chain and empowering players to create these experiences for other players. For example, if you build an amazing island, maybe it could be selected for a speedrun in the next Pixion League tournament. And you’ll accrue value from the tickets players are spending to raid that base. 

What are you currently working on for the game?

We spent the first six months of 2023 really optimizing the core loop and now we’re extending that experience further and adding features such as the hot swapping feature for the heroes and some of the deeper progression systems. Pixion League and the tournaments, you’ll certainly see that later in 2023. 

As I previously said, we’ve intentionally not sold NFTs or tokens, and we’re still not going to be introducing any tokens but we have a clear idea about what our on-chain assets will be, and how they will fit into the game’s core loop and tournaments, so expect to see more information about that later this year too.

And there’ll be some open tests in the very near future too. 

Find out more about Fableborne via its website, Twitter and Discord.

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