The Xbox 360’s first free-to-play game Happy Wars hits XBLA

Developer Toylogic’s Happy Wars, which quietly hit Xbox 360’s digital store Xbox Live Arcade Oct. 12, is the home console’s first free-to-play game.

Happy Wars is multiplayer action game with a cartoon style in which two teams battle across variety of combat arenas. As many as 30 players can play the same match and choose from three character types — Warrior, Mage and Cleric, each with unique set of abilities.

As is the norm with many of the free-to-play games we cover here at Inside Social Games, Happy Wars monetizes by selling vanity items (outfits, skins and gear) and a special in-game currency (Happy Tickets) that can only be obtained by spending Microsoft Points, which cost real money.

At the moment it seems as if there is no way to spend real money to directly purchase items that will give users an advantage in the game, but players can spend Happy Tickets to enter raffles in order to have a chance at winning items with improved stats.

Inside Social Games usually doesn’t cover home console titles because those are traditionally closed platforms, but we will cover free-to-play games that employ the same monetization methods that are the standard on Facebook and other social, open platforms. With free-to-play games like DC Universe already up and running on Sony’s PlayStation 3 and more free-to-play titles like Ascend: New Gods coming to 360 in the future, we think releases like Happy Wars is part of an upcoming trend that is worth keeping an eye on.

You can look forward to our review of Happy Wars later in the week.

Draw Something takes Best Social Network Game award at GDC Online Awards

Zynga’s Draw Something won the award for Best Social Network Game at last night’s Game Developer’s Choice Online Awards ceremony.

This is the first time Zynga managed to take home a GDC Online Award, even though its games have been nominated for the past two years. Playdom snagged the Best Social Network Game award in 2011 for Gardens of Time and 2010 for Social City.

This time, however, Zynga had the odds on its side because three of its games filled the five nomination slots. Aside from Draw Something, Zynga Dallas’s CastleVille and Zynga LA’s Empires & Allies were also eligible for the award, as were EA Playfish’s The Sims Social and Cygames/Mobage’s Rage of Bahamut.

Social games also received another nod in this year’s nominations. Idle Games’ high-profile debut social title Idle Worship was up for the Online Innovation Award, but lost out to the critically-hailed PSN adventure Journey.


Ghost Recon Commander complements FPS action with social strategy gameplay and crossover content

Ubisoft is gearing up to launch Ghost Recon Commander on Facebook, the first game developed by Loot Drop after the studio’s Cloudforest Expedition was shelved last year by RockYou. The game is designed to interact with Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, a console and PC game releasing May 22. This is Ubisoft’s second Facebook companion game after 2010’s Assassin’s Creed-based Project Legacy.

Ubisoft VP of Digital Publishing Chris Early tells us that Ubisoft came up with the general theme for the Ghost Recon Commander, but was relatively hands-off when it came to designing the game’s mechanics beyond the idea of crossover content. Loot Drop co-founders Brenda Brathwaite and John Romero set out to create a Facebook game that would appeal to core gamers, while leveraging some of the lessons learned from Ravenwood Fair — the Lolapps game on which the two worked before forming their own studio. The game was shown for the first time to press at a private event at the beginning of the month.

Gameplay in Ghost Recon Commander requires players to establish and supply small squads of soldiers (“Ghosts”) that are sent on black-op missions, which include rescuing hostages, item retrieval and eliminating all enemies on a map. Each successful mission earns soft currency cash, which is used to buy new equipment for characters and to construct a base, which supports the squads. Replaying these missions increases the player’s cumulative score, which increase star ratings and net larger rewards. The game will launch with one campaign containing 10 missions, but more missions will be added soon after.

The squads are the main focus of gameplay. Squads can have up to three squad members on a mission, filling these roles either with hired Facebook friends or with generic characters supplied by the game. Different character classes provide varying squad bonuses like more critical hits, longer range and increased stealth. Squads automatically follow the player-controlled character though players can turn off this feature by clicking the “follow” button and control individual squad members. This can be useful if a player needs to leave some friendly non-player characters behind to keep them safe, but breaking a team up removes the bonus they receive when acting as a single unit.

Early describes the gameplay as “hidden turn-based” because the mission portion of the game feels as though it’s happening in real time, even though the activity is turn-based. Enemies will move and take actions each time the player’s squad moves or takes an action. That means a player can walk away from their computer for several hours even if they’re in the middle of a mission and pick up where they left off without being attacked by enemies. Exiting the Facebook canvas won’t require a mission to be started over from the beginning, either.

Outside of missions, players engage in base building to increase their character’s stats. As players stock their field camp with structures and equipment, each item boosts a squad’s attributes. Examples of this include medical tents that increase health and damage resistance and training targets that improve accuracy. Early says there will be a social feature allowing players to visit friends’ base camps at the time of launch, but this wasn’t available during the demo. Early also tells us that player-versus-player gameplay will be implemented at an unspecified time in the future.

Ghost Recon Commander monetizes through the sale of weapons and buildings, which can be bought with hard or soft currency. Players’ Ghosts don’t automatically return to full health between missions, so recovering hit points requires players to either spend soft currency or wait for them to gradually regenerate. Players may also choose to spend money on purchasing additional bullets during missions, though these are resupplied over time.

The crossover content feature is similar to what we saw in EA’s Dragon Age Legends, where playing one game unlocked content in another. Ghost Recon Commander allows players to link their Ghost Recon: Future Soldier activity via Ubisoft’s uPlay player account system. Playing each of these games will unlock weapons and weapon skins in the other. Additionally, progress in Future Soldier will unlock more Ghost characters to recruit as squad members in Commander.

Early tells us Loot Drop is working on cross-platform versions of the game are planned for iOS and Android, though these will be released after the Facebook launch.

Ghost Recon Commander is expected to go live on Facebook today.

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