EA Phenomic believes its co-op card-battler BattleForge could be the game to finally establish real-time strategy as an online gaming genre.
"RTS has never made that transition," producer Sebastian Nell told Eurogamer, highlighting the tremendous success of online RPGs like World of Warcraft.
BattleForge, however, is more of a hybrid; a mixture of MMO, RTS and trading card game.
There are raids, for instance; co-operative player-versus-environment maps for 12 armies featuring giant bosses guarding epic loot. In other words, upgrades for cards, to increase health, abilities and "anything that makes them a lot better". And cards, remember, make up your army.
So cards are the core of BattleForge, and represent units, buildings and spells (frost, fire, nature and shadow). There are no tech-trees or building queues. But instead, players pick 20 cards, pop them down anywhere on the map, and fight.
Retail copies of BattleForge will come with four pre-defined sets of cards from each of the four above powers. Owners will then be able to unlock 10 booster packs containing eight random cards each, "and we guarantee there's at least one rare or ultra-rare card in there," promised Nell. All that adds up to around 100-120 different cards from an initial collection of 200.
And then comes the tricky part: micro-transactions. That's how Nell and team plan to support and grow BattleForge inthe future.
"There have been some misconceptions around that; 'Oh the player who spends the most money has the most powerful cards and is going to win everything,' and, 'It's a rip-off,' and all that. No it's not," said Nell.
"We would be stupid if we did something like that. The community has to give us some credit that we are actually thinking about what we're doing."
The price of the booster packs is not defined, but, said Nell, "It's going to be less than a Magic: The Gathering booster pack that costs EUR 4."
"The past has shown, and other games have shown, that this is actually enough to fund a life service like BattleForge - and we see BattleForge as a life service," he added.
"It's not a fire-and-forget project, it's something that has a persistent value for the players to come back. And we will release new maps for free every month, and release new card editions in a not-yet-determined cycle. Those cards you will have to buy in booster packs."
Nell pointed out that players needn't "spend a single dollar" on extra cards, but can opt to use the in-game trading and auction system to shuffle their decks; cards can be attached to mails and then sent to and fro.
BattleForge is currently in open beta, with a release date expected sometime early next year. Over 2000 invites have been sent out so far, and servers have seen up to 1000 people playing simultaneously online. Final numbers for the beta are not decided.
Nell joked that he was after "trillions" when the game finally launches simultaneously around the world, but he's keen to incorporate as much community feedback before then to get everything tip-top.
There's also, apparently, a chance this may appear on consoles, although this will "definitely not be for a while". There is no DRM and three year-old PCs should run the game.
"If there's innovation on the PC, players will go back," concluded Nell, hoping you will feel the same.
Head over to the official BattleForge website if you fancy a go.
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