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The success of a video game is traditionally measured by how many copies it sells. At the very least, a developer can hope to break even on a game. Best case scenario? A title sells like wildfire, spawns an entire franchise and/or becomes a cultural icon.
Regardless of the game, the formula is almost always the same. The publisher promotes the game and the developer supports it for a while with patches, DLC and so on. Inevitably, the title reaches a state in which it’s no longer updated. It’s still playable, mind you, and its creators may still be able to earn residual income from it but it’s ultimately put out to pasture.
The creators of upcoming horror game The Flock, however, are taking a radically different approach with their multiplayer online-only game.
The Flock is set to be the first commercial release from Dutch indie developer Vogelsap. The premise is quite simple. Five players spawn as monsters (the Flock) with the goal of getting their hands on an Artifact known as the Orb. The player that reaches the glowing Orb first is transformed into a human-like character, the Carrier, that must then carry the Artifact around with them.
The proverbial king-of-the-kill racks up points as they tote the Orb around. The four other monsters are then tasked with killing the Carrier, a job that isn’t quite as easy as it may seem.
The Orb emits a beam of light – kind of like Marcellus Wallace’s briefcase – that serves as the Carrier’s only means of defense. If a predator is hit with the light while moving, they're toast. Conversely, a monster can remain still with the beam pointed at them and not take damage.
The Carrier, meanwhile, must remain active for the light to shine. If the Carrier remains motionless for too long, their makeshift weapon dies out and they’re ripe for the picking. When this happens, the Carrier must find a location to recharge the Orb which reactivates the weapon.
The key as a monster is to attack the Carrier from behind using any means necessary. As you can imagine, stealth movement is crucial to success although there are some other tricks in the monster’s arsenal to help them along (decoy statues, for example).
But here’s the kicker – there will only be a finite number of monster spawns for the entire game. Each time a monster is killed by a Carrier, one life is removed from the global pool of lives. When the predetermined number of lives is depleted, the game is over.
Vogelsap notes that once the monster population is wiped out, those who own the game will be able to participate in a “climactic finale.” After that, the game goes cold. It’ll no longer be available for purchase and can no longer be played by those that have bought it.
In other words, the game essentially has an expiration date.
Why the hell would a developer want to artificially limit their game and potentially leave a lot of revenue on the table?
Creative Director Jeroen Van Hasselt notes that a multiplayer game can take players to incredible heights, but at some point gamers will start to play less, get disinterested and stop playing altogether.
He does have a point.
Van Hasselt adds that in opposition to other multiplayer games, they want The Flock's experience to inspire a sense of awe, to keep players eagerly anticipating what is coming next and to end with a memorable climax. Apart from it being interpreted as a business model, he continues, it’s actually more about creating an authentic experience that’s going to be one-of-a-kind.
The Flock is expected to land on Steam sometime during the third quarter.