EA and Insomniac aiming to make monster battling big on Facebook with Outernauts

Insomniac Games’ is getting ready to release its first social title called Outernauts, a monster battle game for Facebook published by EA. While pet/monster collection isn’t new for the platform, it has proven to be a winning formula for some and it could yield another hit summer like 2011’s Monster Galaxy.

In Outernauts, players are cast as members of the titular agency, which is tasked with capturing and training alien monsters (“Beasts”) to help them make the galaxy a better place. As the adventure unfolds, players fight evil corporations and space pirates, help out local populations and investigate a mysterious group known as “The Ancients.”

When the game starts, players have to choose one Beast to accompany their Outernaut on his or her journey across the stars. There are five different Beasts to choose from at the beginning of the adventure, and they can’t be captured later in the game. EA and Insomniac are planning to give players the ability to add these creatures to their menagerie, though, by selling real-world plush versions of each starting Beast. Each plush toy will come with a code that will unlock the associated Beast in Outernauts. Every Beast is based around a specific type of element — like ice, lightning and plants — which are stronger and weaker against other elements. At launch, there will be 12 different element types available.

Gameplay is divided between adventure exploration, puzzles, turn-based monster battles and base-building. Players can visit 30 different worlds and explore world maps by clicking on areas of ground that their Outernaut moves to. Each map contains a story mission and side quests. During our time with the game, we visited a world where we had to prevent space pirates from kidnapping a young girl, which meant defeating the pirates in battle. The game will also require players to do some mild puzzle-solving; in the demo, this involved flipping switches to unlock doors and move platforms.

While players can trigger battles by clicking on enemies, roaming Beasts will also attack players if they come too close while exploring the map. In combat phases, players control whatever beasts they have in their party. Each turn, players choose what their Beasts will do, which is usually limited to attacking or using passive abilities that provide boosts to friendly characters. The battles themselves can be one-on-one, two-on-two or three-on-three affairs. Combat ends when all the Beasts on one side have been knocked out. Every Beast that survives a battle receives experience and will evolve into a more powerful form when it hits predetermined levels. Players acquire new Beasts with special capture items in battles, which are more effective when an enemy Beast has low health.

Every player has a home planet they automatically return to between missions. Home planets serve as bases they visit at any time — even when they’re on an active mission — by clicking a button on their menu. Once they’re finished visiting the home planet, players can return to the mission where they left off. The home planet allows players to construct building that aid them on their adventures, like an armory that allows them to craft weapons or feeding stations that let them own more Beasts. The planets can be expanded  when players have accrued enough raw materials to add a section of land, and new territory unlocks new building types.

Outernauts features both cooperative and competitive social mechanics. Players can visit their friends’ home planets and assist on chores like tending items and helping wounded Beasts recuperate. An asynchronous co-op mode also allows players to play through world maps together. Developer Rowan Belden-Clifford describes this mode as a kind of cooperative leapfrog, where the idea is that one player will move ahead of the other, clearing out enemies and obstacles until they run out of energy, and then their friend will see the progress that’s been made the next time they log in to the game. There’s also a player-versus-player battle system where friends can challenge one another.

The game monetizes through the sale of hard currency, gems, which can be used for things like speeding up construction time, unlocking extra ability slots for Beasts and bypassing quest requirements. When asked about whether or not certain items in the game will be only available for hard currency, Belden-Clifford tells us players can acquire any item in the game without needing to spend money.

EA and Insomniac’s entry into the monster battle genre is both bold and risky, as the genre only has one clear leader — Monster Galaxy — and its success hasn’t seen a follow up in the year since the game’s release. Gaia Online’s monster game peaked in June 2011 with almost 20 million monthly active users and 1.5 million daily active users and is now down to around 1 million MAU and 90,000 DAU. Second after it is Broken Bulb Studios’ Miscrit series, which still performs steadily despite never having achieved the same level of popularity. Miscrits of Volcano Island peaked in April with 1.3 million MAU and 170,000 DAU, while original game Miscrits of Sunfall Kingdom peaked in September 2011 with 2 million MAU and 354,000 DAU. Meanwhile, Zynga does have a monster game of its own on iOS in Japan — Montopia — but the developer hasn’t announced any plans to bring the game to Facebook or North America. There is also a vague notion that someday Nintendo will bring its famed Pokémon monster collection game to mobile and social, potentially trumping all other games in the genre with brand recognition.

As for smaller games in the monster genre, we’ve seen most flounder soon after they launched. DJ Arts Games’s Mystic Guardians launched in February with 160,000 MAU and 10,000 DAU and now sits at 20,000 MAU and 2,000 DAU. Sneaky Games’s Syfy Monster Island launched in March, peaked soon after with 440,000 MAU and 30,000 DAU, and now holds 140,000 MAU and 6,000 DAU.

Outernauts has a couple of advantages that these games haven’t had — like its own recognizable brand and access to several million players already playing EA’s other social titles. Insomniac Games earned the bulk of its reputation from popular console video game franchises like Spyro the Dragon, Ratchet & Clank and Resistance: Fall of Man. Many of the studio’s fans will likely try Outernauts just to see what the developer’s brought to Facebook. And while EA may be struggling to find a followup to The Sims Social’s monstrous hit, it is still the No. 4 game developer on Facebook with 42 million MAU and 9 million DAU. If Outernauts proves popular, it could be a profitable property, even outside of Facebook via plush toys, a mobile version or other platform releases — and an animated series or movie wouldn’t be out of the question, either.

Outernauts is scheduled to launch on Facebook sometime this summer and Insomniac plans to put out new content for the game approximately every two weeks afterwards.

Clarification: We originally reported the name of the game as The Outernauts. The correct title is Outernauts. We also reported there were “over 20” planets to explore, but were subsequently told there are 30.