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Interview: Snail Games USA's Miller On Upcoming MMORTS Ministry of War

Snail Games USA plans to follow up million-user free-to-play Flash game Heroes of Gaia with Ministry of War, a massively multiplayer RTS title -- Gamasutra talked to CEO Scott Miller about the game's upcoming release.
Founded in October of last year, Snail Games USA, the U.S. division of major Chinese online game publisher Snail Games, is the latest developer to implement the free-to-play online gaming model in the West. The company's first Western release, Heroes of Gaia, was released in November and has since accumulated over one million active monthly users. Coming later this year, Ministry of War will be Snail Games USA's second free-to-play release. It's a browser-based real-time strategy MMO with an interesting premise -- four factions battle it out for supremacy, and once one empire has defeated the rest, the game ends and a new chapter begins. We talked to Snail Games USA's CEO Scott Miller about the company's past work and Ministry of War's upcoming release. How big is the Snail Games USA team, and where are you based? Currently, Snail Games USA consists of 13 people and we are located in Marina del Rey, CA. Snail Games USA has only been around since October of last year, but we have a solid list of new games on the way, so the office will probably be growing in the near future. Which of your past releases should we be familiar with? One of the first ones that comes to my mind is when we announced that our first game, Heroes of Gaia, hit one million monthly active users in March. It was really exciting to see our first game hit that number so soon, and really set the pace for us moving forward. More recently, we announced a partnership with Kongregate regarding our next game, Ministry of War. Kongregate has been a great partner with us for Heroes of Gaia [HoG has 9.5 million plays on Kongregate, and so far is their most-played game of 2010], so we are very excited about working with them on Ministry of War. Ministry of War is your upcoming MMO real-time strategy title. Can you give us a brief outline of what it's about? Absolutely. As you said, Ministry of War (or MoW) is an historic, free-to-play MMORTS that is played completely in the browser and requires no downloads or fees to play. In the game, players will choose from one of history's greatest civilizations -- Rome, Persia, China, or Egypt --- and partake in dynamic PvP and PvE battles, resource production, guild-vs.-guild and co-op battles, and more. It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what the game is "about" because there are so many different aspects to it, and I think that's what really sets us apart from other games in the genre. Ministry of War is definitely the deepest browser game out there. Apart from battling online against other players, there's also the option to be part of a guild and battle other guilds in two-on-two games. Is the entire game online-only, or can players engage AI-controlled enemies too? Along with the PvP combat that you just mentioned, PvE combat is a large part of the experience. Players can fight many different types on NPCs in order to gain experience and resources. Also, we have introduced lairs into the world, which allow players to take on NPCs alone or co-operatively with friends. Defeating lairs results in a huge amount of experience for the players' heroes. Ministry of War is a browser-based game, but will it also be available for download? Right now we don't have any plans to release it as a download. One of the best things about the game is that people have the ability to play it instantly anywhere without having to download anything to the hard drive. This allows people to easily get a full-featured MMORTS experience from work or school (even though we would never actually condone playing it at work). As Ministry of War is a free-to-play title, will there be special items which can be purchased to enhance play? How much will these sway the battle against players who have not paid anything? There will be an item mall that will allow players to purchase certain boosts and upgrades, but at the same time, Ministry of War is very finely balanced between purchase and non-purchase players. Almost everything that a player can purchase in the shop can also be obtained in the game, which I think the community will really appreciate. Trading is a huge part of the MoW experience. How exactly does the merchant system work? The merchant system is integral to an empire's hopes of success, because it is one of the most efficient methods to gain wealth. You start off by hiring different merchants, who level up and have different attributes which impact the ways you use them in game. The better quality merchant you have, the more points they gain each time they level. The best part of the trading system is that you can buy goods in any village in the world, but you can only sell them in the 16 "famous" cities. There is going to be a lot of competition between guilds to try and monopolize certain trading routes. What will the community features be like? Can we expect forums, text chat, guild profiles and the like? You can definitely expect all of that and more. We have a dedicated community team, led by master magician Mark Hill, who are very active in the forums, Facebook, fansites, and in the game itself. We are constantly running promotions and in-game events to keep the players active and happy, and, most importantly, we are always collecting feedback from them to learn how we can improve the game. I think that's one thing that set us apart from many other free-to-play MMOs out there; we try to treat our players well, and I think they really appreciate that. When can we expect to see Ministry of War released? Right now we are focusing on gathering feedback from the beta testers, so I can't give a definite answer on when it will be released, but it will be sooner than later. We are very excited about the game, and we all want to see it released as soon as possible, but we definitely don't want to put an unfinished product out there. We will release it when we feel it meets our standards and expectations, which should hopefully be next month.

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