Platform: Online Browser-Based (reviewed on Google Chrome)
Developer: Big Impact Studios
Publisher: Big Impact Studios
Release date: 30 July 2013
TL;DR: Ambitious but flawed strategy game depicting new player-driven society.
Family Friendly?: Click here to skip the detail and see if this game is right for your family!
WorldAlpha is a new free-to-play browser-based strategy game where players assume a role within a new society after the Earth that we know has been destroyed. Developed by Big Impact Studios, the game was in production for two and half years before it went live at the end of July, and offers players a “persistent and immersive world.”
The first thing that is immediately obvious about WorldAlpha is that it is a free-to-play game in every sense of the word – that is, it’s a strategy game that has two kinds of in-game currency, and the one that you buy with real world cash gets you access to the more advanced features. By no means is it impossible to play without investing some money, but it certainly helps.
That said, there’s still something alluring about the concept of WorldAlpha, and a lot of features to make it attractive. When the developers say that it’s a persistent world with a player-driven economy, they aren’t messing around. Rather than the traditional model of these kinds of games, where players usually occupy an identical city, develop resources and make peace or war with their neighbours, in WorldAlpha, all of the players occupy the same world.
This is achieved by players spawning in a neighbourhood, of a city, in a country. You own a house to begin with, and not much else. Just like in reality, you have to find a job to earn money – that being the first kind of in-game currency, AlphaCoins. With this you can buy food, luxury items, and even weapons if you choose to pursue a military career. The player queues actions to fulfil as time passes within WorldAlpha, quickly relative to time passing in reality.
These actions deplete or restore segments of a health and happiness bar, with the aim being to achieve a balance between the two – work depletes, but allows productivity, while reading a book restores, but is essentially dead time as it earns no money. One of the good features is that you cannot pay to speed up actions – that everyone has to work, rest and play at exactly the same pace.
Within WorldAlpha there are three career pathways – economic, political or the military. That is, you can run a business, run for office, or participate in battle. You can do any combination of these things, but that’s where it might get expensive because the second kind of currency, EarthBucks, starts to come into play. In order to found a business you need Incorporation Papers, which cost 200 EarthBucks. You also need a Building Permit to construct your first business building, which costs another 200 EarthBucks. You start with 150, and completing the tutorial quest rewards another 200, but immediately you’re 50 EarthBucks down if you want to get started doing anything advanced within WorldAlpha.
The other barrier to achieving success in the game is the rather steep learning curve it involves. The tutorial explains most basic functions of the game adequately, but once you get into producing items, you’re pretty much on your own, outside of appealing to other players for help. There are a lot of items to produce, and so it can be quite daunting when deciding how best to direct your resources – make food, or weapons? The menu system is clunky and doesn’t allow intuitive navigation of what products can be made with raw materials – instead, you have to hunt for the thing you want to make and then look at its constituent parts. The entire Economy tab is missing quite a few features to make it a lot easier – for example, a tool to keep track of profit margins to indicate what you should be selling items for.
Of course, by restricting the access of new players to founding companies and running for political office ensures that they can’t steamroll their way into a player-driven economy and wreck it for those who’ve worked hard to establish it. And the great thing about having it be down to the players means that there’s a real sense of community and consequence to everything that happens in the game. The only people to fight are other players, and structuring WorldAlpha on the neighbourhood/city/country model means that you always have people whose best interest it is to help you out.
Another nice means of adding a sense of community are the TV stations and newspapers, which are all also player run. With a Broadcasting Licence (200 EarthBucks) or a Newspaper Licence (200 EarthBucks) players can launch their own medium with which to communicate with players, broadcast embedded YouTube videos, and write articles.
However, there’s no guarantee that anyone will read or watch, and this is where what helps to make the game unique also makes it fall down. EarthBucks are a precious resource, either because they take a long time to accrue for free, or because they can be bought for real world cash. By investing real currency in an in-game newspaper that no one reads, or in the papers to run for office and no one votes for you, the player has taken a real world risk in a virtual setting with no promise of economic return from the game back into reality.
While WorldAlpha definitely possesses a number of sociologically interesting elements, it’s unfortunate that it’s clouded by some issues that detract from its enjoyability. Perhaps most of all being that the concept of the game is for a group of humans to build a new society free from the burdens of the old, destroyed Earth, but that those players with the most cash in reality will find it much easier to get ahead. This business model is of course nothing new for a freemium game, but the pairing of it and WorldAlpha’s ethos is an odd juxtaposition when you consider it seems more like a sociological experiment than a browser game. That said, there’s a lot of content to sink your teeth into, and once you get going in a good community, there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had. Click here to play WorldAlpha for free.
- Ambitious concept.
- Can build a great sense of community.
- Great wealth of content available.
- Excessive emphasis on EarthBucks.
- Risk with real life currency doesn’t guarantee reward.
- Lack of explanation leaves some features bewildering.
Due to the unrestricted online nature of interaction with other players and the element of community it’d be a great idea to monitor any communications just to keep tabs on what’s going on with your kids, if you do decide to let them play. Aside from that, this game is totally suitable for children, although it’s very laden with statistics. There is an element of the game that involves war and going to battle, but not in an overly gratuitous way.