Nexon is working very hard on its new mobile MMORPG. The game, Alliance vs Empire (or AxE), is a huge hit in Japan and Korea and skyrocketed to the top iOS and Android charts when it released in 2017. Now the gaming giant is eager to bring that same success to Western audiences with a localized version.
The team at Nexon Red has an excited gleam in their eye when they talk about AxE. At a preview event held in its San Francisco Bay Area branch, Nexon Red spoke about their ambitious project with passion, dedication, and delight. Key Nexon employees demonstrated how their vision went from a desire to a smooth, playable on-the-go experience.
Inspired by games like Infinity Blade, Nexon Red wanted to do something different, something big. The advancement in mobile tech allowed the team to use new beefier hardware to bring their vision to life.
A staggering amount of effort has been put into AxE. It sports unprecedentedly huge 150-player PVP battles in a grand sweeping war across a distant fantasy world. There's mythical monsters, magic, hack-and-slash action, and a distinct feeling of camaraderie with other players. The worlds are absolutely huge, there are 7 different maps and are peppered with objectives, loot, monsters, and enemy factions to tackle.
What makes AxE so unique is how it looks and feels. Honestly, I'm extremely impressed with the visuals and AxE looks like a console-quality game with flashy visuals and on-screen chaos. Animations are buttery-smooth, and there's always tons of enemies to battle or objectives to complete. It's a true never-ending MMO.
Bringing a strong Asian mobile game to West offers tons of unique challenges. The two regions have radically different gaming tastes, with Asia favoring more grindy microtransaction-style games and the West enjoying more action and flashy visuals. The hardships go double for MMORPGs, and compound even further for a mobile-based MMO. There's so many spinning plates Nexon Red has to juggle all at once, and they're always finding more to add.
Alliance x Empire has all the trimmings of a meticulously-planned game: there's an absolute sea of layered mechanics to keep players busy for months on end, all of which are carefully pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle. There's so many moving parts that I wondered just how much time had been put into the game.
According to Nexon Red, Alliance vs Empire has been in development for about a year. Throughout that time the game has matured and shifted slightly away from its Korean predecessor to fit Western gamers. There's still no word on a concrete release date, though Nexon says it'll be out soon. One employee said he couldn't tell me a launch window because he didn't actually know himself, and another just shook their head and laughed as if to say "it'll be done when it's done."
Even when AxE is done, the team's work is just beginning.
Any live service game must be continually updated over time, especially if it's a strong free-to-play mobile title. Mobile gamers lose interest fast and if you don't grab their attention with new stuff or rewards, they'll move on. It's the nature of the billion-dollar beast, and consumers are hungry for more content just like the beast is hungry for cash.
Like any game's development, mobile dev cycles can weigh on the people who make them. One employee joked about working 20 hour days to craft the never-ending mobile MMO, and while they said it with a smile and a laugh, I wondered just how much of it was a joke.
Other Nexon Red devs talked to me about the localization process. Bringing games from the East to the West (and vice-versa) requires tweaks to game mechanics, visuals, language, sound, and other major foundations to any project. AxE's global version sees character classes slightly re-skinned and quests, dialog, and text all localized in English.
Alliance vs Empire is a kind of duality that sees two games being worked on simultaneously: the immensely popular Asian version, and the in-development Western flavor.
Sylvia Gladstone, senior manager at Nexon of America, told me it feels like the company is working on two games at once a lot of the time. In many ways this is true.
The previously released source game is constantly getting updated with new content for players to avidly consume, and a lot of what's in the Asian version will carry over to the Western flavor albeit with different tweaks and balances. The Western game will have tons of seasonal events and other live service content to keep users busy, but it'll be stuff that's tailored for that region--festive events for holidays and the like.
Other tweaks include more customizations for the game's spiritstones (sort of like gems from Diablo II) as well as more dynamic item selection.
What's more interesting is how Nexon Red refers to this process as "culturization" rather than just localization; the devs are keen on connecting with Western audiences rather than just releasing a port
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