EXCLUSIVE: Zynga’s Midcore Games and Solstice Arena Interview with Fredric Descamps

Solstice Arena

Not only did we get the chance to sit down with Bryan Pope to get our hands on Zynga’s midcore games, we got some extended info on their new mobile MOBA title – Solstice Arena.

The general manager behind the game, Frederic Descamps, talked to Heavy about everything from midcore games to what games he’s been playing lately. Prior to joining Zynga, he served as head of publishing at Trion Worlds, makers of the popular MMO, Rift. Mr. Descamps certainly knows a thing or two about addictive gameplay.

Check out our full Q&A session below.

Solstice Arena

Elton Jones: What’s your definition of Mid-Core games?

Frederic Descamps: In short, we define mid-core games as taking a hardcore game and making it more accessible. For example, I’m a core gamer at heart — a long-time MMO and Counter Strike player — but I don’t have the same amount of time to dedicate to gaming that I used to. I’m married, and I have a newborn son, so it’s hard for me to find prolonged chunks of time to play games.

As game makers, our definition of a mid-core game is one that doesn’t make concessions on quality – a game that we as gamers would love to play – but fits more easily into our lives. Mid-core games should give you a hardcore gaming fix in about ten to fifteen minutes and be available wherever you want. Mobile devices like iPads and iPhones are perfect platforms for that experience.

Elton Jones What’s the overlying theme behind Zynga’s core games?

Frederic Descamps: I think a common theme you’re seeing in mid-core games is that we’re trying to introduce new players to new genres that they might have never previously enjoyed. Zynga’s mission is to connect the world through games, and it’s awesome to see this manifest on the mid-core team.

For example, Solstice Arena, the iPad and iPhone game that we just released is what we call a “Speed MOBA” (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena). MOBAs, like League of Legends and Defense of the Ancients (DOTA) are some of the most competitive and time-intensive PC games, but we’ve created Solstice Arena in such a way that allows new players to quickly get a taste of the most fun part of a MOBA in our opinion: the fighting. And what I’m most proud of is that we preserved the depth that make MOBAs fun to core fans, and we’re seeing a great reception from that crowd too.

We’ve simplified the design and controls and boiled the game down to its most fun core. It’s resulted in a game that’s frenetic, fast-paced and over the top. It’s kind of like the “NBA Jam of MOBAs,” and that’s not just because it also has a big head mode.

Elton Jones: What are some of the different game genres that these Mid-Core games will focus on?

Frederic Descamps: We’re looking at a lot of categories, but the most recent ones include Solstice Arena, our first entry into the MOBA genre. We’ve also released two games in the digital card collecting genre – War of the Fallen and Ayakashi – both games that have received critical acclaim for design and accessibility. We also just recently released Battlestone, an awesome action-RPG style game.

Solstice Arena

Elton Jones: Are there any plans to port any of these Mid-Core games to next-gen consoles?

Frederic Descamps: Ultimately, we’re focused on making games that are free to play and open to as many players as possible. So, for that reason, we’re really focused on making games for mobile platforms – iOS and Android – and ones that are connected experiences between web and mobile.

Solstice Arena

Elton Jones: Are there any other Mid-Core games currently in development?

Frederic Descamps: There are some more exciting games in the works that I can’t discuss just yet, but I can say it’s an area that we as a team and company are extremely excited about.

We have some of great game makers working on the category – guys like Mark Turmell, creator of NBA Jam and John Tobias, co-creator of Mortal Kombat. It’s inspiring to be around such passionate and talented game makers, and overall a great time to be making games.

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Daniel Horowitz: How has Zynga adopted the Mid-Core gaming model for Solstice Arena?

Frederic Descamps: I mentioned the idea of a “Speed MOBA” – so time of gameplay is a key way that we’ve made the game more accessible. Each match lasts between about 5 and 10 minutes, making it perfect for pick and play on the go, or playing a few matches on your iPad on the couch. We’ve also made a lot of deliberate design choices that take some of the complexity out of the genre.

For example, we internally like to say that Solstice Arena is all fighting and “No Farming.” We eliminated the feature where players spend time farming minions, and instead focused on specializing in and leveling up heroes. We’ve also added extensive tutorials to easily on board new players, and let everyone play in Solo vs. Bots mode to hone their skills before they jump into PvP.

Solstice Arena

Daniel Horowitz: Is there a PC or Mac version in development? If so, when can we expect to see it?

Frederic Descamps: From the ground up, we developed Solstice Arena to be connected and playable across both iOS devices, as well as Mac and PC. Internally, we play and test across PC and Macs, but right now we’re focused on making the best game possible for iOS. No word yet on when we’ll have a PC or Mac version ready, but it’s in the works, and the best part: players that play on mobile are on a level playing field with those that play on Mac or PC.

Daniel Horowitz: How has Solstice Arena been influenced by games like League of Legends and DoTA? What separates Zynga’s game from the competition?

Frederic Descamps: We actually don’t see Solstice Arena as a direct competitor to traditional MOBA games on PCs, but rather as a complement and one that’s built from the ground up with mobile devices in mind.

What makes Solstice Arena different is inherent to its design and our mission: we want to transform the genre in a way that allows both hardcore fans and casual players to experience the fun, strategy, and competition of a MOBA game right from their mobile device. The design differences and many innovations in the game are a reflection of that end goal.

Daniel Horowitz: Do you think hardcore gamers will ultimately accept Zynga beyond its role as a social game developer?

Frederic Descamps: We came from working in hardcore games – with the majority of the team working at Trion Worlds on Rift – so we’re very much core gamers ourselves. We’re just a few of the many passionate game makers at the company. I think you’re starting to see and will continue to see games from Zynga that may surprise many people.

Solstice Arena is one of them. We showed the game off at this year’s E3, and it was named the “Best MOBA of E3” by WarCry Network, a hardcore site for MMO gamers. What’s most impressive is that it went up against all other hardcore PC MOBAs at the show.

Ultimately, I think hardcore gamers are going to gravitate towards great games, and that’s what we want to continue to deliver.

Solstice Arena

Elton Jones: What games are you playing right now?

Frederic Descamps: A lot of Solstice Arena that’s for sure, but I still try and sneak some time in for Natural Selection 2, DayZ and Running With Friends. With a newborn son I’ve also recently taken up peek-a-boo, a game with surprising amounts of depth and accessibility. I’m not sure if counts as mid-core, but it might be close.

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