Week in Mobile: Republique demands more from mobile — and game developers

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Early last year, developer Camouflaj shared an ambitious vision with the gaming community: to create a triple-A-quality experience on mobile devices — a game called Republique. It’s been a long road.

This week, Camouflaj finally launched the first of five episodes on iOS, to follow on PC and Mac.

“We’ve spent two years making an iOS game with a 25-person development team,” Paul Alexander, a designer on Republique, told GameZone. “Who does that?!

“It takes an almost irrational confidence in what you’re creating to justify a project like ours.”

Republique has come a long way since its crowdfunding campaign launched on Kickstarter and then met its funding goal (just in time) in May 2012. The months afterward were tumultuous for the team.

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“This time last year, we were working on our vertical slice — a portion of the game that was 100 percent ship quality,” said Alexander. “We confronted huge revelations about the size and scope of our project and were forced to make some tough decisions. We hadn’t yet decided what our monetization model would be, which meant that we were quite sure what amount of content we would need to ship with.”

Camouflaj did decide on a cost: $5 per episode, upfront. That’s a bit more than what App Store goers might be used to, but it’s not uncommon to see some of the best, most filling mobile games these days run with similar price tags. You don’t have to spend a dime on in-app purchases, but you can tip the developer by purchasing a making-of video or the season pass, which gives you a $5 discount on the entire series.

“We spent over a year deliberating our monetization strategy, and then [Telltale Games’] The Walking Dead came along, and we were struck by its many parallels to our project,” said Alexander. “We also had this huge game with a story that was well suited for an episodic format. With episode 1, I feel like we’re delivering extraordinary value, and we’re giving people extras for purchasing all five episodes up front: granting access to the developer commentaries that are embedded in each episode, a season pass-exclusive documentary, and early access to episode 2.”

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After all, you are paying for a triple-A game experience — although Alexander chooses not to think of Republique in that way.

“For me, ‘triple-A’ isn’t the most useful term for describing what folks are getting with these games,” he said. “It’s sort of a relic of a past era. Is Sword & Sworcery a ‘triple-A’ game? What about Year Walk? Some people might not think so, but these games have a well-honed, singular vision — something I think we share.

“There’s a kinship there. We want to celebrate these great games. That’s why we put collectible iOS ‘cartridges’ inside Republique that will direct players to our favorite games on the App Store.”

But while Republique might undoubtedly be a triple-A game made with touch devices in mind, more and more big-budget console games are extending their reach onto mobile with companion apps, such as with Knack, Beyond: Two Souls, or Call of Duty. Alexander says the popularity of those tangential apps shouldn’t overwhelm meatier games like Republique. In other words, they may become a trend, but they won’t replace fuller, more meaningful experiences.

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“I think those are cool for fans of those franchises, but those franchises don’t live on iOS, so it doesn’t make me think twice about it,” he said. “… In general, I’m skeptical of these apps’ ability to create long-term engagement, but that’s not really what they’re after, is it? As opposed to what we’re trying to do, which is to come out strong with our first episode and sustain player engagement on a platform that isn’t typically known for that.”

And if Republique is successful over the course of its five episodes, that could affect the direction that mobile games take as technology improves and developers get more ambitious. We could see more titles like this one.

“It’s a lot to think about when we’ve only just released our first episode, but it’s possible,” said Alexander. “Our success could set a healthy precedent. It seems like every week there’s someone entering the independent space and departing a bigger company. For all the success that so-called ‘triple-A’ games achieve, some developers crave a more intimate relationship with their co-workers and their craft. It’s not some calculated business move.

“ … I’m hopeful we’ll be counted among a growing list of smaller studios that have defied the odds, and encourage more of the same.”