Playdom invading core gamer territory with Mobsters: Criminal Empire

Disney Playdom is once again returning to its organized crime roots, launching Mobsters: Criminal Empire on Facebook today. The game’s was stealthily rolled out on the social network this weekend, and it’s getting a widespread launch today.

Mobsters: Criminal Empire is the third entry to Playdom’s “Mobsters” franchise, following Mobsters and Mobsters 2: Vengeance. The game is a resource management/real time strategy game that casts players as members of an organized crime family taking over their home city and waging war on their neighbors. This time around, Playdom is adding some high-gloss production values and also making battles a more hands-on affair.

Gameplay mainly takes place on city maps broken into blocks, each of which contains different buildings that generate different kinds of resources like currency and troops to train. Players can take over the blocks in just about any order they want, allowing them to build a custom criminal empire. Although each city will contain over 100 buildings, only a small selection of them can be seen at the start of the game due to a fog surrounding the map, though the fog is pushed back as the player’s territory expands.

One of the biggest additions Mobsters: Criminal Empire is providing to its series is its player avatar. Players choose a custom avatar that they can use to help lead the charge when attacking other users’ cities. As players level up, they can unlock and purchase new weapons and armor for their avatar to use during battles.

Playdom is incorporating more strategy mechanics into its game, something Executive Producer Adam Prewett says should help the studio acquire a share of the oft-desired core gamer audience.  We were given a demonstration of how this worked in both the player-versus-environment and player-versus-player gameplay.

In order for players to take control of different buildings in their city, they have to defeat the structures’ defenders. Players can send out smaller strike forces tailored to take advantage of the defenders’ weaknesses, or they can direct an entire army to overwhelm the building. This seemed pretty basic, but strategy becomes much more important during PvP battles: An invading player can choose what side of a target city to invade from, so if a targeted player only has defenses placed on one or two sides, they can be circumvented with a fair degree of ease. Player avatars can be directed around an opponent’s city, while it looked like friendly minions were controlled by the game’s A.I. Meanwhile, players will also want to make sure their own defenses are solidly in place, putting things like roadblocks and dumpsters in the streets and snipers in the buildings, else they get wiped out by an opposing army.

Many PvP games — social and mainstream — often feature guilds for players to join. Prewett says Mobsters: Criminal Empire doesn’t contain guilds at the time of launch, but the feature is being worked on and should launch sometime within five to six weeks.

Prewett says Playdom is expecting to acquire a player base of a few hundred thousand daily active users, which is in keeping with the number of users genre leader Kixeye has with its games (War Commander is its most popular title with 430,000 DAU). While this is certainly a possibility — especially considering how Playdom has a 3.3 million DAU audience to promote the game to — the mob genre of games isn’t at its most popular on Facebook and the Mobsters brand has faded from the public eye, especially once Zynga and Playdom settled their year-long lawsuit that alleged former Zynga employees stole trade secrets when they joined Playdom.

Mobsters 2: Vendetta is down to 30,000 DAU, but its peak level in November 2009 was only  704,000. Zynga’s Mafia Wars franchise isn’t nearly as popular as it once was. The original Mafia Wars, which peaked in November 2009 with 6.9 million DAU, is now hovering around the 350,000 mark. Mafia Wars 2 is even lower; it’s fallen far from its November 2011 high point of 2.8 million DAU and now only has 50,000.

At the moment, there are no plans to bring the game to mobile devices (like it did with the original Mobsters), but Prewett tells us the title could very possibly go  cross-platform if it’s a success on Facebook.