Interview: Jan Wagner of Cliffhanger Productions

An Interview with Cliffhanger Production's Managing Director, Jan Wagner.

AErena: Clash of Champions (freeby Cliffhanger Productions, has been receiving a lot of attention lately from the gaming press. The game was listed as one of the best strategy games of 2014 by PC Gamer magazine and it was a huge hit with the throngs of enthusiastic game fans at the ESL international gaming convention known as Gamescom held last month in Cologne, Germany. After speaking with the managing director of Cliffhanger Productions, Mr. Jan Wagner, I'm excited to see what the future holds, both for this clever team of developers as well as for the increasingly popular platform of mobile gaming in general.

Lately I've been writing a lot about how mobile eSports are the wave of the future and how they are set to bring in record profits as their popularity and profitabily continue to skyrocket. It's games like AErena: Clash of Champions that are helping to usher in this new era of mobile gaming's renaissance. It's an excellent, turn-based strategy multiplayer game in which winning or losing depends more on wits and intelligence than frenetic finger tapping or split-second reflexes. AErena: CoC is one of my favorite real-time competition eSport titles I've sunk my teeth into lately, so when the opportunity to sit down and chat with Jan Wagner of Cliffhanger Productions, I jumped at the opportunity. What follows is an interesting dialogue that will give some insight into how mobile is changing the face of modern gaming and how games like AErena: CoC are making an impressive case for mobile games breaking into the professional-level, high-stakes eSport circuit, a circuit that has up until now, been dominated by console and PC platform games.

An Interview with Cliffhanger Production's Managing Director, Jan Wagner.

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iPL: How would you describe the tactical strategy gameplay of AErena: Clash of Champions, to a gamer who has never heard of it?

JW: AErena is an intense game of strategy; it is a mixture of classic MOBA games such as LoL or DotA and speed-chess set in a unique AEtherpunk universe where you pit your team of champions against the opponent’s in turn-based but fast paced battles. In AErena you need to win with your brains, not with the speed of your fingers, but the matches only take about ten minutes each. AErena has some unique elements, such as the ships and [power] shells that players can bring into combat and our unique inverse power mechanic, which keeps matches from tilting to one side, often until the last second.

iPL: I think this game is awesome; it's groundbreaking and addictively enjoyable. One thing I noticed right away though was the lack of cloud saving, meaning I can't pick up my iPhone and continue at the level I was playing at on my iPad. Are there plans to introduce cloud saving capabilities to this game for multi-device playability?

JW: Thanks, first of all, we put a lot of thought and love into it and that does show, I think. Technically we are already capable of doing cloud saving, the main issue is with payment across various platforms. Platform holders are a bit picky about this and we would need a universal log-in, so you could truly play on any device. We are working on that.

If you are unable to see the AErena: CoC gameplay video above, click HERE.

iPL: What do you say to the critics of the popular freemium model of mobile games? How does AErena keep a balance so that players who are willing to pay real world money to advance don't dominate the game arena?

JW: I think free-to-play does not need to be evil; it is just that a lot of the games we see are purely geared towards milking players in the most extensive way possible. As gamers, we hate that. Of course we also want to sell our players stuff; it’s how we make a living. But it is very easy to not give paying players a massive advantage: Never sell power. In AErena, there is no power progression, we don’t sell “better” champions or shells for money and we don’t have any game elements which cannot be obtained with in-game currency. Basically paying players can buy skins or save time by paying with hard currency instead of saving up in-game money to buy champions. But we always give every player enough champions to compete and we also rotate those, so you get to try each champion even as a non-paying player. And since the game is all about skill, each champion is as good as another. A player owning all champions just will be more versatile when it comes to creating new strategies, but that is no replacement for skill.

iPL: What was it like having AErena represented at such a high level gaming event like Gamescom 2014? What was the public response?

JW: We were very happy with it. Our ESL appearance was a great experience and we will work together with them more in the future to make this an actual e-sports title on mobile. We also raised heads among some publishers in Asia who are looking for a way out of the mass of copies of tower defense titles or card battlers and for something more original.

iPL: What kind of prizes (if any) were awarded for the AErena winners at Gamescom?

JW: As we only did show matches at Gamescom, there were no prizes. But we reward our league season winners with tablets or 3D figurines of our champions. Our first season winner also got to design a new champion with us, another one made one of our maps. So we want to work closely with our community.

iPL: Will AErena be showing up at any other major eSporting events over the course of the next year?

JW: We may. Our partnership with the ESL is going to continue, so we are hoping for more prominent appearances soon.

iPL: What else can we look forward to in future updates from this addictive strategy game?

JW: Well, our next releases for AErena are going to be with partners in Asia, so we have to focus on managing that for a while, but we continue to create new champions (we released three in the last two weeks!), maps and ships. We are also looking at a more extensive campaign for single-player and a few more social elements.

An Interview with Cliffhanger Production's Managing Director, Jan Wagner.    

iPL: Does Cliffhanger Productions have any new games making their debuts in the near future, and if so, can you give any hints as to what you might have up your sleeve?

JW: Our next big one is going to be Shadowrun Online, based on the well-known tabletop RPG, which will is currently available on Steam Early Access and will make its way to mobile early next year. This is a multiplayer RPG (not an open world MMO, though) and we are working with the tabletop guys to make it a truly unique experience, since the collective actions of our players will influence the world of Shadowrun at large. It will also allow cross-platform gameplay, so you can co-op with your friends across devices.

If you can't see the embedded video of Shadowrun Online, click HERE.

iPL: I've seen a little of Shadowrun Online; iOS gamers are in for a real treat when that becomes available.

JW: Thank you for the kind words and we are happy to see our game being well received!

iPL: Mobile gaming is still in its infancy, relatively speaking. That said, we've already seen the mobile gaming sector begin to give the more established console and PC gaming models a significant run for their money. As a tech journalist I believe that not only is mobile gaming here to stay, I suspect it will become a dominating force on the professional eSport circuits before long. Can you share with our readers some of your insights as developers, as to where professional level mobile gaming is heading? Do you envision a time when mobile gaming is as competitive and brings in the high cash prizes that console and PC games like Dota2 or LoL are capable of generating?

JW: We firmly believe mobile eSports is going to become bigger as mobile gaming evolves and platforms become increasingly less relevant as a differentiator. Mobile eSports to me is more democratic and open (more people have access to a mobile device at any time of day than to a PC) and if you look towards Korea, there are a bunch of mobile games being played competitively on the big screen. I think mobile gaming will be a great entry point to the world of eSports, which can at times be a bit elitist currently, and open it up to a mass movement.

iPL: Thank you for your time Jan! We appreciate it and can't wait to see what the future holds in store for Cliffhanger Productions.

An Interview with Cliffhanger Production's Managing Director, Jan Wagner.

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As Senior Gear Editor at iPhone Life, Dig reports on the latest and greatest accessories built for the iOS ecosystem. From rugged gear and Bluetooth speakers, to headphones, unique iDevice cases, and iOS remote controlled vehicles, Dig's articles cover a wide range of great gear for the iPhone and iPad. A core gamer for over three decades, Dig also writes iPhone Life's Game Centered column, which focuses on the best iOS games and game related news. Additionally, Dig's company, iDoc Tech Support, offers web design and administration services as well as iPhone and iPad repairs. When not at his work desk, Dig loves spending time with family and enjoying the wonders of nature. You can follow him on Twitter @idoctech