PAX West: Duelyst Interview with Keith Lee

This year at PAX West 2016, I had the opportunity to sit down with a lot of game developers and designers to discuss recent updates and upcoming plans for their games. In the last few months, strategy card game Duelyst has really shot up in popularity and started to make a name for itself in the eSports scene. This is likely in part to the recent official launch, Steam application, and Denizens of Shim’zar expansion, but there’s got to be more to the game than that.

Even with all of these recent additions to Duelyst, it wouldn’t be so successful if it didn’t find a way to separate itself from the pack from all of the other digital CCGs on the market. With that in mind, I wanted to discuss Duelyst with the development team and figure out what makes it so much different and where the game is going in the future. Thankfully, I had the opportunity to speak with one of the most influential members of the team, Keith Lee.

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Nick Shively: Can you start off by introducing yourself and your role with Counterplay?

Keith Lee: My name is Keith Lee, I’m the CEO of Counterplay Games, and we created a game called Duelyst, which is a collectible tactics game.

This is the game’s first year at PAX West. The official launch was only a couple months ago and a brand new expansion just came out. How has Duelyst been received so far at the convention?

It’s been really really awesome to be able to connect with all the fans that we have in the area. In particular, most of the fans just love to drop by and say hello and talk about the type of games they like to play. Our team is very small, we have eight people on the team, so most of the people are here. It’s also a great internal company motivator for our team to actually talk face-to-face.

Often times, if you go just on the web, people have an agenda. Here, people can actually meet you and it’s a lot more personal. They know you as a human being, basically, versus just a corporate entity in some ways. It’s nice to connect and have them see us as people.

Is it difficult to stay so active on social media with such a small development team?

We basically have three or four jobs and we work on weekends. So we’re kind of busting at the seams. The way I see it is that it’s sort of like having cross disciplines where everyone knows if they’ve done that job before they can relate to each other. Everyone learns how to do coding, PR, write copy, design, and think about it from a business perspective. It allows everyone to appreciate each other’s roles but also get better in every single area.

What is Duelyst and how does it separate itself from every other card or strategy game on the market?

The biggest difference is that you have minions that you can move and attack on a battlefield, so it gives you this whole new layer of how to place or move your units that’s unlike any other CCG out there. People also have a deeper, emotional connection to their units and characters because they animate, move, and attack; they live and die on the battlefield so you feel a much more physical presence of the units.

Our biggest innovation is that every single match that you play online is between 5 to 10 minutes long. That’s been one of our key design goals that’s unlike any other turn-based strategy out there.


How did the team get the idea to create a game that combines a table-top atmosphere with CCG mechanics?

The inspiration for our game was that all of us kind of grew up in a different generation where we were introduced to a lot more turn-based strategy games. We played Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem, games that we really loved but they were mostly single-player campaigns that were very long. We were just curious if we could build a game that’s a turn-based strategy game that was primarily online and competitive.

Duelyst recently released a major expansion. What did it add that wasn’t in the core set and how has feedback been so far?

The player feedback has been very good. The original core collection was 400 cards and we introduced 100 new cards to the overall set. As a result of that, our main goal was to have a very wide variety of different deck archetypes that people can play. There tends to be sort of a gameplay style or decks that bubble up through time, and the idea is that we see certain decks that have viability but are missing one or two other cards that could make it viable.

So we looked at the ones that got really popular and then someone found a way to counter them. We added a lot of cards that support these archetypes that we saw had a chance to succeed. Then we also reinforced and supported older archetypes that needed more diversity. Our objective is that every time you play, you don’t feel like you’re playing the exact same thing.

Can we continue to expect new units as monthly rewards?

Every month we will always continue to release four new cards that are based on that season ladder. The monthly cards you get will be earned by ranking up through the month and we’ll be doing that forever.

We plan to release a new expansion every 3 to 4 months and every expansion will have anywhere from 40 to 90 new cards. Our philosophy is that we want to continue to support this game as long as we have a strong, vibrant community that wants to continue to play the game. We view our game as a living entity and we want to continue to evolve the game by seeing how the community plays.

The Duelyst eSports scene has recently exploded in popularity. Is this due to a push from the developers or is it more community driven?

We have two types of tournaments. We have super fans that want to run their own tournaments and they have their own opinions on how they want to setup the rules or formats. We give them different suggestions for formats, but they may not be as watchable or they’ll take forever to finish. Through time we’ve promoted the best ones and support them. We give them as much support as we can in terms of rewards and we’re one of the few companies that give in-game rewards for winning community tournaments.

Then we have our own official tournaments that are run by us. These offer official points that feed into a world championship and 10% of our proceeds for the Shim’zar expansion will be added to the cash prize pool that will be split out across different monthly tournaments.

Despite Duelyst’s popularity among its players and CCG fans, there’s still some negativity floating around social media regarding certain design decisions (or lack thereof). These include a belief that Counterplay might be moving away from its player-focused ideals by ignoring issues such as S-ranked ladder problems, hiding negative updates in patch notes, and other controversial changes within the game. How would you like to address these concerns from the community?

We want to spend a lot of time to filter everything that’s been said. We’re fully aware of those things. Every issue that’s been brought up, they’re not seeing the other side of those discussions. We’ve talked to S-rankers, discussed our schedule and when we’re going to implement changes, and why we’re going to do certain things.

Our players aren’t developers. They don’t know how long it might take to do a certain particular feature. Some people think it might take two weeks. So, us saying that it doesn’t take two weeks, it’s hard for people to understand that if they haven’t done it before. It’s not always just logical explanation, but it’s more just making sure they understand we’re going to talk to them and interact with them, and we have a timeline for what we’re going to do.

Well, that about wraps things up. Is there anything else you would like to add for our readers?

We plan to release on mobile at the end of this year. Now that Steam’s out, we have a lot of new players and we’re planning to release on mobile devices and tablets. We’re aiming for Q1 2017.

MMOGames would like to thank Counterplay Games and Keith Lee for taking the time to discuss Duelyst and its future plans with us. Please check out our full review on Duelyst If you’re interested in learning more. Additionally, stay tuned for more PAX West 2016 coverage during the next week.

If you have any comments or concerns regarding Duelyst, please let us know in the comments section below.

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About Nick Shively

Nick is an eSports and RPG enthusiast. He can normally be found in the deepest parts of a dungeon or in the arena slaying opponents. Nick has been a gamer since an early age and involved in the industry since 2011. He obtained a degree in journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2015.