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CrimeCraft launches, producer responds to naysayers

Tracey John

You still may be knee-deep in recent news about an expansion for a little game called World of Warcraft, but there are also a few other games being released before then -- like CrimeCraft, for instance.

Developed by Vogster Entertainment, the crime-themed MMO (called a Persistent World Next-Gen Shooter or "PWNS" by its developers) has shipped and is available exclusively at Best Buy today. But ever since the gang-on-gang shooter's been announced, it's been criticized for just about every aspect -- its name, its business model, its crafting system -- you name it.

"You have to take it with a grain of salt," said senior content producer Mike Donatelli of the criticism in an e-mail to "Some people had a preconceived idea of what they wanted us to be. They thought we were [Grand Theft Auto IV] online, and it's just not the case... There are a lot of risks, which is the reason why you haven't really seen a game like CrimeCraft before."

As the former content design lead for Warhammer Online, Donatelli also spoke a variety of topics, including what he learned from his work at Mythic, what it's like to be at an independent developer and what we can expect for CrimeCraft following launch.

Having worked at Mythic on Warhammer Online, what kind of experience and ideas did you bring to CrimeCraft? How have you changed the game since you started?

I wear many hats here at Vogster. Design, production you name it. I like both shooters and MMOs and tried to incorporate as much interactivity as I could without unbalancing the gang/shooter gameplay. At the core, CrimeCraft is a shooter, but what makes our game different from a typical shooter is the wrapper of a persistent world that encompasses (and gives meaning to) the action. Moving off of a big content-rich game like Warhammer, I brought in some experience and perspective on adding value to the content outside of the action, which in turn enriches the experience of the shooter by giving it depth.

How was the beta? What kind of feedback have you been given and what changes have you made?

Beta was great. We were able to get some good feedback and metrics from all phases. We adjusted all the usual features, XP curve, droptables, spawnrates but were also able to dig into the weapon balance which is the meat and potatoes of CrimeCraft. It's an ongoing process to be sure, but we were able to test and debug all the systems that we will need to keep the game rolling while we continue to add content over time. Like all online games, the work is never done. We view CrimeCraft as a service that we are providing rather than a one off game that we are shipping. Beta helped us get to the point where we are ready to open the service up for business.

What changes have players asked for that you haven't been able to implement? Why? Will those changes come later?

We have a schedule of content updates, additional jobs, missions, abilities, and live events that are all scheduled to drop post launch, but are set up in a very episodic nature. While we were able to test the delivery systems for this content, we didn't want to let the cat out of the bag as far as story goes, so the players didn't get to see everything. We listen to all the feedback and are grateful for the passion that our community has shown.

First impressions mean a lot, and some people have criticized the game already, some who have played it and some who have not. Why do you think that is? Do you think their criticism is valid?

You have to take it with a grain of salt. Some people had a preconceived idea of what they wanted us to be. They thought we were [Grand Theft Auto IV] online, and it's just not the case. We tried to concentrate on squad-based, team-shooter gameplay, and I think we accomplished it. We're breaking some new ground; in a lot of ways, the genre blending into the MMO space is the Holy Grail of game design. There are a lot of risks, which is the reason why you haven't really seen a game like CrimeCraft before. That's a lot of expectation on what that means. We are taking a giant leap in the right direction to making that a reality and we get to continue to build towards it as we add more and more content and features to the game.

How do you respond to the naysayers?

Try it out. It's a shooter first and foremost. If you like shooters I think you'll like the gameplay. But remember it's a twitch game, if you have skill you will do well. It's definitely not attack a monster, go make a sandwich, come back and collect your loot. That said, we hope there is a significant overlap in people who like shooters and appreciate the social aspects of online RPGs. Those are our people.

CrimeCraft has partnerships with Best Buy for retail as well as various partnerships with Atticus and Mark Ecko for in-game items. How do you tread the fine line of supporting your game and turning off potential players?

We have the luxury of being thematically relevant. CrimeCraft takes place in the near-future where it is plausible (and likely) that many of the brands that are around today would exist then. We feel that having real world brands mixed in with the fictitious brands that we've created adds a cool immersive factor to the game. It doesn't take it away like you would find if a Best Buy billboard was ham-fisted into a sci-fi or fantasy world. Same with Ecko and Atticus. We're about being gangsters, we're about looking like a badass. Why not get some of the best designers in the world to make the fashion?

How did you decide on the business model of a subscription with micro-transactions? Are the micro-transactions strictly for vanity items? How do you convince players that they're getting a good deal?

We tried to figure a way to minimize the costs for your average player while still supporting a Live events team, CS department and dev team. We could have just launched it, taken the box sales and went on to the next project but we wanted to try and build a community inside of CrimeCraft. With the box purchase, in addition to the two months of game time, you get 250 Gold Bars (our real life currency equivalent). You can use those Gold Bars to try out the Black Market. Additionally, we include a pack of Gold Bars with your subscription fee every month so you can always have access to some items.

As far as which items will be on the Black Market, there are no weapons on the Black Market but there are a lot of cool looks there so you can make your gang, your character stand out. We're not making a game where the person with the deepest pockets is going to be the best simply because they can afford the Sniper Rifle of Doom™.

As an independent developer, do you feel that gamers are more or less likely to give your game a chance?

I would hope they are more likely to give it a chance. Independent developers don't have the wherewithal the bigger companies do. The art resources, marketing budgets and all that. That doesn't mean that they don't want to make a fun game, it just means you have to look for different ways to innovate within a design. It's just the nature of the beast. But certainly, for better or worse, larger developers have a track record of either success or failure that consumers can use to gauge expectations.

Since you came from a major developer, what are the advantages and disadvantages of being an independent developer?

You get to be edgier, take more risks. I came on to the project about six months ago and said, "Man I would love to design a system where a player could take that set of 'armor' they get in game and make it look like whatever they wanted. Really differentiate their character or gang look." And the response I got was, "Do it." And now it's in the game.

How do you think CrimeCraft will break through all the other MMOs out there and find the audience?

I think we will do well with the hardcore shooter crowd to be honest. Clans can come here and be provided a level of service that they could not get before. We run the tourneys, we provide gang management features, gang housing, leaderboards, Anti-hack, server hosting and Live CS. All the RPG features are just icing on the cake. We're not an MMO in the traditional sense, but at the same time, since we have so many social features in the game and our business model is so similar, the comparisons are inevitable. It's wonderful to see a bunch of new MMOs come to market that are taking some chances and breaking the fantasy mold. As World of Warcraft has shown, this market is huge and there is plenty of room for everyone.

I have to ask: how do you feel about being compared to APB? And how do you shake off the comparisons?

APB and CrimeCraft are alike in the fact that both games are instance-based and on the surface there are some thematic similarities. We have a persistent lobby and the action takes place in instances. APB has instanced action and instanced lobbies. They went with a more open-ended design. We went with a more skill-oriented, gang-centric tournament design. We want the game to be all about your gang and how far you can progress as a team, rewarding that team with in game and real-life rewards. We're a very different game, if you asked them, they would say the same.

Some critics cited Warhammer Online as a failure when its subscriber numbers dropped to 300,000 from launch. But just how big do you have to be in order to be called successful in the age of WoW?

That's the thing, even with 300K, WAR is successful. It makes a profit and allows the developers to create expansions. I think a game's success should judged by its merits and its community more than how many subs it gets. Everyone is racing to topple WoW at the top of the mountain when there are perfectly good hills all around.

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