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GDC10: Massively's interview with Virtual Fairground

Rubi Bayer, @@rubi_

The idea of virtual worlds and MMOs based on established brands is not a new one, and Virtual Fairground is a company that's been in the market for a bit. They've had the time to fine tune the concept and find exactly what they want to offer their audience. We spent some time with Maarten Brands and Ilja Goossens of Virtual Fairground at GDC this week and heard all about what the company is working on and what their goals are.

Follow along after the jump to see what they had to say.

Virtual Fairground began with a very clear goal in mind: "We started the company at the end of 2007, he was more into social networking and the community side, and I was working as a more traditional gaming developer at the time. We just figured we should try and see if we could merge what [...] more traditional MMOs were doing with a more social, browser-based solution. We focused on browser based, flash based, virtual worlds, more casual MMOs. We focus on accessibility. [...]If you have flash installed you type in a URL and go, that should be it. We threw it open to a more mainstream audience."

In order to compete in the increasingly-crowded children's gaming market, Virtual Fairground focuses on developing for known brands instead of beginning an unknown IP. Their current project is Club Galactik, a virtual world and eventual MMO based on Galactik Football, an international animated television series. Club Galactik is currently in preview, and so far it's shaping up to be a perfect example of what Virtual Fairground hopes to accomplish with all of their projects in the future: What we try to achieve is that it's not only an MMO or virtual world, or only a TV series or a merchandising product. We try to bring everything together, so you have the merchandise that connects back to the world, you have the world that shows previews of episodes, things to happen, new announcements that will be shown in the series later. [...] Club Galactik will be on air, the new season, just before the World Cup, so for us that's a good momentum. We also will launch the MMO, because now we've just launched the virtual world. [...] We will also launch a trading card game that has a value in the real world, but also in the virtual world. So together with the IP owner, we're trying to launch a community for Club Galactik.

"The good thing is, we try to introduce some mechanics that are used in regular MMOs"

Virtual Playground has its eye on the younger crowd, planning to serve as an introduction to the MMO world. A combination of minigames, conventional MMO gameplay, and virtual world-style social interaction combines with familiar names to form an attractive package for kids. "The good thing is, we try to introduce some mechanics that are used in regular MMOs, like the quests which are more fetch quests. It's more to discover the world and to show them how mechanics work, then later participate in a football mechanic, which is basically playing football against each other. Leveling isn't like level 60 or 50, you get fame points, you get more popular, better sponsor contracts, nicer outfits. So basically it's the same as an MMO, only we put it in a different way. [...] It's not just a portal with access to ten minigames. We start the game with a quest. When you sign up, the first thing you have to do is a tutorial, which is basically a quest. In that way you get introduced to chat, picking up items, how to use your inventory, because it's quite complex to someone who has never played an MMO.

Virtual Fairground's attention to their target audience extends all the way down to the foundation of their games, with the ability to run on "really old machines, our benchmark is in the Pentium 4, 2GHz because that's the type of computer a kid gets from his parents or the older brother or the older sister." Since the games aren't 3-D, it allows Virtual Fairground to do more on a lower benchmark. The games are also designed to give parents a significant amount of control within the game as well, allowing them to define things like length of playtime, social interactions such as buddy requests, and so on.

Club Galactik will operate on a DDO-style combination of subscriptions and credit bundles. Players (or their parents) can choose between a subscription model which gives a monthly allowance of credit bundles, or a free model with the option to purchase credit bundles at their discretion. The spending threshold for individual credit bundles is very low in the beginning, making it appealing to those who are just beginning to explore the world. The Virtual Fairground team feels that Club Galactik is easily content-rich enough to support a subscription model as well. The subscription fee of "around five Euros a month" is much lower than the standard fee for larger MMOs, and Virtual Fairground promises enough new content on a regular basis to make it well worth the money. (The monthly allowance of credit bundles doesn't hurt, either.)

Club Galactik's virtual world is live now in a preview format, so players can look forward to new content being added continually, with the focus being on quality rather than quantity: "That is one of our main focuses, just a quality product. A lot of people are trying to get a product out there, and we're not trying to just get it out there, we want to make a quality product." That doesn't mean that you won't see anything for a long while -- on the contrary, the current virtual world will see a fair amount of new content by the end of the month. New room decoration themes, new minigames, and much more are on the way for players to explore. As mentioned before, the MMO will launch near the time of the World Cup in about three months so there is even more to look forward to in the coming months.

Thanks very much to Maarten Brands and Ilja Goossens for your time!

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