GBR Interview: Blackstorm Labs’ Ernestine Fu Discusses Upgrades to EverWing with Gamebot and AI Chatbot on Facebook Messenger
Blackstorm Labs announced this week the global launch of a new AI chatbot for their fast-paced adventure shooter game EverWing on Facebook Messenger’s Instant Games. This is an extension of the original EverWing title that debuted in November last year, and the launch makes EverWing the first title on Facebook’s platform that is both an instant game and an AI chatbot. The game experience can now be launched directly through a conversation with a gamebot or on the Messenger Instant Games canvas.
Currently, the EverWing gamebot has a few roles. One feature, “Narrating Adventures,” has the gamebot sending in-chat updates to players alerting them on the status of their Quests and also allows them to manage in-game actions such as sending their Guardians out on new Quests — all from within the chat thread. “Boss Raid Energy Updates” from the EverWing gamebot inform players when their Boss Raid energy has been refilled, and allow them to see all of their current Boss Raids in a single location. And gamebot powered “Social Powerup Awards” allow users to share a special ability with their entire Boss Raid group, helping players to coordinate together to more effectively take on the toughest bosses.
Blackstorm points out that gamebots replace the need for push notifications, while also allowing developers to push rich notifications including images, animations, menu options embedded in the push, and even rich carousel’s with multiple images and options. Players can also respond to the bot directly and ask it questions.
Gaming Business Review sat down with Blackstorm co-founder and executive chairman Ernestine Fu to get the inside scoop.
Gaming Business Review: What is the EverWing gamebot?
Ernestine Fu: The EverWing gamebot allows our players to integrate EverWing into their daily lives and activities in a manner that is impossible on other platforms, or even in native apps. Players can message the EverWing gamebot in the same way that they might message a friend, and even more, they can also control certain game mechanics and actions directly through the chat interface. Our gamebot provides our players with important in-games news and notifications, while also allowing players to control game features directly from the chat thread.
Gaming Business Review: So, does that mean the EverWing gamebot is similar to push notifications, but on the Instant Games platform?
Ernestine Fu: Kind of — the EverWing gamebot replaces push notifications, but in a way that helps players, not annoys them. At the end of the day, nobody wants a notification that is designed to drive engagement without delivering clear value to the player. This is why notifications on phones have become increasingly problematic over the past few years, and have also seen decreasing effectiveness.
Gamebot messages, on the other hand, are designed to always have a clear call to action and utility related to the game. They let our users know when important game events occur, so we can have more real-time collaboration between players, and more efficient game resource management for single player features. The bot can reach out to players — individually, or multiple at once — to drive very unique engagement.
If you think about the way in which most people are using Facebook Messenger, they switch between chats rapidly, basically multi-tasking conversations. The idea that now you can blend short bursts of gameplay into that now natural behavior is a game changer — basically a new class of engagement. I think that gamebots will enable a much broader audience to enjoy these sorts of games, and that they will be much more engaged.
For example, you may have a chat group with 5-6 friends, all focused on battling a monster boss on EverWing throughout the week. Sometimes the gamebot will message you and help you get access to special powerups that you can use to coordinate your attacks. Similarly, our gamebot will also reach out when you need information about a Quest or energy recharge from a Boss Raid.
Gaming Business Review: Can you tell me a bit more about the EverWing gamebot’s “Narrating Adventures” feature, which allows players to manage their Quests from within the chat thread?
Ernestine Fu: This is closely tied with our time-based Quests feature. Basically, EverWing has a core mechanic where you manage groups of Guardians and dragons on time-based Quests. You send these allies out on an adventure for a set amount of time, and they return later with treasure and other rewards. This feature shipped with EverWing during the original launch a few months ago, and in that time, we found that it was the highest correlated with Day-7+ retention. The players who sent their Guardians on Quests tended to come back and claim the rewards, on average 8 hours later. Obviously then we wanted to make sure all players used the Quests feature effectively, but unfortunately many early players would forget to come back when the Quests finished.
Native apps solve this problem with push notifications, and we wanted something similar but to also build a feature that is a more natural fit with a messenger app. The solution was the gamebot. The cool dynamic of gamebots is that the notifications aren’t static like native apps, where users can only choose to either dismiss the notification or open the app. Instead, EverWing can send rich, chat-based updates to our players that describe the details of the quests, and allows for those quests to be claimed and managed simply by chatting with the gamebot. Players can take a whole range of actions without needing to actually open the game, allowing them to be engaged and involved, even when they have only a few seconds between daily tasks or conversations.
Gaming Business Review: The EverWing gamebot’s “Boss Raid Energy Updates” provide players with more information and control of their Boss Raids — how does this help players to better defeat the most challenging bosses?
Ernestine Fu: Boss Raids on EverWing have been live for two months now, and we’ve learned a lot from player behaviors, just as our players have learned how to better battle these seemingly omnipotent foes. In particular, Boss Raids are challenging not just because it’s so hard to deal damage at all — most players figure it out after a hundred runs — but because of difficulty coordinating attacks to actually defeat the boss before the week is out. Some of the most hardcore players are actually setting group alarms and sending out announcements on email and chat threads to drive coordination as energy recharges and refills. To help these groups, we added gamebot updates as a player’s energy refills, and also made it so that players can see all their raid bosses at once — then, they can simply click to jump straight into fighting the right boss.
Gaming Business Review: You also launched new Social Powerup Awards, which allow players to share powerups with their friends — how does this feature work with the EverWing gamebot?
Ernestine Fu: Even with coordination and timing on energy, the Bosses are still very challenging to beat in a single week. We therefore decided to help our players out further with an additional type of gamebot message that comes with a social powerup. Players can use this powerup to share a special ability with their entire raiding group at a time of their choosing.
The new EverWing features we launched this week allow our players to coordinate their skills and power to more effectively take on bosses. We expect a much broader audience of players to be successful in defeating bosses and earning unique treasure. It takes away a bit of the grind and replaces it with strategy, while driving much higher engagement.
Gaming Business Review: Besides the EverWing gamebot, what other new rich gameplay features did you launch on EverWing last week?
Ernestine Fu: An important aspect of EverWing are our dragons, the loyal sidekicks to our Guardians. Right now, we have dozens and dozens of dragons, all of which have different abilities, and rareness. Our dragons also have different levels of evolution, but in order to evolve them, you must obtain two of the same dragon, which can be very difficult with our super rare “legendary dragons.”
Our most dedicated players are obsessed with finding these legendary dragons — the most popular of which is named Coqi. The process can be very lonely though, as players need to accumulate tremendous resources, and then open up hundreds or thousands of eggs to find the right dragons.
We decided to transform this process into a fun social experience where players can receive bonuses when buying items — like the eggs that yield dragons — together. Every player that manages to find a legendary dragon can post a short-lived but significant bonus for all other players in the group, making it easier to find additional legendaries.
The results we’ve seen so far in our launch are really cool — large groups of players get together and save up money, and agree on a specific day and time when they will all go out hunting for legendary eggs together. When someone finds a legendary dragon, it’s no longer a solo win with some bragging rights; instead, they can share the bonus immediately to the whole group, which can then increase their odds, allow them to find additional legendary dragons, and still further increase the bonus.
This feature means that users egg each other on when it comes to big spending — no pun intended — because the bonuses are very social and collaborative.