Firefly is Coming Back

Firefly is Coming Back a mobile game. Sorry to get your hopes up like that.

Joss Whedon's Firefly is an absolute classic of modern television, its run cut criminally short after just 14 episodes.

Fans have been clamoring to a return to the series' iconic blend of sci-fi, Western and Chinese culture ever since the show was first cancelled, and it looks like they might finally be getting their wish.

Well, kind of.

Actually, not really at all.

What we are getting is a game called Firefly Online which is, according to the official press release, a "multi-user, social online role-playing game" for iOS and Android devices, with the potential for expansion to other platforms in the near future. The game is the work of QMX Interactive and Spark Plug Games, working in collaboration with Fox. It will cast players in the role of a starship captain similar to Malcolm Reynolds, and task them with gathering a crew and completing jobs around the galaxy.

Precisely no details of any worth have been revealed as yet, save for the game's existence, so there's unfortunately little we can say about how it will play. I am concerned, however. The word "social" in that description fills me with dread -- perhaps unfairly so -- but let me explain why.

The word "social" is usually used to denote a free-to-play game. This isn't in itself a bad thing, as there are plenty of good free-to-play titles out there. However, on mobile platforms and social networks, free-to-play is generally significantly more exploitative than equivalent standalone experiences for PC. Pay-to-win is rife, and these games often include some sort of progress-throttling mechanic that prevents you from doing anything for a significant period of time, either due to waiting for timers to expire or energy to recharge. These mechanics often completely break any sense of immersion in the game by thrusting its business model in your face repeatedly, when all you want to do is, you know, play.

The obnoxious word "midcore" hasn't been mentioned by QMX, Spark Plug or Fox, thankfully, as that would set off even louder alarm bells in my head. Past licensed "midcore" mobile games from developers like Kabam -- who produced a game based on The Hobbit that was nothing more than a reskin of three of their previous games, all of which were, in turn, reskins of each other -- have been dreadful experiences, with shallow gameplay geared purely towards making money rather than actually providing a fun experience. There are exceptions -- the various Avengers mobile games are quite good, though still keen to strip you from your cash at every opportunity -- but for the most part, licensed games are still a bit of a joke; they're just less visible now they tend to have made the jump to mobile rather than computer and console platforms.

I will, however, accept that having seen precisely nothing concrete from Firefly Online as yet, it is far too early to brand it disappointing or unworthy of your time. As of this moment, I will admit to not being filled with a huge amount of confidence, but I am open to being pleasantly surprised, and sincerely hope that I will be. Until we see more, let's hope that QMX and Spark Plug don't take the easy route and clone some existing free-to-play mobile game garbage and slap the Firefly logo on it. While QMX only has a couple of non-game apps under its belt, Spark Plug has at least been responsible for some competent games, including the mobile port of the excellent Puzzle Quest 2, so we may yet be in for a good experience. We'll see.

Firefly Online is pencilled in for a summer 2014 release, giving the teams a whole year to make sure there's a good game in place. Let's hope they use the time wisely.

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