The last few years have seen the growth of a number of innovative new business models, all thanks to the ease of distribution that the Internet offers.
We've seen the birth of the "early access" program pioneered by titles like Mojang's Minecraft and Mode 7 Games' Frozen Synapse; we've seen the rise of Kickstarter; and we've seen the growth of "pay what you want" models. Now, indie developer Crunching Koalas is experimenting with yet another new variation for its new title MouseCraft.
MouseCraft is a puzzle game that describes itself as a cross between Tetris and Lemmings. As in the former, you'll primarily be working with blocks made out of four tiles in various arrangements; as in the latter, your main job is to guide a selection of rather stupid furry critters towards their eventual goal.
Each level requires you to get mice from their start point to a block of cheese that is usually on the other side of some sort of perilous arrangement of traps, pits and bubbling pools of acid. There are two ways to play: puzzle mode gives you specific blocks with which to reach a set "solution" for each level, with no time limit; arcade mode, meanwhile, randomly flings blocks at you and tasks you with completing the level as quickly as possible, making rapid decisions as to which pieces to use where.
As you progress through the game, you'll unlock various different types of block besides the standard ones. Some, for example, will crumble as soon as mice have walked over them a certain number of times, while others are explosive. Only a few of these special blocks are implemented in the current version of the game, but more will be added as the game gets closer to final release.
So, about that business model: MouseCraft is being sold as a pay-what-you-want early access title, albeit one with a twist: like Humble Bundles allow you to divide up your donation between various charities, the developers and a tip for the bundle organizers, MouseCraft allows you to divide your contribution between different ongoing projects in the game's development. These projects include adding more levels, new types of bricks and graphic themes; implementing an online system for exchanging user-generated maps; localizing the game into languages other than English; and adding an option to customize the look of the mice. The developers will then look at how their budget has been spread out by the community, and prioritize future development accordingly.
It's an interesting model, and it remains to be proven, but it seems like a good idea for early access games that continue to evolve and change over time. It helps the community feel like they're making a difference in the game's development, and also helps the developers themselves see what features their customers are most interested in.
You can find out more about MouseCraft and order a copy on its official site, or vote for it on Greenlight if you'd like to see it on Steam.
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