Nestled deep within the bowels of Earls Court, sandwiched between id Software’s Rage and Bioware’s The Old Republic, is something superficially out of place at a gaming convention. It is a videogame, no less, but there’s hardly a lack of those at the Eurogamer Expo. What’s unique about this one however, is it requires an active connection to Facebook to play.
This is Bossa’s little patch of Earls Court and the game being demoed is Monstermind, their free-to-play Facebook title currently sailing through open-beta. From what we saw, Monstermind looks to be a game about testing the bonds of friendship. The goal: to establish a thriving city while simultaneously laying siege to the neighbouring towns governed by your Facebook pals. You do this not by getting your own hands dirty but by unleashing your own private rabble of B-movie monsters who put in the hard work, leaving you to sit back and giggle at the calamitous mischief unfolding (or throw down some turrets ready for the inevitable reprisal). It all seemed like rather good fun.
Bossa’s positioning at the Eurogamer Expo is either a staunch statement or a stroke of luck but whichever it is, the fact that they’re flaunting a Facebook game in the company of Rage, Modern Warfare 3 and a few dozen other powerhouse franchises is a testament to how strongly the team believes they’ve created the very first Facebook game for core gamers.
That’s a line Bossa are keen to peddle so we stopped by to harass snazzy co-founder Henrique Olifiers by asking the following questions, which are mostly geared toward how Monstermind has been designed with the hardcore in mind.
You’re looking to distance yourself from the stigma attached to Facebook games with Monstermind. What features are there in the game that have been designed to entice the hardcore gamer to play?
Henrique Olifiers: The first thing that appeals to the hardcore gamer is the fact that it’s real time multiplayer. We have proper PVP here. The idea is that you build a city in a kind of tower defence arrangement where you have to have the defences very well laid out to protect it from the B-Movie monsters that your friends are going to launch against you. So there are two strategic points to this game. The first one is how to build defences well because my friends will want to destroy my city because they gain XP from doing that. Of course, if I happen to be online I can react to the monsters in real time by launching missiles etcetera. And secondly I want to visit my friends and raze their city because every time I do so I earn XP. But also it’s fun just to point in their faces and say you suck, I just destroyed your perfect strategy.
So if you log off from Facebook, is your city still there? Can people still attack you?
Yeah. There are two elements to the game. There’s the offline element where my city has to defend itself. So I have things like mines, where my friends don’t see where I’ve buried them, and all the turrets which work when I’m offline. But when I am online I have more stuff to do. I have more options to defend the city when I am here. Against this (he gestures to the player next door who’s currently levelling his rather large city) there’s not much I can do. This guy is probably spending a million here.
Micro-transactions are typically how Facebook developers make their money. How are they integrated into Monstermind?
Our game is a little bit different from other games. There’s pretty much nothing in the game you can only buy with micro-transactions. You cannot buy the in-game currency with real money. This is gameplay currency and you can only get these coins by playing well. But if you want to you can buy stuff with Facebook credits, which is real money. Either because you want to speed things up or you want more of the same thing. It’s up to you.
So there’s no disadvantage to the player who doesn’t want to pay real money to play?
No, no. You have access to pretty much the same things. What happens is some people have more time to play than others, so they can offset that. Especially in this game where there’s no such thing as energy. Other Facebook games have energy and they stop you playing for long periods of time because they want you to come back over and over and over again. Here you can play for as long as you want. There’s nothing stopping you.
How do micro-transactions influence the design team when they’re coming up with ideas?
It influences a bit. We cannot just make a game without micro-transactions and then strap it on top, it doesn’t work. It has to come from the beginning. But it doesn’t influence us in a way that, say, we make the best weapon but only make it available through micro-transactions. We try not to be too evil. It depends on your play style. If you have loads of time to put into the game you won’t ever have to spend money on it. But, especially on the single player missions, if you want to go through them very fast because you want to unveil the story you can accelerate it by spending money.
There’s much emphasis on the hardcore but Facebook is still a hotbed for casual gamers – for want of a better word. Presumably you’re still catering for them?
Yes. The game is easy to pick up. We had a 5 year old playing the game just now and she was wrecking the guys here. But the depth of the strategy of the game is pretty deep. For instance, if I use a monster that takes down roads and he happens to destroy this road here (he deletes a piece of road to which a few buildings are directly attached) everything that is connected to the road goes offline. So it’s not just a matter of let’s launch as many monsters as I can, you have to think about where you’re going to put these monsters because there’s good strategy to it.
There is a little bit for everybody. If you just want to launch a few monsters against your friends you can do that for the very casual experience. But if you want to be hardcore in the way that you defend your city and wreck your friends you can do that too.
Monstermind’s been in open-beta for a couple of days now, how has the reception been so far?
We already have more than 5000 people playing it every day and we haven’t even advertised yet. We’re just here.
So with that in mind is the free-to-play model put to use in Monstermind something you’re looking to carry over into future Bossa projects?
Oh yes. Free-to-play is the way forward. Every other game that doesn’t have free to play that is online is trying to get it in. You see Lord of the Rings, all those guys are chasing this like hell. Even MMOs, a few MMOs have subscriptions but most of them are moving to the free to play models. That’s the future. I think it’s fairer. If you don’t have the money you can still play the game.
Many thanks to Henrique for taking the time to answer our questions. You can play Monstermind here and I’ll be taking an in-depth look at the B-Movie monster mash-up sometime in the future.