KARDS: Creating Collectible Digital Card Games as an Independent Developer


From kids collecting cards from monsters, such as Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh, to professional players competing for $ 500,000 (~ £ 360,154) at the 2021 Hearthstone World Championship, collectible card games (CCG) have a lot to offer. increase.

With the growing popularity of digital CCGs – both occasionally and as part of esports – the industry market size is expected to reach $ 572million (~ £ 412million) by the end of 2021. While this is only a small proportion of global online gaming revenue, it appears giants such as Blizzard Entertainment (Hearthstone) and Riot Games (Legends of Runeterra) have monopolized the CCG market.

Nonetheless, titles like Gwent and Thronebreaker (CD Project) and Loop Hero (FourQuarters), which come from much smaller developers, have managed to gain fame.

Image credit: 1939 Games

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KARDS, a free-to-play digital TCG from 1939 Games, also managed to make a name for itself by focusing its theme on WWII tactics. The game combines traditional CCG gameplay with innovative mechanics inspired by classic strategy games and real battlefield tactics.

To learn more about the birth of KARDS and the reality of indie game development, Esports Insider spoke with Guðmundur Kristjansson, Creative director and co-founder of the 1939 Games.

Decide to create a new game

In 2015, brothers Guðmundur and Ívar Kristjánsson decided to create 1939 Games, years after working together at Icelandic game studio CCP Games. Ívar co-founded and was CEO of CCP Games for a time, while Guðmundur was project manager.

In the photo: Ívar (left) and Guðmundur (right) Kristjánsson. Image credit: 1939 Games

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Throughout his time there, Guðmundur always thought about playing war games, card games and strategy games with his friends, which led him to regularly join CCP’s table group. Games. That’s when the idea for a non-fantasy CCG was born, especially one based on one of the most notable human conflicts in history, World War II.

Guðmundur said: “KARDS is the game we wanted to play ourselves and when we didn’t find out we decided to do something about it. A long-standing interest in WWII, strategy, and card games led us to believe this would be a great mix and that we had the know-how and passion to make it right.

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Over the next few years, Guðmundur will carry the idea of ​​KARDS in his head. Finally, when the time was right in 2015, the two brothers founded 1939 Games and began working on building a new experience in the CCG space.

Starting with a very small team, the studio began to prototype the product and work on what ended up being KARDS. Thousands of hours of testing, development, feedback gathering, iteration, and more ultimately led to KARDS being early access on Steam in 2019.

This was a huge milestone for the 1939 Games, as the company was finally able to share KARDS with the world and enter a new phase of development.

Work on KARDS in early access with a dedicated community

As soon as a game enters Early Access or Beta, developers receive a constant stream of new opinions. It is usually a time of constant change and can be a difficult time.

For example, some areas that might have been considered great on the team might not have the same success in the open market. The 1939 Games team remembers the Early Access phase as a fantastic part of the history of the game. However, “the last few yards to the finish line are often the hardest.”

“Defining some of the basic concepts of game design and simplifying some of the initial designs was certainly a challenge, but at the same time, finding good solutions to difficult problems is also very rewarding,” said Guðmundur.

“However, I think the development of KARDS is an ongoing process and the PC release on Steam was just one step in a long and iterative process that is far from over.”

To this day, KARDS fans can provide feedback through a group of volunteer testers and the game’s active Discord server.

Launch a game as an independent developer

Launching a game as an independent developer can be very different across studios and genres. In the case of 1939 Games, the company wanted to compete on player value against the biggest names in the digital CCG genre.

Thinking about what went through his mind, before the launch, Guðmundur said: “Excitement! I’ve always been pretty confident that the game would be relatively well received, but it’s hard to estimate in advance how exactly it will play out and what the numbers will look like. So the excitement was also mixed with butterflies in my stomach.

After five years of hard work, KARDS was launched in 2020, with multilingual support and a long-term roadmap in the team’s mind as they wanted to make sure everything was going in the right direction.

Pictured: 1939 Games team in 2021. Image credit: 1939 Games

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The team were confident about the gameplay, but as with any new release, the biggest fear was that it wouldn’t attract a lot of new players right away. For KARDS, this was especially important early on as the matchmaking system required a pool of players to function well, otherwise the wait times would become too long.

“When you have a game that has a community of passionate gamers who expect a published and polished product, the margin for error is a little smaller. Players are not as tolerant of bugs and instability, and the like, as players who go for an Early Access version. As you can imagine, this also applies in particular to competitive play, ”explained Guðmundur.

Fortunately, that wasn’t a major issue on release and KARDS brought fans together from the get-go. However, the team is still planning to expand the player base to make all of these systems work flawlessly and for players to get proper matches almost instantly.

Maintain and grow

Even though KARDS has been out for a little while, it’s still in its infancy considering the lifespan of a service-based game. This is something that has fundamentally changed in the gaming industry over the past two decades and requires developers to come up with new ideas and content much more frequently.

Specifically for KARDS, this presents a unique challenge for the team, finding the perfect balance between developing new features, keeping the game fresh, and creating everything to reach new players and grow the game.

Right now, the developer is looking to make KARDS available on more platforms outside of Steam, with the main focus being on delivering the game to mobile, while building its distribution network on PC.

As for their plans for the near future, Guðmundur said: “KARDS has always been developed as a cross-platform, cross-platform game, so what I’m looking forward to the most is the mobile release.

“GCCs are particularly well suited to mobile, and most gamers play it on multiple devices, so I think KARDS will come much closer to its full potential when the mobile version is released. I look forward !

The KARDS esport scene

1939 Games also expanded into the world of competitive CCGs with the launch of KARDS Esports. The division is expected to offer regular tournaments and shows with the best players in the game.

One of the main partners of the 1939 Games is the American production company 983 Media, which assists in production and tournament operations.

983 Media specializes in producing CCG events and has worked with several studios on popular titles such as Gwent, Mythgard and Magic The Gathering.

1939 Games also works with an experienced casting team that consists of resident experts from the KARDS community as well as casters from the CCG esports scene. The studio’s on-air casters and personalities include: Admirable, Flake, Olikrummi, Innocent Bubbles, Darkness and Spooz.

The ecosystem consists of two main tournament series and two championship events, each serving a different type of player: the Officers Club Championship, the KARDS Open, the Mid-season championship and the World Championship.

Preview of the KARDS competition for 2022. Image credit: 1939 Games

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The Officers’ Club Championship (OCC) is a monthly tournament and the KARDS Open are bi-monthly open tournaments in which anyone can participate.

Each Open tournament has a prize pool of $ 1,500 (~ £ 1,099) and includes two qualifiers. The winners also qualify for the top 128 of that year’s world championship.

The Mid-Season Championship, which begins in 2022, is an annual tournament with a prize pool of $ 10,000 (~ £ 7,338).

Meanwhile, the World Championship is an annual $ 10,000 (~ £ 7,338) event where KARDS crowns its world champion. Competitors can qualify through the OCC and the Open qualifiers.

According to current plans, 2022 will feature a total of 19 tournaments with a combined prize pool of over $ 44,000 (~ £ 29,107).

Speaking of the exciting 2022 season ahead, Guðmundur said: “The constant rise of the competitive scene around KARDS has been exciting to watch!

“Over the past few months, we’ve seen increased outside interest in our competitive scene, with strong players from different titles interested in competing in KARDS, and we’ve broken our record for simultaneous viewers on several occasions.

“This makes us extremely excited for our biggest year of competition yet – 2022! “

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