Rovio's next chapter in their avian uber-franchise is going in a surprising direction. Titled Angry Birds Epic, the new game will be a turn-based, adventure role-playing game (RPG).
The company revealed in a teaser trailer last week that the new game would receive a 'soft launch' in Canada and Australia, with the rest of the world to follow afterward. The trailer itself was benign enough that no one could have guessed at the nature of the game. Even so, a proper turn-based RPG was fairly low on the list of possibilities.
According to Kotaku, the game will have a story-driven campaign and feature item crafting. That system will likely involve micro-transactions in some way. Players will be able to make armor, potions and weapons using resources earned through play, but that can also be bought with real money.
Rovio could easily have just churned out variants on the Angry Birds gameplay with sequels and spin-offs, as they did with Angry Birds Space and Angry Birds Star Wars, making tons of cash and no one would have held it against them. Though admittedly, those were some very quality variants. So it's very encouraging that the company is willing to take risks with their franchise, taking it in directions that perhaps current Angry Birds fans - and indeed the gaming community at large - wouldn't have expected.
If Rovio play their cards right, Angry Birds Epic could well be the seachange for mobile/casual gaming
An Aerie of Eagles
Three years ago, during the height of Farmville's popularity, I predicted that it and games of its ilk would be a sort of gateway drug for regular folks to fall into gaming proper. Initially, I pegged the conversion as happening within five years. I'm still confident that Facebook and mobile games are leaning toward that transformation, though maybe my timeline was a little optimistic. But games like Angry Birds Epic are a sure sign for me that I was on the right track.
Angry Birds is an immensely popular franchise that has widespread recognition and cultural cachet across a vast demographic of people. Regardless of the quality of this game, just the fact that its an Angry Birds game will get people to install it on their devices and they'll get an introduction to 'real' gaming, so to speak. As soon as that happens, they'll immediately have level-upped from casual to 'firm' core gamer, so to speak.
Once people start playing 'real' games, they'll want to play more of them and soon the label gamer will mean as much, or rather as little, as movie goer.It's a prospect that should excite the current members of the core. It's not going to happen suddenly with the adoption of Angry Birds Epic, but I feel like this game could be a crucial, if small step, in the larger cultural acceptance of gaming.
As peoples aptitude for gaming advances, so to will their appetite for more complex and fulfilling experiences increase. It won't be long before that imaginary line of casual and hardcore disappears. Of course, this all assumes that Angry Birds Epic will be complex and fulfilling experience.
A Venue of Vultures
That's very exciting, indeed it is. It's also an extremely terrifying prospect, because while it may lead to games getting greater cultural acceptance and mobile/casual games gaining a welcome layer of depth, I worry that it could also be grooming gamers for features I'm most uncomfortable with.
In-app purchase, F2P, microtransaction and freemium are practically swear words in the broader gaming community, with numerous editorials and feature articles written about them, usually in a negative light. Recently, the adoption of those kinds of systems in the Xbox One exclusive games Forza 5 and Ryse drew universal criticism. These are not systems that we need or want in our games, most especially if we've already paid R699 for the privilege of playing.
Microsoft tried implementing in-app purchases with Forza 5; I'm confident the outcry against it will see it scrapped for Forza 6. However, if casual players start graduating to consoles and PC's and they're already accustomed to these features, what happens then? Will the voices condemning the practice be loud enough to matter by that point? If the majority of gamers reach a point where they're OK with being gouged because they don't know any better, where does that leave those of us that do?
Dead Duck Gaming?
I may be giving Angry Birds Epic too much credit here. No one know for certain exactly how in-depth of an RPG it will be or how exactly its microtransaction will be implemented, if at all. But I believe both of these scenarios are coming, whether through the actions of Rovio or some other mobile developer.
Someone is going to make a console quality game on mobile eventually, here's hoping it doesn't bite us all in the butt.
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Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not MWEB Connect (Pty) Ltd