“Horses are already magical, they don’t need fairy dust!” — Interview with the team of Equestrian: a Horse Game for Adults
Writing about horse games can sometimes grow a little tedious. Many of the games I play feel like wasted potential, and all too often I see evidence of developers and publishers setting the wrong priorities and getting the most basic things wrong about horses.
By stark contrast, watching the social media updates of Equestrian The Game has been an absolute delight. Equestrian is an upcoming free-to-play mobile horse game, and based on what we know of the game so far, it’s made by people who get it.
The Mane Quest reached out to developer Kavalri Games and found a kindred spirit in the team’s Vice President and Co-Founder Molly Ericson. Learn what to expect from the game right here:
Don’t Worry Loves, The Kavalri’s Here
Ericson describes her role in the team as “doing a little bit of everything”. She holds talks, meets with investors and manages budgets at Kavalri Games. Although co-founder and CEO Axl Söderhäll Anderson has some experience in riding, Molly says she is “the only full-fledged Equestrian” on their six-person team. This makes her the best fit for what she calls her most important job: owning the vision and direction of the game.
While we will only be able to judge the success of implementing that vision once the game is out, it’s already plain to see that Molly is doing a fantastic job of communicating the game’s appeal over social media: Equestrian has over thirty thousand followers on Instagram, and a smaller but no less active following on Facebook, where they share pictures and videos of their development process on a daily basis.
The tone in the comments they receive is one of excitement and impatience: many details about the game - including its release date - are still TBD, and every post is flooded with questions about features, platforms and when one will finally be able to play.
The development on Equestrian started back in Fall 2017, Molly tells me. At the time it was only a part-time hobby project. A year later, Kavalri managed to secure funding from Goodbye Kansas Game Invest, which allowed them to hire a full-time team in Winter 2018/2019.
“Since then, development is going way faster,” Molly says, although it is still too early to reveal a release date.
On the game’s website, Equestrian promises to feature the “most realistic horse riding in a game, ever”. Certainly a big claim, and one that will have to remain vague for the moment: “I can’t tell you in detail how the riding controls will work,” Molly says. “But they come from the perspective of an equestrian which I think is quite rare for a horse riding game.”
This estimate that horse game mechanics are all too often made by people who have little to no experience with riding is one I’m unfortunately inclined to agree with, based on what several developers have told me.
“In many games the horse behaves kind of like a car,” Molly elaborates, “The controls are often totally disconnected from what actual riding is like.”
Although much of the material released so far focuses on Dressage, Equestrian will also feature Show Jumping and Trail Rides.
“The game includes elements of management, sports and certain role-playing,” Molly says. She goes as far as naming sports games like FIFA as an inspiration. “I thought there should be an ambitious sporty game like that, but for horse lovers.”
Kavalri has already shared animations of dressage maneuvers like leg-yielding, shoulders-in and travers, which horses and players will be able to learn.
“It’ll be some kind of learning process,” Molly reveals. “Once players can perform these movements, they are free to do so whenever they want to - for example when going on a trail ride.”
“There will definitely be a sense of progression,” she tells me. Narrative elements are not a focus, on the other hand: “It’s all about building your own equestrian career, not following a certain storyline.”
Whether or not the game will include horse care mechanics and any sort of hoof picking minigames is not yet certain. “But I can tell you that I personally hate it when horse games make me do stable chores and grooming over and over again. It gets tedious really quickly when that’s something you’re forced to do all the time.”
With the grooming minigame question out of the way, I ask about details on how breeding will work in the game. Horse genetics are notoriously complex, and representing them with any degree of accuracy in a video game is a challenge: “We’re really excited about how our horse breeds work!” says Molly. “Of course, we’re not creating a breeding simulator but a horse game. The genetics need to be good enough to make sense — for example that foals receive the correct coat colors. And of course, we follow conventions for allowed colors, horse size and exterior within each breed.”
The last point may sound self-evident, but we know from games like My Riding Stables (2018) and its palomino Friesians that including horse breeds does not necessarily result in their accurate portrayals.
When I first posted about Equestrian on The Mane Quest, a commenter asked whether or not horses would age and die in the game: Molly confirms that they will age, and elaborates: “I'm actually not sure if they will eventually die or just be retired. Perhaps it's just too heartbreaking to have your long-time companion die. But I'm all for realism, so I think I'd prefer them to. Perhaps players could keep a memorabilia of sorts of their deceased horse?”
She adds: “We haven't completely made up our minds about this yet, so suggestions are welcome!”
A Horse Game for Adults
One of Molly’s primary motivations in kicking off the project wass dissatisfaction with what was already available in the genre — a sentiment I can understand all too well. “I always looked for the ultimate horse game,” she tells me, “but so far I haven’t found it. That’s why we started Equestrian.”
Kavalri deliberately sets their project apart from the pegasi and unicorns often seen in horse games: “There should be an option for adult and teen horse lovers who want a more realistic experience. Horses are already magical, they don’t need fairy dust!”
While I believe one doesn’t to be a child in order to enjoy fantasy horses and unicorns, I definitely agree with the idea that the gaming industry is neglecting adult equestrian gamers.
“The market is so underserved,” Molly says. “Especially when it comes to more mature audiences. But even horse games for a younger demographic are often low in quality and show a lack of passion behind them. There need to be more developers who actually care about horses and horse-loving players.”
Despite the focus on realism, Kavarli Games does not intend to limit their audience to real-life equestrians: “I think it will be enjoyable for horse fans no matter their horse expertise or gaming habits.”
Equestrian is going to be a free-to-play mobile game. In-App Purchases will be of cosmetic nature, Molly confirms. “Since the game is multiplayer and you can compete against others, we need to avoid purchases that give players an advantage.”
Although the game will launch on mobile phones first, the Kavalri team sees potential in other platforms: “Our plan is to eventually have the game on PC and console as well.”
Beyond that, Molly says she has more ideas for horse themed video games that she and her team may like to make some day. “I think there’s plenty of space for horse related games. Horses are obviously popular and it’s time for the games industry to step up their (horse) game!”
The team attended Game Developers Conference in San Francisco in March 2019, where they were able to talk to various industry people about their plans, even if the game itself was not exhibited yet. “It was received very well!” Molly describes their GDC experience. “Even people who don’t like horses see the potential of a realistic horse game.”
For closing words to our interview, Molly adds: “Me and the rest of Kavalri Games are so excited about Equestrian and our growing community and we’re working hard to bring the horse lovers the game they deserve!”
A Promising Future
In many ways, Equestrian seems like a dream come true for horse gamers. Finally, a passionate team tackles this subject with the considerations it deserves. Whether the game will live up to our high expectations remains of course to be seen, especially considering how much of the mechanics are still undefined, or at least unannounced.
But considering the state of the horse game genre in general (find more of our reviews here), Equestrian is without doubt the most promising project out there: a horse game made by horse lovers, aimed at adult horse game fans.
Equestrian The Game is still in development and will initially be released on mobile, with PC and consoles coming later. An exact release date has not been announced yet.