Novel Seeks to Marry Casual Games With MMOs in “Empire & State”

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than just through “leveling-up” with gameplay hours. It’s different than other social, new wave MMO games, Olson says, because it “combines the needs of both players in a way that builds a better world for both players.”

By appealing to the casual gaming audience, Novel says Empire & State will open the doors for future, more traditional MMOs, to have mass appeal to a wider audience. That could include women who may have been mainly interested in casual games.

“One of the things that allowed women to adapt better to casual games was the accessibility online,” Olson says. That accessibility is what he attributes to the success of a number of casual gaming companies in the Seattle area, like PopCap, WildTangent, and Big Fish Games. Novel is incorporating that element into Empire & State by making it free and available for play online (rather than through a software download). Everything from the art style to the educational concept is designed to be relatable, applicable, and intriguing to a wider audience, Olson says.

“It’s a game that’s not all about killing, which is something that is unusual for MMO, and pushes a lot of female players away,” he says.

And while this game is first and foremost for entertainment, it shares characteristics with the second venture in Novel’s business plan—enterprise simulations for businesses. The idea is to create a Matrix-like virtual-reality system that companies could use to train employees, evaluate decision-making skills, or test management strategies. Novel won’t be delving into the specifics of its enterprise simulation plans until sometime in the next year, but Olson says the game is “leveraging the same tools and technologies that would actually be used by businesses in a way that would increase their efficiency.”

RC-130 War Drone from Empire & State.

RC-130 War Drone from Empire & State.

Olson and Marr say the feeling and experience people get from playing Empire & State feels sort of like living in the Wild West—people are building a civilization from the ground up—from their homestead, to the social structure, and government. If a character owns a business in one empire, and it’s taken over by another, that incentivizes that character to get involved in local politics within the game.

“We’re really dealing with real world issues here that haven’t been explored in games before,” Olson says. “It’s not the type of game where war means you go out with your buddy and fight a couple people in the street. War is regulated by a political and economic climate—it’s a different type of war concept for gameplay.”

Olson calls this environment ‘new frontier politics,’ and he says it has an opportunity to teach players a lot about real world relationships.

“That leaves a lot of room for interpretation of what’s moral and what isn’t moral,” he says. “On this planet, everything is up for grabs. Exploit what you can, and take advantage of what you can.”

That’s some pretty weighty stuff to consider about human nature. If Novel has found a way to truly bring this kind of experience to the world of social gaming, it could be a fascinating experiment in the character building of MMOs (both in the game and out of it) may just be the first signs of another new wave in gaming. What should we call it this time, meta-MMOs?

Thea Chard is a correspondent for Xconomy Seattle. You can e-mail her at theachard@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/theachard. Follow @

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