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Blackstorm Labs looks to bring the co-op experience to a Facebook Messenger game

Co-founder Ernestine Fu hopes that Blackstorm Labs, the makers of a bullet hell-ish fantasy shooter called EverWing, has figured out how to tap into that real-time co-operative experience that you might find in a massive online game like World of Warcraft within Facebook Messenger.
The company is calling the experience Boss Raids. EverWing runs on HTML5 within Facebook Messenger, where players take control of a fairy and then fly through levels taking down various monsters. With Boss Raids, multiple players face off against the same boss that has one giant pool of health. Each player, as they go through the level, ticks off a small amount of health for that boss. At the end, if all the players in the group have successfully done enough damage independently, the boss goes down and everyone shares the rewards from that boss.
With mobile games traditionally linked to players going head-to-head with things like leaderboards and high scores, Blackstorm Labs’ attempt here is to craft a more co-operative experience to tap into a different kind of player behavior. You might have heard the phrase PvE (player-versus-environment) thrown around in gaming before, but it’s a sort of mirror to players competing against each other and has become a staple in online games. The levels reset once a week, meaning players have plenty of time to work to take down the boss together.
“Humans naturally like helping friends and overcoming challenges, instead of competing with high scores,” Fu said. “It’s broadening the appeal and making it more than just a competition. We’re allowing people to help each other, and from a virality standpoint, groups want to recruit more and more friends to get through these boss raids.”
The company hopes it’s tapping into a more unique take for co-operative gameplay that, while still asynchronous like other mobile games, brings the players closer together to the point that it starts to emulate real-time gameplay. The example would be people sitting around at a table, all trying to play a game at the same time, Fu said. With Facebook Messenger and instant games, people are able to jump into their sessions all at once, and all work toward the same end point. By doing that, and if people add more and more people to their groups to take down harder bosses, Blackstorm Labs also gets an extra jolt of virality for its game.
These games from Blackstorm Labs are partly a showcase of technology that the company thinks can be broadened to any kind of application. With the App Store becoming cluttered, it’s hard for developers to get their apps in front of new users. There’s a lot of friction between getting new users to notice the app and actually download it, so the hope is that by removing that friction Blackstorm Labs can attract a wide array of developers and rethink the way apps are distributed and run. The company most-recently raised $33.5 million.
Lead engineer Joseph Brown said that for many games, groups of people already naturally gather into guilds and teams for raids on other platforms like Facebook. You’ll see this happen all the time in online games that don’t have some kind of internal match-making system — like World of Warcraft in its early days, or games today like Destiny that have independent sites for forming groups. So it’s a user behavior that exists naturally, and this gameplay is just tapping into that.
“The boss raids are meant to kind of capture that in a meaningful way and start exposing even more of that kind of fun, or MMO style gameplay, in this very casual Messenger experience,” Brown said.
Being on Messenger, and by building HTML5 games, offers Blackstorm Labs an opportunity to rapidly experiment and release updates much more quickly than they might through the traditional App Store. Instead of having to download or update an app, simply refreshing the game would bring it open with little tweaks, and that also allows the team to quickly adjust to a fast-growing audience.
“It’s been a learning process for us so far for sure, on how to build a system that can go from no users with very little warm-up time to suddenly hundreds of requests per second,” Brown said. “This stuff we’re talking about — how do we handle these kinds of boss raids — I think it’d be a disservice to not also mention the ease of development of the platform. We’ve been able to do some really interesting things, and do them really quickly. I would say that’s pretty fast considering we’re also going through it with a pretty large growth phase with users, which would normally cause a few server meltdowns probably.”

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