Vancouver’s Kabam on following up a mobile smash hit with Marvel Realm of Champions

Two developers from the prolific Canadian studio discuss taking on Marvel in a completely new way following six years of success with Marvel Contest of Champions

Marvel Realm of Champions

Since launching in December 2014, Marvel Contest of Champions (MCoC) has gone on to become quite popular in the mobile game space.

Developed by Vancouver-based Kabam, the free-to-play fighting game has been downloaded more than 215 million times and continues to receive regular content updates.

Now, six years after releasing Contest of Champions, Kabam is trying its hand at another Marvel mobile game — Realm of Champions (MRoC). However, while it shares the same developer and universe as MCoCMRoC is a much different beast altogether. That’s because it’s a real-time team-based action-RPG, a stark contrast to MCoC‘s focus on 1-on-1 fighting. Moreover, MRoC raises the stakes with an interplanetary conflict in the war-ravaged Battleworld, where players must align with a Marvel-themed clan and create their own versions of Marvel characters to prevail.

With all of these changes in mind, MobileSyrup recently spoke with two developers from Kabam — senior quest designer Scott Bradford and senior game designer Shane — to better understand what fans can expect from MRoC.

Question: To start, I wanted to ask about what development’s been like amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, you’ve been been putting the finishing touches on the game during all of this, so what was it like adjusting to a work from home routine and how has that affected development?

Shane: We’ve had a mixed response [on the team]. Some people love it, some people hate it. Personally, I find it great. There are definitely some drawbacks. I think the team’s done a really good job [adapting]. And you know, since back in March when we transitioned, the team’s done a pretty good job of maintaining communication and then adjusting to new communication channels, things like Slack and Zoom meetings and Hangouts.

It’s definitely taken a toll because there’s a lot of sort of casual chatter, like ‘watercooler’ kind of talk, [in the studio] that usually leads to either just communication about what each other is working on, or perhaps some new exciting idea. So we definitely miss that. But we do remedy it somewhat, where someone will book a meeting, but it’s not really a meeting, where it’s us in voice chat as we work to try to bring back some of that banter. I think everybody is itching to get back into the office, but we are pretty proud of how we transitioned.

Question: For more than five years now, you’ve had MCoC going strong as a Street Fighter-esque fighter. Now, you’re doing an action-RPG in 3D environments. How did you ultimately decide on this style of gameplay for your second Marvel game?

Scott Bradford: There are a few different ways that it came about. One was from an artistic direction standpoint. Not to put words in the mouth of our creative director, but I know that there were quite a lot of big plans for new characters and new worlds, and we wanted to build these stories we wanted to tell. So we didn’t want to just limit ourselves to one specific type of game to tell those types of stories. And from a gameplay standpoint, we’ve had a desire to make real-time multiplayer games for a long time. And so those two things — wanting to build a new world and expand the Champions universe that we have now and also wanting to build a real-time multiplayer PvP [player vs. player] game — kind of just went hand in hand.

Question: On that note, you’ve created some pretty unique lore for MRoC. While you seem to be at least somewhat influenced by [1980s Marvel comic crossover event] “Secret Wars,” where else did you draw inspiration from, either within the Marvel pantheon or outside of it?

Bradford: There’s a lot of influences. You might see influences from things like Game of Thrones, obviously, which takes up a lot of cultural space. As far as comics are concerned, we have 80 years of Marvel history to pull from. We’re really spoiled for choice in that regard. I was actually just mentioning to some folks that there are pieces of armour that are references to a single panel from a single comic from the mid-90s.

Marvel’s Original Sin comic event (Art by Mike Deodato)

And because we’re so focused on customization and allowing players to customize their champions to such a broad degree, we can do things like that. That particular [reference] is from a run of [2014 Avengers storyline] ‘Original Sin.’ And there are other references, like if you’ve read [1999 dystopian storyline] ‘Earth X,’ that’s a big influence on the game. There are also references to The Immortal Hulk that’s going on right now from Al Ewing. And that’s part of why the universe is the way that it is — it’s so broad, and we can pull from from all corners of the Marvel pantheon, as you mentioned.

Shane: I’ll add one reference to that which is our own MCoC universe. Because we share the same creative director and technically both games are in the same shared universe — even though they’re very different, separate products — we’ve definitely tapped into, maybe not the lore per se, but some of the mechanics, some of the familiar terms, icons, even little events from MCoC‘s past. So if you’re an MCoC player, I think you’ll come to MRoC and find a lot familiar to you.

Question: One of the main tenets of MRoC is the ability to customize your own Marvel character. How did you settle on the six sort of ‘classes’ for these characters — Iron Legionnaire (Iron Man), Web Warrior (Spider-Man), Black Panther, Hulk, Storm (X-Men) and Sorcerer Supreme (Doctor Strange)? And from there, how did you come up with all of the customization options for them?

Marvel Realm of Champions Hulk

Shane: Let me tell you, there’s a lot of characters that we want to put in this game and hope that we can get the chance to put them in this game. I know in the various trailers and whatnot that people have seen, we show off more characters than just those six. And, in fact, we even have a seventh coming up who I won’t name who’s coming out very soon. And so it’s really, really tough choice to try to narrow down such a broad universe, especially one that you know, from MCoC, we have hundreds of Champions [playable characters] in there, right?

To go from that to “well, let’s go down to six,” we had a lot of meetings, a lot of discussions, a lot of input from marketing, from creative, from art, from gameplay. Ultimately, we tried to find one that was iconic from a Marvel standpoint. That’s why we did put a lot of Avengers in there, but also balanced them in terms of their roles within our gameplay. So we have this 3v3 sort of brawler combat. And each Champion can play a role on a team, like we have a ‘tank’ role or a ‘support’ role or ‘control’ role. And so we wanted to make sure that we also had a balanced roster mechanically. But man, we can’t wait to put more characters in the game.

Bradford: I will also say that being an RPG and being really heavily focused on customization, a big part of what we’re trying to do with that is allow people to express themselves as a Hulk, as a Black Panther, etc. We started with this cast of characters because it covers a broad range of ways that you might want to express yourself. But as Shane mentioned, there’s more that we want to do, because we know that there are more ways that people want to be able to express themselves and more characters that they want to express themselves as. I think as an RPG, it’s really important that you give players that choice and those level of options.

Marvel Realm of Champions Iron Legionnaire

Question: So the deeper customization is clearly one of the big changes with MRoC, but beyond that, what other new gameplay elements did you want to tackle this time around?

Shane: So a big one is the transition from a one-on-one fighting game with a fixed camera on the side to 3v3. It’s humans-on humans in real-time PvP, which is a very different beast. We also have a different camera that lets you explore the 3D space of an environment. So these three things combined give us way more freedom. So for example, with the environments in MCoC, they kind of act as just a backdrop, right? In MRoC, you have a 3D space that you can explore. And there are different story elements and things that happen as you explore the environment.

It also lets us do different kinds of abilities. For example, we can have large AoE (area of effect) [attacks] or prolonged beams or projectiles with custom behaviours — all stuff that you’ve seen these characters do, and some that maybe you haven’t seen them do yet. And then the transition from 1-on-1 to a multiplayer environment is really awesome for gameplay, especially on the RPG side, because that means we get to explore different roles for characters that we couldn’t have before. In MCoC, everybody needs to be able to deal damage in order to win the 1-on-1 fight. So they’re kind of all the roles in one.

That’s definitely not the case in MRoC; you can have somebody that is more focused on control and mobilizing who isn’t about damage, or someone that is maybe about protecting others and providing buffs, or someone that is all in on damage. And it’s actually important that you balance all those different roles on the team. So it’s given us a lot more creative space, both mechanically from a raw gameplay standpoint and also to tap into the different aspects of these characters that we couldn’t do in MCoC.

Marvel Realm of Champions Unibeam

Bradford: I would also say from a mission standpoint that MCoC has a very structured type of gameplay. As Shane mentioned, it’s ‘go along a quest path, enter into a fight, win the fight, move on to the next thing.’ Realm of Champions is a very different type of game, and so in addition to the freedom with these characters that Shane’s talking about, there’s quite a bit of freedom for us to design all sorts of gameplay scenarios to complement the wide range of abilities. So it’s actually really exciting working on the game because there are so many different things that you can do [with] that.

Question: Of course, I’d have to imagine that you like all the characters you’ve designed. But if you had to pick a favourite, which would it be and why?

Bradford: I don’t know if you can see, but there’s a little bit of rivalry between us actually. [laughs] We were talking a bit of smack to each other earlier. I don’t know if you anything about our New York Comic Con presence last year, but you could pledge to one of the houses and you could get a pin. And I regularly wear my ‘Pyramid X’ [an MRoC house led by ancient X-Men villain Apocalypse] pin because I am a Storm ‘stan’ ’til I die. I love writing the gear flavour text and the lore and the stories for Pyramid X. I used to read, actually, funnily enough, not much of Apocalypse when I was younger, but I used to read a ton of X-Men comics when I was younger. Those are some of the first comics I started to read, so I love writing that. It’s very Egyptian gods, very overdramatic ‘soap opera with the gods’ type of stuff. I’m really proud of how that has turned out.

Marvel Realm of Champions Ancient One

Shane: For me, it’s [Doctor Strange house] Temple of Vishanti all the way. I was a huge Dr. Strange fan right before we even started working on MRoC. In games, I tend to play spellcasters, so I immediately gravitated towards Dr. Strange. And then as Sorcerer Supreme became one of our initial launch roster characters on MRoC, that was super exciting. As a developer, I also like the mage characters because they provide an open book for us. Dr. Strange knows virtually every spell in the universe — or Marvel Universe anyways — and then some. And so on one hand, that’s a bit of a challenge, because it’s a little bit daunting. Like, do we do the ‘Shield of Seraphim?’ Do we do the ‘Crimson Bands of Cyttorak?’ Perhaps we can tap into something that people haven’t seen before? And so I do like that open book.

Question: While on the subject of the larger Marvel universe: you’ve had many tie-in events in MCoC related to other Marvel projects, like a suit for Spider-Man based on 2019’s Far From Home. I know you can’t speak to specific events, but in general, how have the ongoing disruptions due to COVID-19 — particularly with Marvel’s whole film slate, which has been delayed — affected your content roadmap for MRoC?

Shane: As Marvel fans, it’s definitely a little bit disappointing because we want to see more content, we want to get into the next set of five-year, 10-year plans that Marvel’s got for us. And so having to wait? That’s not great. I want it now. In terms of affecting our development, we can say a bit. We definitely try to do things in a way that helps support Marvel’s upcoming media — television, comics and movies. So when there are shifts within their roadmap, that definitely has an impact down on us as well.

Marvel Realm of Champions Pyramid X

However, because of the crazy wild universe that we have, and the fact that we can tap all kinds of different places from deep in the comics — you know, going back to that single panel from 1993 that Scott was telling me about — we’ve been able to sort of adjust as we go to find new references and new inspiration. There’s absolutely no shortage of that from Gabe [Frizzera, Kabam creative director] and others in the studio, because we’re all huge Marvel fans.

And so, if anything, I think it shifts the perspective now, because there’s a lot of Marvel content that hasn’t been released yet. So maybe later in 2021 if the restrictions lift — or maybe 2022, I’m not sure — that’s going to be a really awesome time for Marvel as a whole as that media starts to come out. So we’re really excited to have a product that’s going to be out alongside that that can tap into all those different things that they’re doing.


Marvel Realm of Champions will launch on December 16th on Android and iOS as a free download. Pre-registration for the game is now available on the Google Play Store and official MRoC website.

This interview has been edited for clarity and language.

Update: This feature previously listed the release date of the game as December 19th — it is December 16th.

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