Facebook Version of Civilization Gets New Name, to Start Closed Alpha on January 12

Countless strategy games have been getting big with social audiences this past year, with developers from Kabam to Playfish to Ngmoco now building them, and making lots of money in the process. Meanwhile, the long-promised Facebook version of Civilization, the best turn-based strategy series ever, has not materialized.

That’s about to change, according to a post today on Facebook from creator Sid Meier. The game is going into a closed alpha test on January 12, and it’s getting renamed from Civilization Network to Civilization World.

And there are a few more details starting to emerge, including how game-play will work and what the interface will look like. One thing that’s not clear is how it will monetize, which we’ll take some guesses about, below.

First, from Meier, today:

Why a name change you say? The name better reflects the main theme of the game; in Civ World you will be joining your friends to form nations, which will compete with other player-nations to rule the world. Civ World’s shaping up to be a really fun Facebook game, as well as another addictive Civilization experience.

The post goes on to explain that it needs groups of people playing against each other in order to help the developers test gameplay. It appears that each player will, as in all the past titles, still get their own civilization (so you and your friends won’t be sharing the responsibilities of Julius Caesar as Rome battles Montezuma, although that also sounds interesting).

Last October, Meier gave a few different details. From GameSpot: “According to Meier, Civilization Network will heavily feature multiplayer participation, with Facebook friends sharing technology and coordinating strategy in battles. Players’ friends will be able to participate in elections and help decide resource management, as well as assist in espionage or the construction of Wonders of the World.”

More, from the post:

Civ World games will have a well-defined beginning and end, each ending with a triumphant civilization and one person recognized as that game’s most prestigious player. Along the way, as you progress through the different eras of time, you’ll have the chance to win era victories as well. We want players to have both a final goal to work towards, as well as short-term objectives to achieve as they play. The trophies you unlock with your triumphs will carry over from game to game, and you can show them off in your throne room.

The Civilization franchise has already been using the achievements concept in its latest version, Civilization V, for players who buy and play the game through Steam. There are a variety of trophies you can win during game-play, that you can then see as you go from game to game. Given that Steam, a download that provides an integrated gaming platform for mostly hardcore gamers, is dwarfed by Facebook’s roughly 600 million users, we expect social achievements to carry far more weight in the new version. Achievements, after all, are a key way that all types of social game developers incentivize users to play for longer, and pay more.

On that note, Civ World still doesn’t have a clear way to monetize.

The game appears to be some sort of Facebook Connect integration on a stand-alone site rather than a canvas app, judging by the sign-up web page that’s currently online. Monetization could range from the subscription-based services seen in traditional games like World of Warcraft, but we expect the developers, Firaxis and 2kGames, to adopt key aspects of the free-to-play virtual goods model. That could mean simple things like letting users buy more gold in the game, purchase special units and buildings, or access new leaders and maps — similar to the DLCs that have been rolling out in recent months for Civ 5.