MOBA Games Come Of Age On The iPad With Hammer & Chisel’s Fates Forever

Tablets should hold the future of immersive, dedicated gaming. It seems obvious. But it’s taken several years for both the caliber of mobile gaming startups and tablet penetration to hit that inflection point.

2014 may be the year.

There are a few notable contenders vying to make the tablet’s definitive MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) game. You know, like those ultra-lucrative franchises like Riot GamesLeague of Legends or Dota 2, except on the iPad or an Android tablet.

One, which made its debut this week, is Fates Forever.

It’s from a very veteran team at Hammer & Chisel, which is led by Jason Citron. He sold mobile social gaming network OpenFeint to GREE for $104 million back in 2011. The game has the highly coveted Editor’s Pick slot on Apple’s App Store and opens with a lush, 3D sequence that took months to animate.

They debuted at TechCrunch Disrupt last year, and then went on to raise $8.2 million in funding led by Benchmark’s Mitch Lasky, who notably sold early mobile gaming company JAMDAT to EA for $680 million. Lasky has been involved in some of the bigger mobile gaming deals over the last decade, including League of Legends’ maker Riot Games majority sale to Tencent and NaturalMotion’s acquisition by Zynga.

Hammer & Chisel represented another big bet.

“We decided to take the time to really polish the game,” Citron said. “We re-make everything like five times before it’s perfect.”

They’ve started off with 11 characters (compared to League of Legends’ 110 characters). So far, they’ve made it into the top 10 free games and time will tell if the title monetizes well.

Given his background in mobile gaming distribution through OpenFeint, he hints that Hammer & Chisel’s ultimate model may not be solely about virtual currency sales from one or two titles. Fates Forever will be their primary title for the forseeable future, however.

“It fits into a broader vision,” he said. “I really believe that long lasting entertainment companies are distribution channels at the end of the day. Think about Nintendo, Valve and Pixar. The fundamental thing that these guys have is a distribution advantage. That’s our North Star.”

Hammer & Chisel won’t be the only company attacking this space, either. Super Evil Mega Corp. just picked up $11.6 million and former EA executive Kristian Segerstrale for an upcoming MOBA called Vainglory.

Citron pointed out that the PC MOBA market bifurcated into Valve’s Dota 2 and Riot’s League of Legends.

“It’s exciting, but I don’t know if our two games will fit that dichotomy,” he said.