Offensive Combat might look similar to other FPS games encountered in the past. Of course, most weren't embedded on Facebook and cost $60. Offensive Combat rides a new wave of freemium, or free-to-play, multiplayer shooters that raise questions about the future of the genre. While normally you'd need a console or high-end PC to jump into epic battles with a squad of buddies, we can now download a newer rendering engine, like Unity, and be in a match within minutes.
I am notoriously bad at shooters, however, so my time in a game like Offensive Combat is usually spent with my character's face to the floor. But here's what players like should be happy about, however: You can buy conveniences to help you stick around longer. Normally, it is frowned upon to sell such powerful items in the shooter community, but core social games like Offensive Combat are not necessarily aimed at hardcore shooter fans. Offensive Combat offers not only outfits and other low-impact items in the in-game cash shop, but also full weapons, buffs and healing items.
These items are a much-needed source of income and generally follow the best rule of microtransactions: If you're to sell an item, no matter whether it's powerful, sell that item from the beginning. Developers need to set the tone of the cash-shop early to craft the culture of the game. Players can be surprised when a game suddenly starts to sell powerful or very useful items in a game that normally did not feature them, but if that game is set up from the beginning to offer powerful items, then the player base has no reason to be surprised. The players are already comfortable with the decision to sell those items.
So, will we see console shooters soon sell their most powerful guns for real cash? It's very likely, even if the developers decide to separate servers between cash players and those who opt out. The fact is there are going to be more high-quality, browser-based shooters like Offensive Combat released in the future. The money that powerful items pull in is just too hard to resist. Gamers will slowly grow more accustomed to buying power, just as they are in the Chinese browser market. Newer generations are already more comfortable with the idea of virtual purchases, thanks in large part to the digitization of most of our media. There was a time when people were uncomfortable paying for a music file that was nothing but a series of numbers. Now, we can't imagine buying a physical copy.
What does all of this mean for the still-popular shooter market? It's possible that it will branch off into separate markets, like browser-based competitions (i.e. Quake Live) games. On one side will be the PC kids, on the other the console fans will stand. However, it's also possible that the browser market will create a brand new kind of player, one that is used to more challenging titles but also wants to be able to buy virtual goodies. With consoles growing more connected all of the time, it's also likely that the browser will connect all of them together across all devices. Offensive Combat is a perfect example of a game that is already garnering lots of attention. For proof, look no further than Jeremy Dunham, manager of community and narrative at U4iA, publisher of Offensive Combat and what he tweeted recently:
Offensive Combat now has 1 million registered players! To celebrate the milestone, U4iA Games is offering double-XP in the game all weekend long.
We can argue how many of those registrations equal real, participating players, but the game's success should be obvious. There are many players who are not only fine with Offensive Combat's social elements and that it's played on Facebook, but also with the fact that many of the items for sale would draw a completely different reaction from other shooter fans. Back to the original question: Will we see a future when all shooters sell the best weapons for a few dollars?
It's a big genre, so there will likely be different games with new payment models offered. We're starting to see free-to-play games offered on consoles now, so the invasion has already begun. However you feel about it, it will be interesting to see what happens to the free-to-play shooter market. While Xbox Live and other communities are large, do they have the numbers to stand up to Facebook's massive crowds? Is Offensive Combat a sign of the social shooter's popularity? We'll see. In the meanwhile, keep your head down.
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Beau covers MMORPGs for Massively, enjoys blogging on his personal site and loves social and casual gaming. He has been exploring games since '99 and has no plans to stop. For Games.com News, he explores the world of hardcore Facebook and social games. You can join him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.