German browser-based online game developer Gameforge has announced that is has opened a new San Francisco office to spearhead the company's push into the U.S. market as Gameforge Productions Inc.
Interestingly, the company also plans to seek out U.S.-based developers of full-scale MMOs looking for a partner to localize and operate their games in Europe.
Gameforge's own core development specializes in free-to-play titles such as Ikariam and OGame, whose graphical game clients are run entirely in-browser.
Its games are large social worlds apparently aimed more towards the 'hardcore' PC gamer, with an emphasis on more complex gameplay with player-driven communication, alliances, and trading.
Ikariam, a Civilization-like game, will be the title on which Gameforge's U.S. division first focuses - OGame, which the company also runs, is a strategic space-trading sim.
Gamasutra has a chance to speak in-depth with Gameforge Productions Inc. president Lars Koschin, previously CTO of MMO portal Curse, about the company's products and plans.
Though many of Gameforge's titles are already playable in English, Koschin stated that there is less North American knowledge of this genre than there is in Europe, where Gameforge has seen considerable success. "We have some U.S. customers, but not enough," he admitted. "We want to make this kind of gameplay more popular. We want to bring more marketing, PR budget, and explain to people what these massively multiplayer browser-based games are."
Koschin spoke to a common preconception about web-based games, that they are often assumed to be simple puzzle games regardless of their genre - an image issue sure to be on the minds of InstantAction.com developer GarageGames as well. "Many people in the U.S., when I talk about browser games, say they're mini-games - but this is a real world, where you can build your cities, build your armies, and if you log out and you log in the next day, your island is still there."
MMOs, Casual, And Social Networking
The exec drew a distinction between these games and more traditional MMOs, however: "World of Warcraft, that consumes a lot of time - our barrier of entry is very low, so you can play right away without downloading a lot of stuff. You can decide how much time you want to invest in your game, and it's still fun to play. You can play from 10 minutes a day to five hours a day, but it's still fun to play."
When queried about Gameforge's target audience, and how it categorizes its own projects, Koschin drew parallels to casual games, MMOs, and social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook. "It's not like we do a lot of preexisting 'quests,'" he explained. "Most of the content is social interaction with other players. This goes from PvP to trading to just plain messaging and making friends - not just doing quests to achieve something, but achiving things with friends or with an alliance."
He added: "In Ikarium, we have shared resources on the island, so you work together with your friends or with people who live with you on this island. You have to talk to them and say, 'Hey, we have this lumber resource, and we can improve that if you spend some money on the god that protects our island.' This is the main point in most of our games - the social interaction."
"We are in between all these things - MMOs, casual, social networking - that are already on the market," Koschin continued. "You can decide how long you want to play, so if you play a big MMO - EVE Online, WoW - you can still play our game. On the other side, we are like a social networking platform. We are a new breed, actually having been around for a long time, but not as recognized."
Solidifying An Audience
Gameforge believes it can capture both existing gamers as well as some of the audience that currently devotes significant time to social networking sites, particularly with the advent of in-browser games connected to those sites.
Koschin commented: "People going to MySpace or Facebook know this concept of playing games or exchanging information through a web portal. That is who we want to target. The other kind of gamer we want is people who play Civilization single-player, and they work in an office and now have a chance to use this simple system for that kind of gameplay."
In Europe, the company has begun doing outreach to major guilds and player bases, as well as planning real-life player conventions and get-togethers. In the longer term, it hopes to build similar events in the U.S.
In addition to the promotion of its own projects, Gameforge is looking to market its experience operating more traditional full-scale MMOs in Europe to U.S.-based MMO developers that lack the resources to bring their games to Europe.
"We have a lot of games in Europe, so if someone wants to launch a game we are the perfect partners, since we have the contacts and the experience in almost every country in Europe," concluded Koschin.