Zynga partner Wyrmbyte to launch MOBA game Dragons and Titans in late April

Independent game developer Wyrmbyte today announced its debut title Dragons and Titans, which will launch for Facebook in late April as part of Zynga’s Partners program, with a mobile release at a later date.

Dragons and Titan’s is a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game, a genre that originated with the popular mod Defense of the Ancients (DotA) for Blizzard’s PC and Mac strategy game Warcraft 3. Wyrmbyte’s small team of six employees has been working on the game since November 2012 in their offices just outside Boulder, Colorado.

We had a chance to sit down with Wyrmbyte President Scott Brown during GDC 2013 last week and got our hands on the game. Brown, formerly co-founder of NetDevil (Auto Assault, Lego Universe and other MMOs) had a clear and compelling pitch for Dragons and Titans: “A lot of us are MOBA fans and we realized that there is a demand in the space for a good quality game but with shorter matches,” he said. “We put together this project to work inside of Facebook, so it’s a very social, high quality MOBA game, but with 10-15 minute matches instead of 30 minutes to an hour.”

MOBA games are notoriously competitive and intimidating to new players, but we didn’t have much trouble getting a handle on things and having fun in Dragons and Titans just minutes into our demo. We started by choosing a dragon to ride and a weapon, which dictated the initial skills a player takes into battle, and started a match. From here on things were fairly straightforward, especially if you’re familiar with the genre. The game is played from on overhead perspective, and you navigate and attack by clicking on the desired target. Two teams of dragon riders start on opposite ends of the map and tasked with releasing their titan, captive in each team’s base. Before they can release their titan, they must take down the enemy defenses and seize critical points throughout the map.

As players advance, defeating other players, and defeating the enemy’s AI-controlled minions (or creeps, as they’re knows in other MOBA games) they gain experience which allows them to upgrade their abilities. The abilities tied to the dragon and weapon are reset every match, but there is persistent progression that is tied to the character and the “runes” it can equip.

At launch, players will be able to choose from 17 dragon and 16 weapons — Wyrmbyte will add more of each as they go. A weekly rotation of five weapons and five dragons will always be free. When you play a game you earn crystals, with which you can purchase dragons and weapons so they’re available at any time, or you can speed up this process by buying “dragon bucks” with real money. We didn’t get specific pricing, but Brown told us that players can expect to pay between $4 to $6 per dragon. Brown also reassured us that spending money doesn’t give a player a competitive edge. “There’s no super dragon that owns everyone.”

The game will obviously always require a connection to the Internet so it can verify the client, but we were happy to learn that players are not forced to compete with other players. There’s a matchmaking system in place that with enough players can work as advertised, but players also have the option to play alone against the AI or take it on cooperatively with friends.

Wyrmbyte built the game in Unity, which looked beautiful in full screen. It’s hard to tell in such a short time if Dragons and Titans will play as well and have the lasting appeal of Valve’s DOTA 2 or Riot Games’ League of Legends, but it certainly looked like it was in the same league.

Our only concern with the game is that it currently has only one map. We got the impression that Wyrmbyte’s decision to add more maps hinges on the response to the game, but then the question is how big of a community will it be able to sustain with one map. Without a rotation of at least a couple of maps it might begin to feel a little repetitive. “I think it depends on what people want,” Brown told us. “If players say they want other game types we’ll do it, but typically you have other game types because you want faster matches, and we already have fast matches in place.”

Either way, Wyrmbyte at least expects a strong launch thanks to its partership with Zynga. “When we started the company, we’ve done some stuff before, and we felt that customer acquisition is really a huge problem for us, for everybody,” Brown said. “We didn’t start the project until we had a partner that could help us. Especially with a competitive game like this, you don’t want wait for a game to start and you need players online for the matchmaking to work. We didn’t feel like we could do it without a strong partner.”

We also learned that Zynga contributed to the overall look of the game with some initial testing. “We did some research with them,” Brown said, “what’s the best IP? should it be mechs? Fantasy? With their testing we found that dragons were the most popular and that’s also what we wanted to do so it worked out great.”

Brown said that Zynga has otherwise been pretty hands-off about the project, and that it mostly contributed feedback on all that’s related to the social aspects of the game. “How we can better recruit friends, backend stuff, all the metrics, stuff that nobody sees. Where we lose players.”

As for a specific launch date, Brown said that Zynga does it differently. “They let people in little by little and then when it’s ready, they open the floodgates.”