Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Interview with: Albert Reed, Demiurge CEO on Marvel Puzzle Quest  


Yes it's about matching gems, yes it's free-to-play, yes it's even got in-app purchases, but Marvel Puzzle Quest is a fabulous little title available on PC, Android and iOS, and I just can't get enough. Seriously, I have no idea how many hours I've sunk into it already, but... it's a lot. In an effort to spread the word (and the addiction) I've tweeted, podcasted and blogged about it,  but I haven't done an interview on it... Until now. 

CEO of Demiurge Studios, Albert Reed, took a few minutes to answer my questions about collecting covers, recruiting heroes and shooting repulsor beams, and here's what he had to say.


BG: Hi Albert, thanks so much for taking the time. To start with, although it seems like your studio has been around for a while, it's not a very well-known house. Can you tell us what you've worked on, and who's on the team?

AR: We’ve been around since 2002 actually! We've been working behind-the-scenes on AAA games for ten years before starting on Marvel Puzzle Quest. We've contributed to Brothers in Arms, Mass Effect and even made a couple of Rock Band games along the way.

Although the original Puzzle Quest was absolutely fantastic, the following sequels were nowhere as good, and it seemed as though the franchise died a quiet death. How did resurrecting Puzzle Quest come about, and how did it get connected with the Marvel license?

D3Publisher, the original publisher of Puzzle Quest came up with the original idea and made a huge effort to make it happen. They played matchmaker bringing us, Marvel and Steve Faulkner, the original developer together.

Free-to-play is something of a double-edged sword, and many developers trip up when trying to implement it without killing the fun of their games, or worse, they come off as outright evil. In my view, MPQ is one of the rare titles that lands on the right side of the FTP line. How much testing and revision did you have to do to find the current balance? How happy are you with it now?

Thanks! I'm glad you're happy and clearly lots of other players are as well. The entirety of Marvel Puzzle Quest's development has revolved around user testing. Starting about one month from when the project began, we brought players in off the street and videoed their play. We had a short soft-launch period and as you're aware we still consider the current game a "preview"!

We're really happy with the balance of the game right now, but also not satisfied. Every week we adjust the balance of a character or two in response to player feedback and our observations. One of the biggest challenges of F2P is creating live content that's relevant for everyone new and old players, people who spend 30 minutes a day and people who spend hours a day. That's probably our biggest current challenge with game balance.

As you mentioned above, when the game loads up, the words "Preview Edition" are clear to see. Can you tell me exactly what that means? Is that another term for “beta”, and if so, what does that mean for players who’ve invested time and money?

It means there remain big system changes that we intend to make. We want to be upfront with players that characters might still be rebalanced and that there are important new features coming. "Beta" implies the product isn't fully tested but this one is. What remains is listening to our players and responding to their feedback. As I said, we're very close!

If I read it correctly, when I connected my long-unused Facebook account to the game, it mentioned that I would be able to recover any lost progress by reconnecting to Facebook. Is that the only way for players can restore lost progress if their device becomes lost or damaged?

Yup! We use Facebook to effectively "log in" to the game. Once you've done that your save will be synced across devices.

After participating in a number of the rotating contests, it seems as though some of the times of day they end at are a little unusual and random. How do you set those times?

That's another ongoing challenge. All Marvel Puzzle Quest players are on the same servers but our players live around the world. We're still fine-tuning when we want our events to start and end.

Is there any correlation between the characters a player uses, and what covers will crop up more often when redeeming cover tokens? It may be my imagination, but it seemed like once I started using particular characters, their covers started showing up more often. On the other hand, I almost never see covers for characters I don't use.

It's just your imagination. :-)

Aha. Well, keeping with the theme of imagination… After winning a series of matches, it sometimes seems as though the AI goes completely apesh*t and demolishes me. It's happened even with teams below my level, who should've been pushovers. Of course, there's always the element of luck, but some of the incredible combo chains that annihilate me strain the limits of credulity at times. Is there some sort of AI spike that occurs after a player has been winning for too long?

Also your imagination. :-) Previous Puzzle Quest games got a lot of flak for AI that seemed to cheat so we took great care to make sure the AI plays the same game you do.

How many new "stories" similar to the recently-completed Hulk arc are planned, and can you tell us anything about them? Similarly, what characters do you have planned for the future? Personally, I would love to see Daredevil, Ghost Rider, and Devil Dinosaur, though friends at higher levels tell me he’s in there somewhere…

We have a story arc that covers 25 "episodes" and we've launched three of them. Lots more to come. Right now, we release a character and a major new piece of content about once a month. All of the characters you list are on our radar, but my lips are sealed as to who's coming next. 

We also continue to add new features that fans request. One of our most-requested features is the ability to shield your team from attacks so that you can take a break - that will be in our next update. 
Also, your friends speak the truth - Devil Dino made a cameo in The Hunt!

[*note: the shield feature is now live, see above picture.]

Open mic. What do you want to tell people who haven’t given Marvel Puzzle Quest a try? What one thing would you want to say to try and convince them?

There are still many people who are skeptical that free-to-play can be done right. To them, I'd point out that every single thing in MPQ can be earned without spending a cent -- we don't have an impossible-to-get currency like most "free" games. We aim to make it so that players who spend money are buying great entertainment. We think you'll play MPQ as much as your favorite console games and we want to give you the same value for your dollar - whether it's buying more playtime (like quarters in an arcade machine!) or adding another character to play to your roster.

Thanks for the opportunity to share!


Infinite thanks to Albert Reed for taking the time to chat with me, and congratulations to Demiurge for creating such an impossible-to-put-down title. As stated above, it's now available on Steam, Android and iOS, and is indeed free-to-play. 

Also, Ragnarok is one cheap-ass punk. What a jerk.


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4 comments: to “ Interview with: Albert Reed, Demiurge CEO on Marvel Puzzle Quest

  • Anonymous


    He failed to mention some things about this game.

    - Communication with the player base is hit and miss, many support tickets take ages to be responded to.
    - The episodes are one time events so far, new players are not able to experience the ones that have been completed.
    - Heavy handed changes to characters that people have invested real money into, without prior notice.


    Thanks for your comment!

    1> Had no idea about that, that's a good thing to bring up.

    2> I asked about that, look for the answer soon.

    3> He does say that's why it's called the "preview" edition, so changes are still possible. what changes have impacted you?

  • Anonymous


    The Steam version has nothing related to being called "preview edition" anywhere.

    Changes will happen,we all know this. The issue is no communication prior to changes so people are not putting real funds into characters that will no longer be desirable.

    Today a popular character was "nerfed" , leaving some people feeling stung in the wallet for recently investing real funds into him. With prior notice, people could have invested into a different character or not at all.

    Communication with the player base is the problem.

  • Anonymous


    There was a character that was heavily out of sync with others in an overpowered way - and as such, he was the "end game" goal for several people to attempt to acquire. At first glance, his ability lineup seemed relatively balanced, but for 2 AP, you're making 5 green tiles per cast, you can quickly see the issue when the entire board is littered with green! Cascades galore, and another hero of the same tier effectively has a "I win" ability that costs a LOT of green.

    I can sympathize for those who spent real money to rank up his overpowered red skill, given how they over-nerfed it (he went from being by and far the best in the game to being worse than a more common character), but the fact several more vocal persons are calling for nerfs on similar heroes baffles me.

    Spiderman stuns for 2 AP - one turn per web tile out. It takes time to wind up. Magneto shatters 5 random tiles and deals a modest bit of damage - the damage part is all he has, it doesn't generate obscene cascades like Ragnarok did. Wolverine starts off slow, and picks up speed the longer he's around, given how many strike tiles he's capable of generating.