Interview: Alley Labs Talk ‘Final Fortress’ and Lots More

If you cast your mind back to April of last year, you may remember me reviewing a post-apocalyptic set clicker game by the name of Final Fortress – Idle Survival (free). I loved the game then, and I love it even more now that developer Alley Labs has fleshed it out with a whole ton of new content and features! To find out more about Final Fortress and the company behind it, I recently got in touch with Alley Labs’ Rebecca Burgess-Wilson for an in-depth chat. Check the interview out below…

First of all, thanks for joining me for this interview. It’s a pleasure to have you! Let’s begin by finding out a bit about Alley Labs: When was the company founded, where are you based, and how many members make up your team?

No problem, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Alley labs is an independent game development arm of Gear Inc which was founded in 2008. We are based in Vietnam and run by Hyung Choi, an MIT grad and Silicon Valley vet. We started out developing games for other labels, but naturally, the team had so many ideas bouncing around their heads we just had to start our own label, and Alley labs was born soon after. The team currently sits at about 10, depending on the project, half being full time on this title.

What is Alley Labs’ guiding vision or mission statement as a company? 

That’s a great question, and one we spent a long time thinking about ourselves when we first set up. We wanted to make sure that people playing our games were captivated, engaged, entertained, and educated. Internally, we aimed to combine the best of East and West techniques, experience and talents. Then roll all that up in a place we actually wanted… no loved, to work in. No small goal right! I won’t speak for our users, fans, clients, and customers, we have to leave the numbers to do the talking here, but I can say that we are incredibly proud of what this tiny team has achieved. We boast great stickiness in our games, low churn, useful downloads and loyal, active users. From that, I can comfortably say the team is happy. In short, we have created a world where we; entertain and educate gamers and an internal pace of constant growth and joy.

As you know, I love Final Fortress and gave it a glowing review upon its initial release. For the benefit of anyone reading who hasn’t yet checked the game out, would you mind quickly explaining its premise and gameplay? 

Happy to. Final Fortress is the first (maybe only) idle action game. You play love survivor of the Viral Z outbreak that destroyed humanity. Now It’s time to rebuild and defend humanity against the waves of zombies. Using well-known clicker systems, you grow your fortress community, gather resources, rescue survivors and rebuild from the aftermath of the viral outbreak. Gas is the new currency now money is useless. Collect survivors, tap to make Gas, and use your resources to build a variety of rooms each dedicated to a unique survival task. Grow food, generate power, and build your fortress from the blueprints you find into along the way. Arm your tower, and protect against the zombie waves and mutated bosses. The real skill is making the decisions on what to upgrade, when, and by how much. Who should be armed, and by what weapon. Take lucky spins, or venture out to collect more survivors in the hope of building an even better fortress than the last one. The strategy is the key to survival.

Final Fortress has been a fun game since day 1, and it’s only gotten bigger and better over time with the addition of tons of new content and features! Could you talk me (and my readers) through some of the new stuff, such as the weekly/monthly battle themes and PvP scoreboard?

The real push we have wanted from the start was a way to bring PvP into an idle game, which presented a few challenges as you can imagine. However, we have finally made it happen, and now you get to enjoy leaderboard style bragging rights with your mates, or on a global scale. With prizes, of course, we won’t let that effort go unrewarded. In addition, our new Boss wave battle mode proved so popular that we had to advance it. As you have noticed, we now offer weekly themed and seasonal gaming mode with 500 new battles and more on the way. That should keep you tapping for a few more minutes.

Not to sound greedy, but can Final Fortress fans such as myself expect even more new content and features to be added to the game in the future?

Yes, absolutely. As we keep seeing more love for the game, we, of course, want to keep pushing the boundaries of this style of game, while we also make new titles in the background as well. We won’t leave the fans to grow stagnant and bored, we promise.

Final Fortress’ post-apocalyptic world is remarkably well imagined and fleshed out. Do you think you’ll ever return to it for a sequel or spin-off game?

Funny you should ask. We can’t say too much yet, but we have been in talks not just internally, but also with potential collaborations as well, to create spin-off titles for other niche sectors and maybe franchise themes. It’s too early to say for sure, but it’s in up there on our list of high potential. Our educational standpoint has also seen us considering a free children’s version, aimed at improving decision making, mathematics, logic, and even real word financial skills. We are, however, concentrating heavily right now on an entirely new title that will satisfy an itch we have had for a long time, and this will take priority. More to come on that in future. Sorry, that’s all I can say for now on that.

Idle/clicker games like Final Fortress have experienced an explosion in popularity over the past few years. What do you think it is about the genre that has struck such a chord with modern gamers?

There are many things I could wax lyrical about these games as I love them myself, however, a few elements stand out. Firstly, is the ease of entry. It takes very little hand-holding to grasp the mechanics of the game in principle. Then, it’s all about the progression, and the vast complexity of possible combinations to master maximum productivity. Idle, clickers, incremental, whatever you want to call them, they are thinkers. It’s one of those ‘five minutes to learn, a lifetime to master’ things. So finally, it’s the play accessibility. By this I mean, how easy it is to ‘pick up and put down.’ You only have five minutes, no prob, check in on your production values that have accumulated while you were at work, and buy a few new upgrades. Break over? No problem, close and pick up where you left off later. No time commitment needed. A steady progression with clever timed mechanics, success triggers, and rewards assure constant interest and challenges. The truth is, it’s tough to hit that balance right, but the underlined rational as to “why are idle games so popular,” is based in real simple human behavioral psychology.

Do you have any advice for other companies or individuals who may be trying to break into or succeed in the mobile games industry?

Wow, no small question that one. I can certainly try. Ok, let’s start with the clichés. You have to love it and believe in what you are doing. Whoever and this is a huge, however, just because you think up an idea for a game YOU think is cool, does mean it is and does not mean it will be successful. It sounds so painfully obvious, but so overlooked. Market analysis is king here, yet even the basics get ignored too often. What is popular, what works, what would improve what works, (and no that does not mean copy it). Research suggests doing the hard legwork and justifying your ideas based on both passion and sound market analysis. Don’t be afraid to beta launch dozens of basic versions with one or two unique mechanics for market research. Examine stickiness, don’t be egotistical, and throw away the ones that don’t work, and do that fast. Test, and fail fast, until you find a little gem that sticks. Test more, tweak and test again. Finally, QA. Why? Well, it does not matter how good your game looks with all your fancy animations, effects, and latest ground-breaking design, it matters not how fun and addictive your new mechanics are or how well balanced your monetization is IF you have thousands of bugs and glitches at hard launch you are dead. Fact. Oh, and the last thing, never to be tempted to pivot on one review or request. It’s too easy to start to panic that a handful of people say “I don’t like the bit where…” or “yeah nice game but…”. For everyone that complains a thousand didn’t.

Do you have any other upcoming projects in the works or planning stages that you can tell me about?

Only what I have already said above. I’ll hint that it will be PvP, combat, and very addictive.

Is there anything else you’d like to add before we wrap up?

Just a little thanks mostly to both gamers in general, not only our users, and platforms like this. We know what we do is a privilege, and we love our jobs. We knew none of this happened without the vast, complex and dedicated infrastructure behind this industry. From fans to fan sites, media to aggregators. If you have a chance to contribute and give back a little, do it. Where would any of us be without games, and games don’t exist without all the industry support. So thank you.

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