Working with the Star Wars IP is not a free ticket to the top grossing charts, says Azra Games’ growth VP Ken Walton.
“There have been 60-plus other mobile Star Wars games by a variety of other studios and almost every single one was an absolute flop,” Walton tells us. “Galaxy of Heroes has made more than all of them combined, so IP by itself is not a prerequisite to success.”
Walton says Galaxy of Heroes has earned EA over $1.5bn over its lifetime, and it’s still rolling; but many of the core team responsible for that game are now at Azra Games.
The new outfit was formed in early 2022 by founder and CEO Mark Otero, just across town from Galaxy of Heroes studio Capital Games. At last count Azra has raised $25m in funding from the likes of A16z and Play Ventures, and has quickly grown to around 50 staff.
Azra CEO Otero and Walton set up Facebook game studio KlickNation studio together in 2008 and sold it to EA four years later. Within EA, the studio turned into Capital Games, which later shipped Heroes of Dragon Age and of course Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes, which is now “EA’s biggest mobile game of all time”, says Walton.
Walton left Capital Games just before Galaxy of Heroes launched, and Otero left shortly after. Otero ran a hedge fund for a while, and Walton founded and ran a street photography business, before each decided it was time to return to mobile games.
So we had to ask: why return now, in such a tough environment? “If you look at the larger mobile ecosystem, yeah, there are big challenges right now, but we started out operating KlickNation in a very challenging user acquisition environment,” says Walton.
“In my opinion, it was maybe a little too easy for a while…before IDFA it was just so easy for so many games with extremely slim profit margins to put everything into user acquisition and try to peel off 10% at the top…these were never really good businesses.”
Azra’s debut game is not just a reworking of Galaxy of Heroes; it’s an over-the-shoulder, Mihoyo-style open world RPG. Walton says that he and his team have studied Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail “very closely”, and admire Mihoyo’s work a great deal – but don’t plan to compete directly with the Chinese giant.
“We like the direction they’re taking modern mobile RPGs, but our game will look nothing like theirs – we’re not going to try to beat them at the anime game,” he says.
“We’re looking at their levelling, their gacha mechanics, their maps, progression, their seasons…we’re very much digging into the improvements they’re making to the RPG genre. One of them – the biggest one – is coming back to a PvE-focused single player campaign, as opposed to trying to push the user into PvP, leagues and guilds.”
“I don’t think we’re pitching ourselves as the Mihoyo of the West,” Walton continues. “But we do feel like they have ushered in a next generation of RPGs on mobile. So we do want to bring that kind of RPG to the western audience in a way that no one else has before.”
Azra is targeting a Q3 2025 debut for what is currently known as Project Legends, and plans to release the game on PC at some point too, though “ultimately, we don’t expect that platform to be anywhere near as big as mobile for us,” says Walton.
To speed up production, Walton says Azra has a dedicated AI team working to speed up some processes, from creating concept art to building out the game maps and powering NPC behaviour. Azra will start releasing slices of the game into closed beta beginning early 2024.
With its experience on Galaxy of Heroes plus the continued success of Mihoyo’s games, Walton is confident Azra is operating in the right genre.
“RPGs obsess people – once people really get into them, they build teams, they go deep, and they tend to spend way more money on RPGs than any other genre,” he adds. “We have a lot of expertise building this kind of game”.