Evolution: Battle for Utopia (EBU), for iOS and Android, is the best kind of mash-up game. Developers myGames have combined action, strategy and RPG, with a touch of Star Trek and city building. It sounds like a hot mess but instead it creates the kind of addictive fun that only an app game can deliver. Not to mention the graphics, which are better than some CG films. As with any freemium game, you can play for free with the option of IAP (in-app purchases) to speed up the game play, but a common flaw with this system is perhaps this game’s biggest ailment – to match the progress that the game is pressing you for requires frequent purchases. All too quickly the enemies become stronger than your weapon, the buildings need upgrading, and technologies need to be researched – although this is the driving point behind IAP, in EBU it seems uncharacteristically out of pace with the typical progression of freemium games. It doesn’t change the fact that I played for several hours, quickly losing track of time, to realize why many players say that EBU is their favorite game.
My.com, from which myGames is an off-shoot, creates ‘communitainment’ – communication applications subsidized by entertainment applications. Originally Russian in origin, my.com is a subsidiary of Mail.Ru, Russia’s second largest Internet company and email provider,[i] and is the company’s means of focusing on American and European markets. While all of this might sound like it would make for some ho-hum games, myGames already has a few titles under their belt with more on the horizon, including an MMORPG. Overall this ‘communitainment’ idea seems to be working, since myMail, their email service, won an Award of Distinction at The Communicator awards and Skyforge (the upcoming MMO) has already won Best of Show at E3 by TenTonHammer[ii].
A major downfall of EBU is the lack of community. Although the game’s login screen gives you the option of ‘Community’, all it does is redirect you to their Facebook page – the only source of community gathering available. There’s also the iTunes and Google Play store reviews, but that’s hardly the bustling source of commentary. Perusing player comments on their Facebook page before playing the game made me really hesitant to give it a try – most users were bemoaning the lack of updates, the bugginess with iOS 8, and shortcomings of the Android version – I was really turned off of playing the game. Reluctantly I downloaded it, half expecting it not to work on my iPhone 5c running iOS 8. After playing for three hours it was safe to say that I was hooked. The game ran seamlessly with only one instance of freezing which did not force me to lose progress or resources. This does, however, highlight why games, no matter whether they’re casual apps or MMOs, need international community management.
EBU’s Facebook page is not bad. They have regular posts and the content reflects that they are reading players’ comments – certainly not the worst video game social media I’ve seen – but with a few expert community managers this page would be outstanding. Personal responses to player enquires, fan-fueled engagement, and creative content would leave visitors with a positive impression. The Facebook page should be the central hub of any video game community management strategy, linking the forum, contests, patch notes, fan media, or blog posts associated with the game. It should be an effective first point of contact for potential new players and the news feed for veterans. EBU’s Twitter account needs some serious help as it suffers from the usual malady of being a step behind Facebook and not the top priority – even the link they have to the game’s main website is dead, showing that this page is in need of an overhaul.
The myGames team lies low for the most part. You can see some intermittent activity in their Facebook comments and, strange as it seems, the Google Play store reviews where they tell players to submit a report ticket to customer service. It shouldn’t have to be that way. Players should feel that their voice is being heard and that on the other side of the screen there’s another person willing to help them. While it’s great that the support team takes the time to respond to people in the Google Play Store and on Facebook, this time could be better spent writing a forum or blog post explaining the situation – rather than telling each person to download the latest version or that the new update is coming soon. When the video game community management team makes connections with the players and lets them know that they’re being heard it builds a stronger, happier community and thus creates a better, longer lasting gaming experience. It’s great that they’re doing this, but their time could be used more efficiently.
EBU’s website offers a basic support and ticketing system where players’ most frequently asked questions are answered upfront while more complicated issues and refunds are handled through their ticketing service. This is very much the cut and dry email customer support system that we see with all modern games, but I wonder what things are like on their end. Since there’s no first line of forums or extensive social media coverage for issues then all of their customer support must go through the ticketing system. I can’t help but think that most players could easily have questions answered in another format before relying on EBU’s support emails.
In addition to this, there is an in-game FAQ that answers some questions that may arise during gameplay as well as having other characters prompt missions and walkthroughs at the very beginning of the game. I enjoyed having my sidekick pipe up to tell me how to handle new enemies or weapons, but a few times I was left to my own devices during a critical moment (remember what I said about the enemies quickly overpowering your weapons?). Players can also quickly access a guide that offers a few pointers and tips, but nothing too in-depth. I was actually a little thrilled to get some inside ideas on how I should be spending my resources since in the beginning you don’t have much to go off of when it comes to the value of your rapidly depleting commodities. All in all, EBU’s video game customer support and player resources are adequate, but there is certainly room for improvement.
Currently EBU serves Russian and English speaking countries with a fully translated game and website. As for the breadth of social media, this now includes VKontakte with the aforementioned Facebook and Twitter channels. I did some digging to see if they’re planning on doing some video game localization in different languages and I couldn’t find anything concrete, but considering that several of myGames’ titles are offered in other languages, we might be able to look forward to it in the future.
App game lovers will delight in Evolution: Battle for Utopia’s original game play, genre meshing, and graphics. While the lack of community leaves much to be desired, one can’t help but think that with a little coaxing EBU could launch itself up there into the video game hall of fame.
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