Serf Wars

2011 | Meteor Games | Facebook | Flash | Social game | Strategy and city-building

I originally joined promising social game developer Meteor Games to lead prototyping efforts for a future title, but due to shifting priorities I found myself in the Product Director role on one of the company’s existing games called Serf Wars.

In retrospect this is the best that could have happened: I got to work with an amazingly talented team on a very interesting project, and learned a lot – about game development as well as human nature in general.

When I came on board, the game was stalled and pretty much in disarray. By that time it had already been 8 months into development, with unclear directives and not much actual game to show for it. Consequently everyone – including both the development team and the company executives – were frustrated.

I had to act fast to come up with some sort of a “minimum viable product” specification.
We took inventory of everything that was done or half-done thus far, and assembled a list of features, necessary changes and additions that yielded a full, workable game-loop, yet remained faithful to the original vision as much as possible.
We delivered the “rebooted” game after a 6-week sprint cycle (exactly as promised), with a significant number of improvements, and the primary focus shifted to the more unique elements of the game, such as mission-driven combat and crafting.
The reception was uniformly positive – as one reviewer said:

“Overall, the combat-heavy revamp of Serf Wars has worked wonders for the game, making it feel more unique and satisfying. The visuals are even more striking now, thanks to the game running at much higher resolutions (but without becoming unplayable on low-res screens like laptops).
In short, Serf Wars is now an excellent social game that’s very deserving of the average player’s attention.” [Gamezebo]

Virtually overnight the game went from being a “black sheep” to being the company favorite (when co-workers play your game just for fun – and not because they have to – you know you are on the right track :)).

Following the relaunch we kept aggressively iterating, and regularly released large bundles of new features and content. Even though the game definitely had its share of problems to overcome – the not very marketing-friendly title (surf? serf? huh?), the somewhat schizophrenic blend of fairly hardcore mechanics and a very whimsical, cutesy art-style, a few difficult-to-message and overly complex conventions, lack of translations, etc. – it also showed signs of an extremely dedicated “niche” community forming around it.

Unfortunately we will never find out how the story of Serf Wars really ends: in December 2011 Meteor Games shut down virtually all of their operations, following a string of questionable decisions and a nearly (but not quite) successful move to get acquired by Zynga.

One Comment

  1. Adam Ling
    December 15, 2011 @ 1:56 pm

    Hail Toth of Titan.

    Needed a little pick me up after seeing all the NTK fallout buzzkill… I’m still proud of what Serf Wars ended up becoming, so here’s to the team. /cheers.

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