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MMObility: Innogames' Fabio Lo Zito on cash shops, quality, and PvP


One of the greatest parts of my job is having the ability to take a peek into the minds of some of the industry's most creative developers. If an interview goes really well, I come away from it with not only a deeper understanding of mechanics or policies but some knowledge about the creative process. For me, MMOs represent a perfect storm of writing, music, art, and math; they click my creativity into hyperdrive. I couldn't write about MMOs if I didn't love them so much.

I'm not sure why I didn't notice German-based developer Innogames until relatively recently, but its lineup is more varied, challenging, and immersive than many of its rivals. It makes titles that offer a variety not only of gameplay but of accessibility. All of its titles can be played in a browser, and now a handful are available even on mobile.

I sat down with Innogames' Fabio Lo Zito during a livestream earlier this week to discuss what makes it all work.

Lagoonia screenshot
The West is one of the most interesting titles that Innogames produces. It is, obviously, set in the Wild West of American history, a time that I recently decided was the equivalent of Europe's fantasy settings or Asia's ancient past. In America, we have no real ancient past because our country is so young, but our Wild West works almost perfectly as a fantasy setting. Danger, loot, and the forces of nature all work together to create a fertile ground for players to explore. The West is Innogames' second game after Tribal Wars, a more primitive-looking (but still very deep) MMORTS that kicked off the whole thing 10 years ago.

Even after The West's recent graphical overhaul, the game is still easy enough to run on basic equipment. I can even run it on my tablet or phone, yet the mechanics wrapped inside have been designed so cleverly that I can jump in and feel very challenged. There are tons of quests to do, jobs to make money from, crafting opportunities, trading over immense maps, group fights and forts for PvP, and many other activities for almost every type of player. I can see now why The West is so popular, even with audiences that are nowhere near the U.S.

Although The West comes from what Fabio describes as a lesser-represented genre, even players who have no interest in that early-American setting could find the mechanics satisfying. While I have never really thought about the Wild West beside enjoying the occasional spaghetti western, the MMO has really turned me on to the possibilities. We should have more Wild West MMOs!

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Forge of Empires has been a huge hit for Innogames as well. The game comes from the more modern casual-social or "mid-core" (according to Fabio) genre, one that has seen huge successes in recent years. No, we're not talking about FarmVille. Mid-core can easily be explained as a genre that allows the player more choices in how to play than you would normally find. Although Forge of Empires could be considered a pseudo-MMO, I enjoy how much variety there is. While playing, I joined a group of other players but spent most of my time arranging my city to look pretty. Other players lay out cities for efficiency, a habit I call "stacking." It's the city-builder equivalent of min-maxing, but luckily Innogames smartly allows players to survive while having different goals.

On the hardcore end of the spectrum, we have Grepolis. You might have seen commercials for Grepolis or Forge of Empires while watching your favorite TV shows, a recent move that has paid off well for the company, according to Fabio. Grepolis seems simple enough at first; players build up armies and cities that reside on giant islands. Those islands are packed with a dozen or so other players, and if you're lucky, your neighbors will be friendly. Grepolis is a free-for-all PvP game, though, so you will most likely be attacked at some point. I have found that laying low, preparing a good defense, and knowing what to do in the case of an attack helps me. That is, until I forget to check into the game for a few days and come back to find myself destroyed.

The West screenshotLuckily, Fabio points out, I can play on one of a handful of servers that do not allow PvP. The response to these servers has been better than the developers thought it would be. I would point to the success of Ultima Online's facet split or EVE Online's safe(r) areas as evidence that free-for-all PvP is not always the best choice for players. Even with the hardcore gameplay, I find Grepolis to be wonderfully intense at times. When I am attacked, I leave a browser window open so I can see what happens, even though there are no real animations or explosions. As I point out to Fabio, Innogames' titles are chin-scratchers, games that make you think and have you imagining massive battlefields or moving massive amounts of goods.

We also spent some time during the interview discussing the studio's newest title, one so new it's not out yet: Kartuga. It's an action-based ship combat MMO that concentrates on stellar, Unity-based graphics and twitch combat. While I'm very excited to try it out, I have grown into a gamer who almost prefers more basic graphics and gameplay that is not based on reaction time. Having said that, I think Kartuga is just pretty. Massively has covered some of the recent ship classes, and I'm sure we'll be covering the game once it's released.

Innogames is definitely a one-stop shop for all types of gamers. One of the best things about a browser-based publisher is that you can literally open up a tab with each title running and switch between those tabs as the day goes along. You can also interview a developer as you play! I asked Fabio about the developer's cash-shop theories as well. According to him, the key is to balance selling powerful items, allowing players to earn those items in-game and making it all optional. Truthfully, I think the balance is there. In an intense PvP game like Grepolis, almost no real combat benefits come from the cash shop. A more casual social game like Lagoonia sells real benefits, but it's in the form of speeding up builds or unlocking hidden areas.

As I have talked about before, selling powerful items is not a problem. It's obviously a very successful formula, and as I predict, it will only become more popular because of the profits it pulls in. As long as developers are aware of the culture of selling powerful items and start off development with those powerful items in mind, gamers know what is involved.

Thanks again to Fabio for joining me on the livestream. Here's to another decade of gaming from Innogames. I'm sure I'll be there to enjoy them!

Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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