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The first of three major titles from IGP, MechWarrior Online moves into its open beta test

Get ready for some big, metallic battles with giant robots. MechWarrior Online is formally launching its online beta test today, bringing back the vaunted giant mech fighting franchise as a downloadable game on the web. The title already has 140,000 active players, and now the maker of the game is ready to usher in a lot more players.

The game was developed by Vancouver-based Piranha Games and is the first major title published by Infinite Game Publishing, a new Montreal-based hardcore online game publisher. The title is yet another example of a free-to-play game (where users play for free and pay real money for virtual goods) that aims to offer console-like game quality to online multiplayer gamers.

“We are targeting people who expect AAA quality,” said Nick Foster, chief executive of IGP in an interview with GamesBeat. “We are talking about console levels of game play and fidelity. We put free-to-play on top of that. We feel that casual gamers have been served well by free-to-play games, but core gamers have been left behind. We want to step into this market aggressively.”

Infinite Game Publishing, based in Montreal, was started in August, 2011 with a seed investment from Canadian institutional investor FSTQ. On top of that, 70,000 MechWarrior Online fans have place pre-orders for more than $5 million through the MechWarrior Online Founder’s Program.

IGP’s parent company is 7G Entertainment, also headed by Foster, who has 20 years of experience in entertainment. He was previously the No. 2 executive at online game publisher Outspark and worked in high-profile roles at Starz Media and Dreamworks Animation.

The company is making hardcore games in the form of massively multiplayer online games for core gamers on the web. More than 400,000 players have registered for the beta, but not all are playing yet.

MechWarrior Online is a reboot of the MechWarrior franchise, which was started decades ago and was re-acquired from Microsoft recently by Smith & Tinker, the game company founded by Jordan Weisman, the creator of the BattleTech universe that includes MechWarrior. IGP, in turn, has licensed MechWarrior Online from Smith & Tinker. MechWarrior Online uses Crytek’s 3D graphics engine, CryEngine 3. That means it is targeting some of the highest quality levels for online imagery.

“The key that drew us to Mech Warrior as a property was the passion that Piranha Games had for the series,” Foster said. “They understood the language of game play and we were confident it would translate well into the free-to-play model.”

Players want, for instance, to upgrade their mechs to be more competitive in combat with other players. MechWarrior Online will charge players who want to decorate their mechs in a unique way.

“People can scale their investment in the game based on how much they enjoy it,” Foster said. “The free players are valuable because they provide the numbers that make the game more playable and fun.”

But the game won’t have all the bells and whistles that disk-based games have. The download size is limited to around 2 gigabytes before initial game play is possible.

IGP is also working on MechWarrior Tactics, a one-on-one fighting browser-based game that emphasizes the art of tactical combat between giant mechs. It’s a one-versus-one collectible strategy game, based on the BattleTech universe. Another title in the works is Sins of a Dark Age, a real-time-strategy game (where players move lots of units simultaneously). Ironclad Games, maker of Sins of a Solar Empire, is making the game and taking it online as a free-to-play game.

IGP itself has more than 50 employees. Foster said the strategy is to select products that can compete on a global level and which already have a built-in fan base that is accessible online. IGP is partnering with seasoned developers to make its games.

“We’re planning on responding quickly to customer feedback, and we’ll be adding to the games over time,” Foster said.

Mech fans are in for a treat this fall. Meteor Games is preparing to launch Hawken, another free-to-play mech-oriented online combat game in December. Meteor announced this morning that it has raised a second round of venture funding to fuel a whole series of online games. MechWarrior Online will be focused on team play and collaboration, with four players playing against four.

“We feel that is a very different genre within the first-person shooter realm,” Foster said.


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