Doctor Who Legacy - interviewing Lee and Susan of Tiny Rebel Games
Doctor Who Legacy is a free gem-matching game that has a strong emphasis on the show's history, and uses RPG elements to take on teams of baddies while letting you play a team of your own making.
Fiendishly addictive and eminently playable, the game's been on my portable player for a while (to my wife's continued annoyance) and I was lucky enough to be granted a Q&A with the Tiny Rebel Games' team of Lee and Susan about their past, the game's past and future and the imminent launch of Bigger on the Inside (March 25th!).
First off, just a thanks for making a game that’s really taken off with the community . I’m keen to know how the idea of the game actually came to fruition?
We decided we wanted to design and produce our first mobile game, and to publish it at the same time. For two people this sounded like (and indeed was) a massive undertaking, so we decided that we wouldn’t make the whole project riskier by trying to create our own intellectual property at the same time. Instead we would find something we loved, something we would happily build a game around, even at the expense of having a chance of creating our own universe. We watch a lot of BBC shows, and at the time we had just finished watching the 2nd series of Sherlock (which we loved, huge fans of all of Moffatt’s work) so we approached BBC Worldwide about a Sherlock, which they said no to, but they wanted to work with us and were curious whether we wanted to make a Doctor Who game. We’ve watched so much Doctor Who in our lives that later that same day we pitched the Legacy project to them.
I know both of you had a background in gaming – can you tell us a little more about what you were doing?
Lee started in QA at Sony, before moving to Rockstar Games where he ended up producing on the Grand Theft Auto series, as well as working on many other projects there. At the same time, Susan was doing deals for Rockstar, then she co-founded 2K games, signing their launch slate of titles including gems like Bioshock and Borderlands. After they both left they founded several games companies together, launching projects such as the critically acclaimed Order Up Wii game, and War of the Worlds.
Was a Doctor Who game like this always on your mind to create?
This was the first idea we discussed after we found out that there was a chance we could work on a Doctor Who game, and we loved it so much that it’s changed very little from that first conversation. We love to play gem games in our spare time, and designed / produced a game together years ago, Puzzle Kingdoms, as a collaboration with Steve Fawkner, who created Puzzle Quest.
How much did your love of the show permeate the fact you were creating a game for it – did that make it harder?
It makes certain things harder. It would be better if we had a narrower knowledge of the show, since it becomes overwhelming trying to pick between so many amazing episodes, so many amazing characters. The game has heavily impacted our viewing of the show as well since we need to have a certain amount of spoiler filled information before an episode ends in order to create content which is launched alongside (such as the season 8 episodes, and the Christmas episode this year). As a couple who really love to watch new episodes together, having that impacted makes everything a bit harder.
I know the BBC has been supportive of what you’re doing with Legacy, that must make a real difference?
This game wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the amazing, unrelenting support from the brand team at the BBC and the Doctor Who team in Cardiff. We have over 100 allies and companions, the actors behind each need to give us approval to use their likeness, and every enemy we add has to be signed off by the person who created them. It’s a colossal amount of work behind the scenes, and work which is vital to the continuation of the game. We talk to our producer at the BBC almost daily (and he frequently joins in for our weekly Twitch chats) because, if we didn’t have that level of constant communication, we could never dream of launching the amount of content that we do.
The game’s over a year old now, with something like 1.5 million players and it’s ever evolving, does it surprise you how far you’ve come in a year?
It’s shocked us. Before launch, rumours of a gem based Doctor Who game leaked out and the first response was very negative. The game launched, and reviews were amazing, but we weren’t sure if our grand experiment, a continually updated, live mobile game, running alongside a TV show, would make it to the end of the first month. We’re amazed every day by what the community which has sprung up around the game has allowed us to do. We launched new content day and date alongside an episode of the show many times, which is unprecedented in the mobile space. We’ve updated the game almost weekly (on average, easily weekly) for the last 15 months, which is almost unprecedented. Last year a new mobile game was launched something like every 9 minutes, the chances of the project failing (especially given the long, uneven history of Doctor Who games) were high. We’re eternally grateful to the fans who support the game, who trust us to be the caretakers of this project.
Big Finish characters, Titan Comics, Pixel Who - what else do you want to explore in the Who-niverse? And how much deeper into the worlds I’ve just mentioned will you go?
We definitely want to explore all those worlds in much greater detail. This morning we’ve been working on new levels to go out alongside the new 9th Doctor comic book series coming soon, and we’re talking to Big Finish about how to continue our relationship. Pixel Who have been amazing, and we’re less than a week from the launch of the Bigger on the Inside prologue, which we’re incredibly excited about. Our work with BBC’s books group led to the inclusion of Cinder from Engines of War, the War Doctor’s only companion, which is great to see in the game – these allies from the extended universe who finally get to go on adventures with the whole cast.
It feels to me like the game and your approach to it is one of fluidity and community (with your constant email support and also Sharee’s work on the FaceBook page, Adi’s weekly Twitch stream) – you’re always adapting to your community, creating levels like Anna’s Playground for the younger end, being shaped by feedback as well, is that why you believe your free-to-play game has been so successful?
We believe that the industry’s first attempt at creating a free to play space missed the mark a bit and created a space where users were forced into paying through hard paywalls, horrible ideas like energy meters and utilized exploitative social networking. Sadly this worked, which left a space where players felt exploited, and businesses face a choice of doing what is proven to make money, or try to create something new which could fail. We believe that there is another way, something more fair. Legacy is our first attempt at making a free to play game, and the game has been praised as “the most moral free to play game”, but we still think there are other ways the industry should be heading. People seem to appreciate this, and it seems to have gone a long way to us maintaining high ratings on the app stores. When you combine this mentality with a fierce love of Doctor Who, it becomes pretty powerful stuff if you’re a gamer interested in that specific space. For new users, especially fans of Doctor Who, that’s a pretty happy and awesome community to be welcomed into if you do love what Legacy offers, which is the real success of the game.
This is our first story which starts with all 13 Doctors present, which is an amazing opportunity. The full Bigger on the Inside story is over 120 levels, which is almost as big as the game was when we launched. The story is epic – many of the Doctors get their own story arcs, and it’s all set inside the TARDIS, which allows us to dive into some of her rooms you haven’t seen for decades. We’ve been working on this for many months now, we’re just thrilled that everyone gets to see the first level =)
Our goal from the very start of the project was to have an ongoing, live story. Up until now this has meant that big chunks of content come out every few months, however with our super efficient content pipeline, and our ability to push new levels out on demand, we’ve always wanted a story which fans can “tune in” to play every week. Just like the Saturday morning cartoons we grew up on – once a week 3 or 4 new levels will be released, all driven by story.
To play Doctor Who Legacy for free and get into the game that's got Whovians buzzing, click on the various formats below: