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MMObility: The community portal of Grepolis might just be a model for the industry


Innogames' hit browser-based game Grepolis has been receiving some pretty exciting updates lately. It's one of my favorite MMORTS titles because it's simple to learn and can be played on practically any schedule, so I've really been enjoying the updates that have added music and sound effects, holiday mechanics, and more animations. There's a lot more to come, however, according to Grepolis' developer crew.

What sort of things? Well, besides the usual updates and additions to gameplay, the team is promising that how players interact with the community will change as well. Sure, plenty of developers have promised better communication and more interaction, but what Grepolis is promising might just be some of the coolest community tools yet. If they work, of course.

Recording of Grepolis theme song
The entire community project -- and emphasis on better communication -- is being called Grepolis United. "You will take part in development decisions more often," declares the recent developer video blog. As I mentioned, promising more connections and direct lines of communication between players and developer teams is nothing new. What would be new is if much of this plan is implemented. Generally, all we have as players is one of two choices: try to communicate ideas and wants for a favorite game across forums and petitions or simply leave the game in the hopes of finding one that listens to its players better.

According to the developers, the quality and uniqueness of a game can be achieved only by working as one big community. What size and how connected the Grepolis community is up for debate, but Innogames boasts the game has over 18 million registered players worldwide. With forums being filled with only a fraction of the playerbase -- 10% being a pretty standard amount for most MMOs -- than how do the developers plan on getting everyone involved?

1) Monthly voting for game developments: Players will be able to vote on list of improvements that are either suggested by the community or put up by developers. If this one is pulled off effectively, it will be one of those game-changers I mention in the title of this article. Getting players to vote while avoiding cheating (something that is very common in PvP communities) and actually delivering on voted-on improvements is going to be a major challenge, but if the devs do it right, this might just make Grepolis a pioneer in games community.

2) More developer blogs: These blogs will talk about upcoming features, how they work, and the challenges they face. Developers will also be more active on the forums, something that takes time away from development. If you don't think so, imagine answering dozens if not a hundred emails a day... and you might have an idea why developers hire someone just to work the forums.

3) Bug threshold: "If there are too many bugs in the game, we will stop implementing new features until we have significantly lowered the bug count," says David "Bruthor" Biedermann, the German community manager. This is another biggie, at least on paper. For all we know, most development teams already have this sort of threshold to watch out for, but the main drive of this new community involvement initiative is to become more transparent. Players will be able to see when development switches over from content delivery to bug-squashing. This sort of transparency might bite the Grepolis crew in the butt as players expect bug-squishing or development to cease but find that things do not always work out that way.

There are plenty of other new features promised in the video, such as...
  • Reward inventory: This will be used to store rewards so you can use them at any time.
  • Island quests: Players will make hard decisions while doing these quests. Should they be nice to a populace or exploit it? These quests will be tied to a challenge that will need to be conquered in order to complete the island quests.
  • Hyperborea transfer feature: This will use a saved copy of the previously conquered town and replant it on the safe server Hyperborea so players can learn a bit more about the game in safe environment.
  • Heroes: Leonidas, Helena, and others can be bought with currency that a player gets from island quests. These heroes can level up and give bonuses to a player's army. They can also be transferred from server to server!
  • Storyline quests: These quests need to be completed to unlock other heroes.
  • Full screen overview of the city: A better option for those who want to see more of their city.
  • Trade relations between two players: Self-explanatory.
  • Daily reward switched out with oracle prophecies: Instead of logging in and grabbing some extra resources or favor with a god, players will receive a prophecy. The details are still incoming.
  • More in-game animations: Again, self-explanatory.
  • Enhanced graphs and statistics: The goal here is to give players more information about their performance.
  • World wonder revamp: I'm happy to see this one simply because I have no idea how the world wonders work. It seems the developers are a bit unhappy with them as well.
  • Rebalancing update for the first time in Grepolis history: This will be a series of changes to the game in general, an update that seems to happen in other games all the time.
Grepolis screenshot
When you look at the list of improvements, it doesn't seem like anything new to jaded MMO veterans. But look closely and you will see some very large promises that, if done well, will be a great model for other large communities. I have to admit to being more than a little skeptical, though. Better communication has been promised by games since the dawn of MMOs. The fact that players can vote on fixes or content is great but only if the system actually works and players actually have that power.

It's great to see a browser-based company doing so much for its community. Every week I witness an undeserved reaction to browser gaming, whether it's from people questioning the quality of browser gaming to from gamers swearing that all browser games are the same. That's like me swearing to never play a downloadable title again because I had one or two bad experiences. The browser is capable of so much, just as much as any other delivery system. Innogames takes it all very seriously; here's hoping it actually delivers on these promises.

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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