Kixeye talks Backyard Monsters Unleashed, mobile strategy

Backyard Monsters Unleashed

Image via Kixeye

With Backyard Monsters Unleashed launching on mobile next week, Kixeye’s CMO, Brandon Barber, sat down with Inside Mobile Apps to talk about the new game in an exclusive interview.

Check out what Barber had to say as he talks Monsters and mobile in the site’s latest Insider Q&A.

Brandon Barber Interview

Kixeye launches VEGA Conflict on Facebook, browsers

VEGA-Conflict-650Image via Kixeye

Kixeye has announced the official launch of its latest game, VEGA Conflict, on Facebook and browsers. The game is the first to come from Kixeye Australia, formerly 3 Blokes Studios. Kixeye resurrected the studio in June 2012, after RockYou closed it a few months earlier.

VEGA Conflict is a massively multiplayer online real-time strategy title (MMORTS) that takes players to outer space as they work to construct warships with advanced armor and weapons before attacking other players’ bases and enemy cargo ships in a hunt for valuable resources.

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Kixeye/Inside Network panel: Unity vs. Unreal for the next generation of browser-based games

INJB_KIXEYE_FeaturedImageIn case you missed last night’s jobs event hosted by Kixeye and Inside Network, here’s a quick recap of the panel “The Next Generation of Browser-Based Games: Unity, UDK and Beyond.”

As it happens, each of the panelists involved with the topic are 1) hiring and 2) currently working on games that straddle not only the web browser platform (open web, games network, Facebook Canvas games, etc.) but also mobile and tablet. Toward the beginning of the discussion, Kixeye panelists Dan Rubenfield and Scott Howard revealed that their respective projects — mid-core strategy or combat games, both — were actually being built with different engines despite likely targeting the same platform. Howard, who’s been at Kixeye longer and whose project began development almost a year ago, is working on a Unity 3D game. Rubenfield, whom Howard brought on about 10 months ago, settled on Unreal as the engine for his project.

When asked by an attendee why the two games were being built differently, Howard and Rubenfield explained that the engines and tools selected to craft a social mobile game depend almost entirely on timing. Yes, most of Kixeye’s current games are built in Flash — and they’re very successful on Facebook Canvas. But Kixeye wants to stay ahead of the game in developing social and mobile titles and so its producers consider many different engines and frameworks instead of sticking only with what they know. As Howard explained, when his project started, Unity 3D was simply farther along and had more tools available to developers. When Rubenfield’s project started, Unreal had matured somewhat and had what his team needed to build their game. In six months, who knows — there could be three completely new engines or frameworks that developers could be leveraging to make the next generation of social and mobile game.

Pictured from right to left: Anthony Pecorella, producer for virtual goods of Kongregate; Jordan Patz, lead game designer of nWay; Dan Rubenfield, executive producer of KIXEYE; Scott Howard, executive producer, KIXEYE

Pictured from right to left: Anthony Pecorella, producer for virtual goods of Kongregate; Jordan Patz, lead game designer of nWay; Dan Rubenfield, executive producer of KIXEYE; Scott Howard, executive producer, KIXEYE

The second part of the panel discussion shifted toward actual job experience and interview techniques. Not surprisingly, all three companies represented on the panel (Kixeye, Kongregate and nWay) were actively interviewing for engineers, programers, designers and artists for their current and future projects. Kongregate in particular is looking for producers that can work with developers to increase performance on the game network’s system, which requires a skill set that calls for both technical and design backgrounds. Based on feedback from each of the four panelists, the following advice was provided to job-seekers:

  • Make games — This is the single most important piece of advice the panelists could offer. If a job seeker wants to convince a developer that they can make games, they should actually make them in their spare time. This can be on any platform: pen-and-paper, Flash, ASCII, in a class full of kindergarteners. Just as long as the game works as a finished project that can be demonstrated to the developer. Also, common sense, never plagiarize code from someone else’s project and submit it with an application — the person that wrote the original code might actually be the interviewer.
  • Be acquisitive in knowledge — Many applicants have college or graduate degrees in computer science or even in game design and likely could score high on tests. But this is not enough to convince developers that a candidate is smart enough to learn new ways of coding or scripting and keep up with the fast-paced work environment where an engine might be obsolete in less than a year. Howard tests for this capacity by asking candidates what are the last three things they’ve read and why; Rubenfield asks questions designed to make candidates think through a problem out loud; Jordan Patz of nWay looks for the underlying personality of the interviewee to get a sense of how smart they are; and Anthony Pecorella from Kongregate presents a test where candidates have to adjust the design of a game and explain their changes.
  • Don’t be a dick — This is the second-most mentioned pointer from the panelists. It seems like an obvious point, but in the creative industry, there are many strong personalities with passion for their work. If a candidate is not mindful of how to behave in a tight-knit social situation or cannot present a professional demeanor in a work environment, they’re unlikely to get the job no matter how brilliant a programmer/designer/artist they are. Yes, candidates are likely to be nervous in any interview; but mind your manners, answer questions in complete sentences and don’t trash-talk previous coworkers — the games industry is small and the trash-talked person might actually be working at that company already.

To those of you unable to join us yesterday, we hope to see you at future events. To job seekers in particular, we urge you to look at each of these companies job openings (here, here and here) as well as the Inside Network Job Board.

Join Inside Network and KIXEYE for Gaming Panel and Networking Event on Feb. 28


Inside Network Job Board - KIXEYE
Are you a gaming development guru in the San Francisco Bay Area? Do you want to learn more about Unity, Unreal, or other engines that can push the boundaries of what web-based games can offer players? Are you interested in networking with other tech professionals to discuss solutions to some of the challenges faced when using these tools? Then join us for this technical games panel where industry experts will provide insight on such frameworks for browser-based games. Event details are as follows:

What: Free drinks/food + gaming panel + networking

Panel topic: The next generation of browser-based games: Unity, UDK and beyond

When: Thursday, Feb. 28, 6-9PM

Where: KIXEYE headquarters, 333 Bush St., San Francisco CA

Cost: Cost is free, but KIXEYE policy for visitors is that you sign their NDA. Sign beforehand and bring for quicker check-in.

Panelists will include:

  • Anthony Pecorella, producer for virtual goods of Kongregate,
  • Jordan Patz, lead game designer of nWay
  • Dan Rubenfield, executive producer of KIXEYE
  • Scott Howard, executive producer, KIXEYE

The panel will be moderated by AJ Glasser, managing editor of Inside Network.

Additionally, the KIXEYE recruiting team will be present to discuss hiring opportunities with qualified candidates.

This event has limited spots, so sign up on our Eventbrite Page and join the conversation on Twitter with hashtag #InsidePanel. We hope to see you there!

Clayton Stark opens up about Kixeye Canada

In early December, core social game developer Kixeye announced it was opening a new office in Victoria, British Columbia, which would be run by General Manager Clayton Stark. We sat down to talk with Stark about getting the new studio set up and what it’s working on.

Stark’s an internet technology veteran with about 20 years of experience, having previously worked with Kixeye CEO Will Harbin. Back in 2004, he delivered Netscape Browser to Harbin (when he was at AOL). He continued working on web browsers for a while; the most recent high-profile project was Flock, which Zynga bought. After working at Zynga for almost two years, he came over to Kixeye.

Kixeye Canada isn’t currently working on a new game, either social or mobile. Instead, Stark tells us he’s bringing new staff on quickly to work on the company’s new platform. As of right now, there are 15 people in the Kixeye Canada office and the team is busy getting the new Kixeye.com platform ready for its debut. Currently, the platform is in closed beta, but we’re told it’ll open up to the public sometime later this quarter.  (more…)

Kixeye expands into Canada with new studio

Mid-core social game developer Kixeye today revealed its opening a brand new studio in Victoria, British Columbia. This is the third office for the company, following this summer’s resurrection of 3 Blokes Studios in Brisbane, Australia.

The new office for Kixeye Canada is going to be run by its newly-appointed General Manager Clayton Stark, who is actively working to build up the company’s staff. Previewously, Stark was the CTO and VP of Engineering at Flock, which was acquired by Zynga in 2010. Stark served as Zynga’s Director of Development.

British Columbia turning into a hotbed of social and mobile game development, with KANO/APPS in Victoria itself and good-sized studios like Slant Six Games and East Side Games already present in Vancouver.

Stay tuned for our upcoming interview with Stark in the next few days, when we talk with him about Kixeye’s newest expansion, the company’s upcoming plans and how his Canadian tan is coming along.

 

Exclusive: Zynga’s Alan Patmore case gets more complicated with Kixeye cross-complaint

Zynga’s lawsuit against Alan Patmore just had another legal layer added to it: Kixeye’s legal team filed a cross-complaint against Zynga yesterday afternoon. Kixeye’s complaint alleges that Zynga’s lawsuit against Patmore is designed to “send a message to its employees about the consquences of leaving Zynga to work at Kixeye and to gain access to Kixeye’s confidential information and trade secrets.

Kixeye’s complaint says the company is looking to prevent Zynga from continuing to pursue legal action against Kixeye, keep the company from threatening or initiating litigation against employees from leaving Zynga to work at Kixeye, stop Zynga from interfering with Kixeye’s business relationships, force Zynga to notify employees of their rights to seek employment with competitors and to require Zynga to provide the court with quarterly sworn statements of compliance. Kixeye is also seeking restitution in legal fees and damages, to be determined by the court.

The cross-complaint highlights the fundamental differences between Zynga and Kixeye, primarily that Kixeye makes mid-core games for a smaller audience while Zynga develops large titles designed for maximum appeal to casual audiences. “Comparing Kixeye’s games to Zynga’s games is like comparing a Ducati racing motorcycle to a minivan. Both are motorized vehicles, but Ducati motorcycles, like Kixeye’s midcore games, appeal to a small but passionate group who are focused on quality and performance,” the complaint reads. “Zynga is more concerned with cranking out games that will fit the whole family without offending anyone.” (more…)

Kixeye responds to allegations of workplace racism

Yesterday afternoon, Tumblr user “Qu33riosity” put up a scathing post on his blog about the racism he encountered while working at hardcore social game developer Kixeye. Within a few hours, the entry had gone viral and Kixeye was being called out across the web for enabling such behavior to occur in its high-end San Francisco office.

The entry detailed Qu33riosity’s hiring on at Kixeye before documenting the barrage of verbal abuse and racism he and other workers on his team had to deal with. He called former co-workers out by their first name, and detailed a number of instances that included him being asked if he could rap because he was black, being told by a manager he dressed too “thuggish” for the office (posting a photo of the outfit he was wearing at the time) and being told it was acceptable to joke about slavery because it’s been abolished.

Qu33riosity’s post has since been taken down from his blog, but Kotaku has a number of passages you can read. Since then, Kixeye issued an official response from CEO Will Harbin:

Five hours ago, I was shocked to learn through a blog post of a former short-term contract employee about allegations of discriminatory behavior at KIXEYE. WE TAKE THIS VERY SERIOUSLY. After an initial investigation we’ve taken substantial corrective action and will continue to do so as appropriate. The actions described in the blog post do not represent the cultural standards at KIXEYE (as demonstrated by our diverse and talented team) and will NOT be tolerated.

Harbin’s comment about “substantial corrective action” makes it sound as though there was more than a grain of truth to the blog post, but nothing more is being said by the company right now.

Video game developers are often associated with cultivating environments of chauvinism by the general public, even when there’s no evidence of it. Kixeye’s recent recruiting video and public transit ads throughout San Francisco have cultivated a perception that the company caters even more to the “bro-grammer” culture than most.

For Kixeye, this is a bad time to be associated with hostile working environments, since the company is on a hiring tear and bringing on roughly 25 to 30 new employees a month. Aside from the recently-revealed “Live Battle” update to War Commander, the studio has four new games in development and is gearing up to launch its own web portal to appeal to gamers who aren’t on Facebook.

Kixeye to launch synchronous “Live Battles” in War Commander this week

Kixeye is about to launch a major update to its popular core strategy game War Commander: synchronous multiplayer combat. The feature’s called “Live Battles and Kixeye co-founder Dave Scott (right) recently sat down to talk to us about both what it took to achieve this feature as well, what it means for the game’s future and what else players can look forward to in the coming months.

The new Live Battles will allow players to respond instantly to attacks on their base, as well as make things more tense for those who go on the offensive and invade others home ground. Players who are being attacked will receive a notification from Facebook (if they’re logged into the site, this will pop up immediately) and Kixeye will also send them an email alert. The attacked player will then be able to log in to War Commander and direct their forces in real time and hopefully fend off the invaders.

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War Commander re-review

War Commander from Kixeye has been around on Facebook for some time now — we last took a look at it last October — but it has enjoyed sustained growth ever since then, and features regularly in Facebook’s sidebar advertising module with a provocative “Must be 18+ to play” slogan.

At its core, War Commander is a very similar game to Kixeye’s other high-profile “hardcore” strategy title Battle Pirates, which we reviewed recently. Players build up a base, train troops, upgrade buildings and eventually set out into the massively-multiplayer world to assert their dominance through military might. Like most other similar games of this type, the player is given a week-long “newbie shield” to protect them from bullies as they acclimatize to the game and build up their defenses.

Gameplay unfolds over two main components. The base-building section is a combination of managing the available space and ensuring enough resources are on hand for various construction projects — though as usual, it’s also possible to directly purchase resources using hard currency if the player finds themself a little bit short for the task they want to complete. A series of quests that appear in the corner of the screen guide the player through a suggested series of tasks, though it’s possible to ignore these once the initial tutorial is over. It’s generally in the player’s interests to complete these tasks, however, as they offer significant resource and experience rewards in most cases, allowing for more rapid progress to be made.

When the player has constructed military units using the appropriate buildings, they may then deploy them onto the hex-based world map and move them around to capture resource nodes, attack AI-controlled enemy bases or other players, or simply explore and scout to see what is in the local area. If attacking a base, the perspective switches to a close-up isometric view of the base which the player is attacking, and it then becomes possible to give direct orders to units or, optionally, to let the game’s AI prioritize targets. The latter option is usually just about acceptable in most situations, but it doesn’t make particularly sound strategic decisions. This becomes especially apparent in the game’s tutorial mission, where the player is encouraged to put a tank up front for their infantry to hide behind, only for the infantry to automatically charge straight past it in a kamikaze attack on the enemy base.

War Commander’s presentation is, like Battle Pirates, highly polished and thus attractive to “core” gamers. The distractingly testosterone-fuelled, male-dominated aesthetic is still present and correct, however, with a number of elements of questionable taste throughout the game — downed enemies remain in a bloody heap on the battlefield until they are picked clean by crows, for example, and the game’s AI character RUBI is represented as a large-breasted robot woman who moans suggestively when “reprogrammed” during the introductory tutorial. While the subject matter is stereotypically likely to appeal to male players more than females, it probably wouldn’t have hurt to make the aesthetic a little less aggressively gendered.

Social features are limited to a real-time chat facility and asynchronous combat between players’ units and bases. The proposed “alliance” feature mentioned when we last looked at the game does not appear to have been implemented as yet — the game’s official forums do, however, offer the facility for players to set up unofficial alliances with one another, though this has no direct effect in game and is based on the players’ respective “honor” rather than game mechanics.

Flaws and elements of questionable taste aside, War Commander is a solid game that makes good use of the Facebook platform to provide a fun, compelling experience for fans of light military strategy. Its gameplay is straightforward enough for strategic newcomers to get into easily while simultaneously offering a considerable amount of depth for those willing to invest a bit more time, effort and money into the experience. Its presentation and level of polish is such that core gamers won’t immediately dismiss it in disgust, and the game isn’t too overly aggressive with its requests to share achievements or get the player to spend money, which will also ensure that core gamers give it a fair chance.

These decisions seem to be paying off, too — the game currently has an impressive 5,200,000 monthly active users and 660,000 daily active users. Follow its progress with AppData, our traffic tracking service for social games and developers.

Play

Despite a few provocative elements of questionable taste, this is a solid strategy game friendly to both core and casual players alike.

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