Reigns developer wasn’t sure he could make a good free-to-play game

Designer Franois Alliot is a relative newcomer to video games.

Having studied literature at university, he was a consultant for several years, but decided to give game development a shot after he moved to the UK with his partner in 2013.

Forming developer Nerial, Alliot started with mobile puzzle game Singular, which made $200, before giving French billiards a go with Magic Shot. That title brought $2,000 in for the developer, before it made $20,000 from its subsequent title, RTS Devouring Stars.

Nerial then decided started work on its next project, Reigns, a title that merges the simplistic swipe left or right interface of dating app Tinder with a medieval narrative where players are take on the role of a series of kings trying to keep their kingdoms in order.

The initial idea was a prototype that we did with the artist, Mieko Murakami who was spending time on Tinder. So we messed with the idea of using Tinder for games,” Alliot says.

We wanted to the apply the mechanic to something totally different. The idea quickly became to play as a king. A monarch has a lot of power – they can send people to their death by the thousands. It was an interesting idea to attach to such a simple mechanic with very complex decisions. The game was a way to comment on how politics work – you have very complex decisions to make summed up in very simplistic views.”

Reigns launched on PC and mobile in August. On the latter, the title came with a premium price, opposed to the many smartphone releases that opt for a free-to-play business model.

I wasn’t sure we could make a very good free-to-play game,” Alliot explains. It involves a lot of skills that I don’t really have. I have always played games that I paid upfront for. Also, it’s hard to make a successful free-to-play title. Even if have 1m downloads, actually making sure people come back to your game so you can push updates and they get engaged in the game is hard. It’s quite difficult, especially as an indie developer, to sustain yourself with a free-to-play game.”

So far, Reigns has been something of a success for Nerial having shifted 600,000 units at last report. The firm has also said that the bulk of the sales were on mobile.

"Reigns was a way to comment on how politics work – you have very complex decisions summed up in very simplistic views."

Franois Alliot, Nerial

Reigns was made for smartphones,” Alliot says. We sold it on Steam for the same price. It’s a nice game to play with a gamepad or with a mouse and keyboard. That was the proof that, beyond the swiping mechanic, the narrative itself was quite interesting. That was a great proof of concept for the mobile version.”

And Alliot believes that No Man’s Sky had a role to play in his game’s performance on Steam.

We were a bit surprised by the results,” he says. The timing of our launch was pretty good. We were supposed to launch a week earlier but we had issues with the translation so we bumped it back. That was when No Man’s Sky launched and basically no other games were released on Steam. We were so small that we decided to do it. When people had issues with No Man’s Sky, they tried our game in the meantime. Personalities like TotalBiscuit and Jim Sterling did a great job promoting our game instead of No Man’s Sky.

That was a great way to launch the game. We were also quite lucky.”

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