Outernauts is the long-awaited Facebook title from Insomniac Games, creators of the popular Ratchet & Clank and Resistance series for Sony games consoles. The new game, which is published by EA, launched into open beta late last week and has so far picked up 30,000 monthly active users and 7,000 daily active users.
Outernauts is a science fiction role-playing game in which players explore various mysterious isometric-perspective worlds, battle and capture monsters (similar to the popular Pokémon franchise from Nintendo) and work their way through the game’s plot, which is directed by quests. Along the way, players’ captured monsters will grow in strength following successful battles, and the player’s overall experience level will also increase, allowing them to construct additional buildings on their home planet. This in turn opens up access to additional content and special abilities.
Many people have been following the development of Outernauts with great interest, as Insomniac is an extremely well-regarded developer in the mainstream gaming space. The company’s console titles are favorites of many “core” gamers thanks to their memorable characters and strong senses of narrative. As such, a large proportion of core gamers were paying far more attention to Outernauts than they would to most other Facebook games, purely due to the developer’s pedigree.
Unfortunately, Outernauts’ heavy reliance on traditional social gaming formulae — an energy bar, regular “nag screens” to invite friends, “pay to win” mechanics — is likely to turn those core gamers straight back off the game as soon as they run across them. Core gamers who have the majority of their experience playing standalone PC or console titles have notably different expectations to those who primarily play social games, so while these mechanics will be no big deal to dedicated Facebook game players, they are not likely to make converts of the core. It is, of course, understandable why these mechanics are in there — the game needs to be monetized and promoted, after all — but to rely on such conventional formulae seems like a missed opportunity, particularly when these very mechanics are often the reason that core gamers give social gaming a wide berth in the first place. It would perhaps have been wiser to use a monetization model more similar to “free to play” downloadable PC games — visual customization and timesavers as opposed to the progress throttling and paid-for “cheats” that we have here.
This is a shame, because Outernauts is actually a very high-quality social game. It is well-presented and features gameplay that is a little deeper than the normal “click on things until they disappear in a shower of coins and experience” mechanics. The combat system, for example, demands that players carefully manage their party of monsters and ensure that all are leveled up appropriately. It also requires that player pay attention to the “elements” of each monster, as certain types are more effective against others — fire-type monsters are particularly effective against snow-type, for example. This required strategizing is somewhat undermined by the ability to immediately restore monsters to full health and stamina — or even revive them from “knockout” status — by expending hard currency, but this mechanic is optional, and savvy players won’t need to use it.
This leaves Outernauts in something of an interesting position. While its main “combat and exploration” gameplay may appeal to core gamers and casual social players alike, only one of those groups is generally willing to tolerate the heavy monetization and enforced social play that is layered atop the base play mechanics. The game’s high quality is likely to attract a relatively strong audience of social players (though monster-battling games tend not to make a huge impact) — but if Insomniac and EA were hoping to attract more core gamers to the Facebook gaming fold, this is probably not the way they should have gone about it.
A decent-quality game, but a missed opportunity to court (and retain) the core gamer audience.