Every Saturday evening for the last ten weeks has seen The Doctor and Clara fight all sort of nasties.
There's been the half-faced man, the Daleks, the Robots of Sherwood, evil wall-painting things, a mummy, spiders on the moon, trees... And then, within 24 hours, gamers are given the chance to beat them, too.
Doctor Who Legacy is a mobile and Facebook title created by Tiny Rebel Games. It's pretty similar to gem-based puzzle/combat title Puzzle and Dragons, but filled with Doctor Who iconography.
Legacy is gradually becoming the biggest Doctor Who game of all time. It launched late last year, with little to no above-the-line marketing. But the company's persistent, weekly updates (primarily based on the show's most recent episode) has given the game a massive uplift.
Each weekend has been through the roof for us when it comes to picking up new users from across all the platforms,” says games creator Lee Cummings.It took us nine months to get 1m users, and then like another 10 days to get another 200,000 users. We now have 1.4m players.
We get all these emails saying: ‘Hey you just launched a new Doctor Who game.' And we're like: ‘No, we launched it months ago. But thank you anyway.'”
Tiny Rebel CEO Susan Cummings adds: It's funny, there are 75 million people who watch Doctor Who, and we have over 1m of them that know about our game. It's amazing how difficult it is to get to a saturation point. Every week we hear from fans who claim to be lifelong Doctor Who fans, who just didn't know the game existed.”
Legacy is a free-to-play mobile game. Yet unlike most free titles, it's not constantly asking gamers for money – in fact, it's one of the least intrusive freemium games I've experienced. And the studio says that there's a good reason for this.
Since Doctor Who Legacy launched in November 2013, Tiny Rebel has been bombarded with emails asking for help and giving feedback. Emails that Lee and Susan Cummings respond to personally, the total of which now stands at well over 4,000.
By doing this, the firm has helped create a community around itself and the game. And now it even holds weekly shows on Twitch.
Our Twitch show has been the foundation of our social media,” explains executive producer Susan Cummings. When we launched the game, this guy, Adipose, starting doing these awesome YouTube videos, and it helped newer players discover things about the game. Then he started doing something on Twitch, and he struggled to get an audience there doing something live. So we reached out to Twitch to get some help, and they did an awesome job in helping promote it. So we do that every Thursday.”
Creative director Lee Cummings adds: We get 20,000 to 30,000 people on the show every week. It started out as a one-hour show, then it became two-hours, now it's almost three hours, and then these fans have an after-party in the channel afterwards for an hour to discuss what we said. It's become a four-hour event.”
Susan Cummings says: It has fostered this idea that people know us on a first-name basis. They know what we are going through. I can't pretend this is all a concerted effort; some of this we stumbled into. This is our first mobile game. We've been making games now for 15 years, mostly in the console space. So we didn't know what to expect when we launched this game. We are learning by the seat of our pants. And that's a good thing; we've done it differently because we didn't know any other way of doing it.”
One of the very first conversations we had with the BBC is about how we wanted to build a platform and not a video game,” says Lee Cummings.
We really dislike many things about free-to-play games... There are a lot of games where you jump in and five minutes later they're trying to get you to spend money, even though you don't really have a clue what this game is. People find it very heavy handed. So we decided to go with an incredibly light touch; we consider the first season, the first eight hours, a sort-of extended tutorial, and you don't see any monetisation at all.
He adds: The whole energy meter in free games is absurd from a game design point-of-view. I want nothing more than people to play this game as much as they want. An energy meter basically puts up a wall that says: ‘You're enjoying this game? Ha. You're paying.' It's horrible and there's no real need for it. If you streamline your production processes enough, you can keep offering fresh content, and you don't need gating. All that is there for is money, and we are happy to leave that on the table because you get a happy fanbase that way.”
Susan Cummings continues: We are a small company. We don't have huge overheads to cover. And it was important for us that we could be with players for the long-haul and not feel the need to get as much money out of them as quickly as possible.”
Doctor Who has been going now for 51 years. And Tiny Rebel has gone out of its way to introduce not just modern Who stories to Legacy, but classic characters, too. It's just added its final ‘canon' Doctor to the game's character roster – Tom Baker's fourth Doctor.
When we launched we focused on the previous two seasons of the show,” says Lee Cummings. We then started to get a lot of feedback and emails, and there were a lot of Classic Who fans who wanted classic things. So we actually redesigned huge chunks of the story from scratch to allow for that.”
The ability to explore classic-era Who helps the game continue to evolve when the show isn't on. But the developer is going further, and is even exploring the expanded ‘Who-niverse'.
Tiny Rebel has already partnered with the comic books and even the DVDs in an effort to promote its title. But now it's going further, by introducing characters and monsters from Titan Comics' Who graphic novel series, and is starting to look at the books, too.
What is cooler than creating a new comic book, getting permission to create a new companion for The Doctor, and then getting to see that new companion play alongside Rose and Amy and other classic companions in the game?” asks Lee Cummings.
There are some 70m Doctor Who fans worldwide. Legacy reaches only 1.4m of them (we say ‘only', that's obviously a massive number). So there's clearly some way to go. But the studio appears to be doing the right thing. By not demanding constant money, releasing regular updates and speaking directly to its fans, the firm is doing everything that is expected from a modern games company.
Lee concludes: We wanted to build some