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Outspoken developer encourages other studios to consider slots and gambling games when establishing their IP

American McGee: More devs should explore real-money gaming

Noted games developer American McGee last week launched a new version of his 3D action title Akaneiro: Demon Hunters – but this was a little more complicated than a simple port.

Working with real-money gaming platform Odobo, McGee created a slots game based on the Akaneiro IP, drawing on characters, artwork and themes from the hack ‘n’ slash. Now he is encouraging other developers to do the same.

At a time when it is tougher than ever for new studios and IP to be discovered, taking a more unorthodox route such as real-money gaming can help, McGee says. He also predicts that this sector – currently dominated by what he refers to as "kiddie-like" titles – will evolve in a similar way to the smartphone market, with more complex and mature titles emerging in the next few years.

Find out more about his thoughts on the real-money sector, and the process of developing for it, below.

Why convert Akaheiro into a real-money slot machine type of game? That’s not a common avenue when it comes to porting to new platforms.
It’s not, but as you might be aware I’m not that big a fan of doing typical things. When you look into this space, you see so many titles with themes that almost look like they would appeal to children: very colourful, very cute. I figured that Akaneiro being a hack ‘n’ slash, being bloody and the theme of it would make for some really interesting content to try out in this space.

Where did you even start with this? How do you convert an action game into something people can gamble on and that takes on an entirely different structure?
That’s why we partnered up with Odobo. They made the gambling and regulated side of it very easy for us as a developer. They supplied a platform onto which we built content; they’re really good at the gambling and gaming side of it, while we handled the story, artwork and sound.

With a title like Akaneiro, we already had a proven IP, a theme and all of the foundation we needed to translate into the [real-money] space. So Odobo focused on what they’re good at, we focused on what we’re good at, and the product that you see now is the result of that.

The original Akaneiro was built in Unity 3D, and it’s a web-based, real-time action RPG. The new game has the same theme, the same tone, the same character artwork, but now it’s a 2D slots game. It’s built in HTML5 so people can access it via the web or they can play on their mobile devices. And the new version is being played by a completely different audience that’s in it to win, that’s playing for money.

What elements translated particularly well?
We look at it as a hack ‘n’ slash slot machine. The theme and the story are important to us, so if you play the original Akanerio, you’ll see there’s a lot of really interesting content there taken from the era in Japan where the game is set: the characters, the demons, the items and weapons. All of that has come over into the slots presentation – and on top of that, there’s an action element to it: you get bonus rounds, and moments where there’s slashes across the screen. So it’s been translated thematically in a pretty good way, I think.

I, for one, hope more developers get into this because frankly independent developers who are really good at art and story need more outlets for the content that they’re investing in.

Were there any elements that didn’t translate well?
Akanerio has a story that develops as you move through the game, where the players uncover the mysteries of what’s happened to this village, so it’s not easy – or possible, I guess – to tell a proper story with a proper narrative arc when you’re playing a slots game. I suppose someone could try to tackle that at some point, but that’s definitely an element that’s missing here.

You have thematic elements frozen in place – the demons, the wolf, the characters and the setting – but we’re not really able to evolve that through time as the player moves through the game.

This is your first venture into the real-money space. What about this project first appealed to you?
I think we’re seeing a movement in the gaming space in general towards players being interested in the free-to-play side of things, a form of competition that involves money and competition against other players that becomes very really in terms of the money they’re spending. I think we’re also seeing a lot of players becoming interested in that money coming back out. Previously the reward for their efforts came in the form of leaderboards, but now it can come out in the form of cash, I think that’s the natural evolution of the types of games we’re able to present to players.

I, for one, hope more developers get into this because frankly independent developers who are really good at art and story need more outlets for the content that they’re investing in and the products they’re building. I think this is a really interesting way for teams to get out there.

Over time, we’ve seen casual games themes and gameplay become more mature. I think the exact same evolution is going to take place in the real-money space.

Given your experience converting Akaneiro for this sector, what advice would you give to other devs trying to make real-money games for the first time?
The thing that’s interesting about making a game for the real-money space is coming up with a theme that sells. If you look at the games available in the space right now, they tend to be pretty one-dimensional. They all have a similar tone, they all seem to be built by developers thinking about the art and the story in a very similar way that’s often very kiddie-looking.

In a sense, it’s very much like what we saw with early casual games on the web and mobile. Over time, we’ve seen casual games themes and gameplay become more mature. There’s a lot more depth to them now, so some casual web and mobile games are becoming considered to be serious games.

I think the exact same evolution is going to take place in the real-money space, especially now that there’s a platform that serious developers can apply their work to in order to bring their content into that space more easily.

What other projects are you working on? Any more slots version of your previous titles in the works?
We’re certainly thinking about it. We released a game around this time last year called The Gate – a multiplayer mobile free-to-play game that’s actually been doing really well for us. We’re just about to launch a new game this month, which is yet another multiplayer mobile game, and we have reason to believe that’s going to do well. And yeah, we’re exploring the idea of bring those IPs, their themes and content, to this space, but at this point we’re not ready to talk about that in detail.

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