Whether you've sat at home on Saturday night watching COPS or stayed up just a little too late playing Grand Theft Auto, you cant deny the appeal of a good crime-themed game. Companies like RealTime Worlds and Vogster are attempting to capitalize on this by bringing games like CrimeCraft and All Points Bulletin to the MMO market. Can these games succeed in providing a diverse and exciting experience not found in other products, and what do they have going for them already? We'll ignore the nuances between the two and focus on what this genre can do in the MMO gaming world.
It only takes a quick glance at Nielsen ratings to see that North Americans are obsessed with crime and the drama surrounding it. People spend countless hours watching NCIS, CSI, and Without a Trace. While these games would deviate from the forensic side of things, the cultural foundation is there. Perhaps the Soprano's, The Shield or movies like Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels would be more directly applicable, but either way it appeals to those who don't "get" fantasy or science fiction. In fact, a European themed crime game with everyone speaking cockney would probably outsell World of Warcraft in the UK and even do well in North America.
A major benefit a crime themed MMO game has is it makes us want to play. What do I mean? Without delving into the complex theories found in textbooks, play is described as a range of activities individuals participate in for various reasons. In our case this would be to simulate the act of becoming either a hunter or the hunted for entertainment purposes. This might sound a little strange to think about in such terms, but it fits many games children play such as Hide and Seek. A blatantly obvious parallel would be that of Cops and Robbers where people on opposing sides attempt to catch or elude the other. CrimeCraft and APB directly appeal to these ideals and would fit many of our personalities like a warm glove.
This wouldn't be the first or even the hundredth foray into crime for the videogame industry. The wildly popular Grand Theft Auto series has proven that players will step into the shoes of a common criminal and lay waste to an entire city given the opportunity. On the flip side of this coin, The Need for Speed series, which let players step into the role of a police officer, proved players loved to chase the bad guy as well. While one could argue we see some of these elements in other games through an assassin or pirate guild, a modern day equivalent is unavailable. A home for do-it-yourself vigilantes and part-time thugs online is a completely unutilized venue and could take the market by storm.
An MMO game is only as strong as its community and although there might be more of a focus on solo play, human interaction is always a key to success. The potential for social interaction in something like CrimeCraft or APB is infinite. A full PvP environment might limit their customer base but the environment would be perfect for it. If they want a mixed environment, combat between player police and criminals could take place in instanced arenas like banks or warehouses to contain it. Factions such as rival gangs, police precincts, and vigilantes could battle for control of entire city sections. Also, live events could bring in additional variables such as the Yakuza or FBI guaranteeing there was never a dull moment.
Finally both these games could implement ground and vehicle based combat, something that has eluded MMO game developers for some time. Sure, every game has mounts, but what can you do with them besides move faster? The only games I can recall that effectively mixed vehicles and ground combat was SOE's Planetside and Funcoms Age of Conan. Muscle cars, police cruisers, and even dump trucks could promise no chase would ever be the same. Add in street races and getaways for good measure to insure people keep coming back for more. The task would be daunting and is almost like making two separate games, but the rewards are incalculable.
APB and CrimeCraft certainly have a lot going for them. A popular theme, heavy social interaction potential, and unique combat give both games an unprecedented opportunity to dazzle the community. Will they live in the shadow of other games or meet the already escalating expectations? As time goes on we'll hear more I'm sure, but until then we'll just have to live the life of Niko in GTA IV. Then again what do I know? I'm just the Comic Book Guy.
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