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Interview: Zynga On Violence, Griefing In Mafia Wars 2

Speaking to Gamasutra, Mafia Wars 2 general manager Erik Bethke says his team hopes to create a violent, cathartic experience that encourages a certain amount of player malice.
In the next few weeks, Zynga is preparing to debut its recently-announced Mafia Wars 2, a follow-up to one of the company's first breakout hits and the first sequel in Zynga's expansive catalog. Speaking to Gamasutra, Mafia Wars 2 general manager Erik Bethke said several factors inspired the studio to create its first true sequel based on an existing Zynga brand. The primary reason, he said, was that Zynga wanted to update Mafia Wars' presentation to match the standards set by other popular social games. "The key issue is that Mafia Wars 1's presentation is text and 2D images, which makes it more like interactive fiction, where a lot of the gameplay and action happens within your mind," he said. "We know that from the success of our other graphical isometric games, like FarmVille and CityVille, that the graphical, isometric approach is appealing to a broader audience." Keeping in line with these other titles, Mafia Wars 2 features a colorful, isometric style, complete with a home-building system as seen in FarmVille and other Zynga games. The second reason for making a sequel, said Bethke, is simply that Zynga made a lot of money with Mafia Wars 1. Social Game Catharsis While Zynga is updating Mafia Wars 2's presentation to match its other social game offerings, the game's social system will continue to take a decidedly aggressive approach, contrasting with the friendship and helping focus of its other titles. "Normally, when you talk of social games and Facebook, you think of lolcats, baby pictures, puppies, and things like that, but really, people like hurting other people in negative emotional ways, and I like to think that that's actually a positive thing," Bethke said. "We live in such a highly structured society now; we're no longer tribal creatures that can just take out our daily rages as we see fit. There are rules at the social level, the state level, the city level -- there are rules wherever you go. We see this game as a really healthy release. You can come home, jump on your computer, and get some violence out of your system and feel really good about it." To provide a venue for this violence, Mafia Wars 2 features both a Player-Versus-Environment campaign, in which players work together to defeat computer-controlled opponents, and a Player-Versus-Player mode that Bethke likened to World of Warcraft's battlegrounds. (Some) Griefing Allowed Like other Zynga titles, players will also build up their home base to earn money and items. In Mafia Wars2, however, players will be able to attack and steal from other players' home turfs. With this looting mechanic in place, the game allows players to single out and pick on other users if they choose. Bethke said Zynga hopes players will embrace this sort of player-on-player griefing. A system of diminishing returns and special buildings will prevent players from completely ruining another player's economy, Bethke said. "I'll be honest with you, we want mild to moderate griefing to be enabled. We just don't want horrible griefing," he added. "I want there to be a mild or moderate amount of griefing, or in other words, I want there to be consequence when you go kill somebody or rob somebody. That's what makes the game feel real. If you could rob someone without consequence, that's just cheesy." Different Features, Different Audiences When discussing Mafia Wars 2's target audience, Bethke admitted that the game's violent, crime-based theme will cater more toward male players than the company's previous games, but explained that Zynga has designed certain elements of the game to reach out to other demographics. "With the home turf, the decoration, and the graphics, for example, we believe we will pick up more women, and with the animated comic book style, we think we'll be more appealing to the more youthful 18 to 25 year old range than we have in the past," he said. Bethke added that creating different game elements with different demographics in mind was "key to the whole underlying philosophy of making this game," noting that the game's base-building, PVE, and PVP segments all target different audiences. "With our three or four primary player archetypes, we also include a bunch of ways for those players to interact with each other, trade, and be useful to each other, we think that sets us up nicely for a vibrant and healthy virtual world," he said. Bethke said that Mafia Wars 2 will launch sometime in the next few weeks in 16 different languages, the most any Zynga title has supported upon release.

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