MetroGames’ Auto Hustle Builds on Facebook Mafia Theme, Looks for Hardcore Gamers

MetroGames’ Grand Theft Auto homage, Auto Hustle, debuted last October and only just now seems to be hitting its stride on Facebook as the developer announces the game’s official “launch” today. According to our social game traffic tracking service, AppData, Auto Hustle already enjoys 93,000 monthly active users and 13,000 daily active users.

The game puts players in the role of a gangster in a grimy city setting. Gameplay is structured around missions played in a top-down third person view where players control their characters with keyboard inputs similar to traditional PC games and with mouse clicks to fire weapons or use melee attacks. In our early look at the title last year, the story element of the game wasn’t readily apparent, but one of the many updates to the game appears to be story cut scenes that player unlock both by accepting and completing missions. Artwork in menus also looks like it got a makeover with some extremely visceral weapon effect animations (see below).

We spoke with MetroGames Lead Designer Joe Gatling about Auto Hustle’s prospects on Facebook given its hardcore game angle and evolutions within the Facebook games platform. In particular, we asked Gatling to explain how Auto Hustle would find its hardcore gamer audience when, traditionally, the Facebook audience doesn’t appear to host them.

“We are going to have to build a player base from scratch,” Gatling told us. “The concept of crime games on Facebook is pretty big, so we already know there is a market for the theme. The question is whether or not there is a market for both the theme and the gameplay. So attracting those players is going to be an interesting challenge.”

As it stands, MetroGames is hoping to leverage what few viral growth options Facebook has left developers with after clamping down on wall posts and friend invites. Cross-promotion wouldn’t work well for Auto Hustle given that it’s completely unlike other games in MetroGames’ portfolio. So, Gatling says, the developer is thinking of going off Facebook to search for viral growth among the audience it hopes to attract. “We’re still trying to work out how we can do that in an effective way,” he said.

It may be that Facebook Credits restores some virality to Auto Hustle in the form of features like Buy With Friends. Because Auto Hustle uses Credits as its premium currency, MetroGames has the option of using the discount system for some of its in-game items. Additionally, some of the game’s existing monetization methods would work well with Frictionless Credits, which would allow players to make purchases under $3 without having to leave the game. For example, the game allows you to bribe a police officer with two Credits when being arrested mid-mission to avoid jail, which would result in a failed mission.

“Anything that we can do to make the transactions more simple is definitely [our goal],” Gatling said. “Right now, the Facebook Credit process is a little bit jarring since it involves using Facebook’s own windows, which don’t fit with the visual style of the game. So anything we can do to simplify the process is going to help monetization. We’re definitely looking into Frictionless Credits and Buy With Friends.”

For now, it looks as though Auto Hustle hopes to cash in on its uniqueness as a means to get attention. Gatling says he was actually expecting some backlash on the level of violence in the game, but so far hasn’t heard anything that would generate the kind of controversy that could ultimately drive users toward the game. His only real concern, he said, is that people who compare Auto Hustle only to Grand Theft Auto and not to other Facebook games might come away disappointed because of the disparity between console games and Facebook games.

“We definitely think that the audience that we’re targeting may not have played that many Facebook games before since there aren’t that many Facebook games that offer the level of interaction that Auto Hustle does,” Gatling said.

MetroGames currently has 4.3 million monthly active users and 636,000 daily active users across all 16 of its Facebook games according to AppData. Fashion World is easily its largest title to date at 1.9 MAU and 311,000 DAU.