Exclusive: RAID: Call of the Arbiter executive producer talks adapting hit fantasy game

RAID: Call of the Arbiter. Image courtesy of Plarium.
RAID: Call of the Arbiter. Image courtesy of Plarium. /
1 of 2

RAID: Shadow Legends is a dark fantasy video game from Plarium where players battle it out using a wide range of champions that draw inspiration from mythology and fantasy. In the five years since RAID was launched for mobile and PC, it’s established itself as one of the most prominent games of its kind; it currently draws in around 1 million players daily. It’s a collection-based RPG where players gather champions from a list of over 700, battle with other players, and customize their characters to best suit their goals.

Soon, RAID will be branching out into new territory with an animated series. RAID: Call of the Arbiter will consist of 10 five-minute episodes which will air weekly on YouTube, expanding on the characters and lore. In many ways, this seems like a logical expansion for the game series; similar to Arcane, which is based on League of Legends, RAID features a long list of characters that fans have grown attached to, many with backstories that have never been fully explored before.

We spoke to Plarium creative director and RAID: Call of the Arbiter executive producer Nicholas Day about the seriesthe idea behind creating an animated show, which characters viewers can expect to see, and more. Read below!

DANIEL ROMAN: Nick, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us today about RAID: Call of the Arbiter!

NICK DAY: Thanks for having me. We’re counting down the hours to the premiere over here and rereading all the comments on the trailer. It looks like people are excited!

DR: Starting off, I was wondering if you could talk just a little bit about your personal journey with RAID: Shadow Legends, and how you would describe the game for readers who may not be familiar with it?

ND: RAID has been part of my life for a little over six years now. I was Creative Director at the Kharkiv studio back when the team started the first early internal builds back in 2017, and stayed with it through global launch in 2019 and every new update leading up to the game’s fourth anniversary in March of this year. I’ve been working with the core game team behind it in Ukraine since 2011, so calling it a “journey” sounds about right. I pretty much see it in my sleep at this point.

This game and its fanbase have been through some staggering life events — including working on it through the war in Ukraine. Teammates were working on it via Starlink connections. In new homes in Poland and Germany and Spain. We’re still working on it now from multiple countries across five time zones. Amazingly, the game has stayed up and moving forward the whole time, which is just an incredible testament to the people behind it. To say it’s been a wild ride would be an understatement — and it’s still going.

If you don’t know RAID: Shadow Legends, it’s a dark fantasy turn-based role-playing game for mobile and PC, (or what some people refer to as a card collection role-playing game). The basic idea is that you collect and build teams from more than 700 warrior characters to overcome different bosses and game challenges. It’s about knowing the skills, attacks, and defensive moves of the characters, building the right teams with the right synergies between champions, and building the right teams for the right challenge. It’s easy to get into, but it’s incredibly layered once you start getting into the higher levels.

In terms of setting, story, and art, the RAID universe is basically a great big dark fantasy sandbox. We think of it as “dark fantasy untamed;” a messy world that pulls freely from the best of all of them. Japanese mythology can mix with Tolkien-esque high fantasy. Eldritch horror, children’s fairy tales (like, the grim Hans Christian Andersen versions), and dark subversions of classic tropes — all set against this millennia-old conflict. You’ll need to use good guys, bad guys, and everything in between. Pretty much anything can happen here.

RAID: Call of the Arbiter. Image courtesy of Plarium.
RAID: Call of the Arbiter. Image courtesy of Plarium. /

DR: How did it become apparent that an animated series was the next step for expanding on the RAID universe? Can you talk a little bit about the genesis for the Call of the Arbiter project?

ND: It started with the community feedback on the game’s characters, but I’d say it really crystallized when we started getting thousands of comments on social media about our CG commercials.

RAID’s biggest single killer feature has always been its character design. The characters are unquestionably the stars. Our concept artists put crazy levels of visual storytelling into each character and faction — there’s an obsessive attention to detail, and a story behind that character in the artists’ heads that informs where it lives in this rich, organically interconnected world. The problem was that we never got those stories out of their heads and in front of players, because we’d made an early development decision to not do individual backstories for more than a handful of characters, or do much of a story beyond the early game campaign.

We realized our mistake when we saw how many players were asking for more character backstories on our community channels and forums. So, our community team started putting out long-form lore, and the fandom ate it up. Pretty soon we saw this whole emergent content economy, with players writing their own fanfiction and filling in the timelines.

What finally tipped us over into an animation project was when our CG commercials came out. We started getting thousands of comments asking for a show, or a long-form web series — and not just from our players, but from people who had left the game but still wanted to see more of the characters; even from people who only knew them from the advertising.

At this same time, we’re seeing animated projects like CastlevaniaCyberpunk: Edgerunners, and early noises about Arcane. Animated adaptations of games weren’t just happening — they were good. That’s when we thought, “Ok, let’s start filling out that world. Let’s see what doing this in another medium looks like.”

DR: I want to talk a little bit about format, because you’re doing something interesting there. RAID: Call of the Arbiter is a limited series which will consist of 10 five-minute episodes, released weekly to YouTube. What made Plarium decide on the shorter runtime, and that YouTube in particular was the right platform to get the series out to your fans?

ND: The length and format is based on the fact that what we’re doing now isn’t actually the end goal. Call of the Arbiter is a high-quality proof of concept. If this goes well, we’re already sitting on the scripts and story bible for two full seasons of full-length episodes.

Ultimately, the dream here is to do a full-length series with a streaming partner, but we wanted to take an intermediate step to really understand the process, how to work with our assets and storytelling, find the right partners to do it justice, and — most importantly — to really show that the audience is there. RAID: Shadow Legends is massive — but it’s still relatively niche compared to League of Legends or some of the other game franchises [out] there. Angry Birds is the only other mobile-first game that’s done something similar. We want to show that this is something people want to see.

With that in mind, we decided to self-produce it so we could keep our creative freedom. We felt that five to six minutes was the ideal length for us to not cut corners on production quality, tell a satisfying story, and connect it together to form a cohesive narrative. This felt like the sweet spot to give audiences a sense of what a full series could be like. That weekly cadence was designed to make a schedule the game team could support to make this something really fun for our players — every week has a new episode, and a new content drop in RAID: Shadow Legends.

As for choosing YouTube as our platform, that was a no-brainer.

We wanted this to be free and accessible to anyone who wants to see it, on mobile, on connected TV, on PC, in-game — everywhere. YouTube is where you go for that. We’ve been partners with them on RAID from the beginning, they were hugely supportive, and it also supports the 2:1 aspect ratio we wanted to make it in.

It’s absolutely a unique approach — we’re excited to see how it works. I’d say the most unique part is how we’re releasing it to players in-game, and syncing the release of a ton of interconnected game content in lockstep with each episode. It involves a lot of moving parts, and we haven’t seen many examples of others doing it that way before.

RAID: Call of the Arbiter. Image courtesy of Plarium.
RAID: Call of the Arbiter. Image courtesy of Plarium. /

DR: Plarium has assembled a pretty solid team to work on the series, with former Marvel Television and Animation president Eric Rollman serving as a producer, Jay Oliva of Lex + Otis animation studio serving as showrunner, TeamTO providing additional animation, and Assassin’s Creed and Borderlands composer Jesper Kyd creating the music. Were there any particular highlights for you about the broad collaborative effort to bring RAID: Call of the Arbiter to fruition?

ND: Working with this team has been incredible. Eric and I worked on this from the very start, setting up the approach, and we both really saw it start to click when Jay and the writer, Kendall Deacon Davis, pitched us their script. We’d seen a lot of greaet treatments, and they were the last team to pitch us.

Now, we’d only asked them to pitch us a one-page presentation. They proceeded to walk in and pitch us the entire first half of Call of the Arbiter more or less as we’re releasing it, with artwork. They knew the game from front to back, they played the game, they understood what made it tick, and when they hit us with the twist in Episode 2 about five minutes in, we knew they were the right partners. I remember actually asking them “what happens next?” The decision was a done deal before we even ended the meeting.

Eric introduced us to TeamTo, who he’d worked with on Skylanders Academy. Of all the animation teams we talked to, they understood how to realize the vision and had the organization and talent to deliver at high quality, and on schedule. More than that, the individual creatives at TeamTo wanted to make the series, and were passionate about pushing into more adult animation and showing what they could do.

Overall, it has felt like a team from the start. It’s been fun. The creative back and forth is effortless and complementary, and everyone is so good at what they do and knows the game so well, I can’t remember any point where there was ever a question as to the vision.

The best moment for me was sitting in the screening room for the final mix of the first three episodes with Eric, Jay, and Jesper feeling the finished product for the first time, hearing the soaring orchestral score, and viewing it as the audience would. Hands down the best part of the whole thing.

At a personal level, it’s been surreal for me, because I’ve grown up with the work of these partners. Look at Eric, Jesper, and Jay’s IMDB and game projects. DC. Marvel. Assassin’s CreedHitman. I’ve spent the last two years working with the people who produced some of my favorite games, shows, and movies. It’s a ’90s kid’s dream come true.