Preview: Playdom’s Kogamu, an Action MMO for Facebook

In the more than four months since Playdom was acquired by Disney, the company has been relatively quiet, releasing only one new game and letting its traffic numbers decline. Late last night we caught a brief look at the product of Playdom’s reevaluation of the social gaming market: Kogamu, a game unlike almost any other currently on Facebook.

Kogamu is effectively a lightweight MMO, although not because of the core gameplay, which will bring to mind arcade beat-em-ups like Captain Commando. All the action of the game takes place on side-scrolling screens occupied by randomly moving enemies that need to be beaten, shot, burned or otherwise killed off.

Groups of these screens, with exits in any of the four cardinal directions, make up areas in which your objective is to find and kill the enemy leader, sometimes as part of a quest. These different areas are tied together by the town, which is itself pretty sprawling, with numerous NPCs whose individualized dialogue indicate that Playdom intends for Kogamu to be a far-flung game, by Facebook standards.

So what makes Kogamu an MMO? That rarest of all things on Facebook: synchronous multiplayer. After completing the tutorial, you’re exposed to the game’s other players, who don’t necessarily have to be your friends. You can form small parties of these players to invade areas together, playing in real time. You can also duel other players, but unlike the rest of the game, this is entirely automated.

There’s plenty more about Kogamu that looks interesting. For instance, gameplay is not just open in the physical, movement-based sense; it looks like Playdom also intends for players to be able to engage in long gameplay sessions, with the only gating mechanism we can see being a diminutive energy bar hidden off in the corner (energy is used for the initial visit to an area).

That theory is supported by the player’s “salary”, a button on the screen that refills every five minutes with coins. As long as you’re around, you can collect the money. The first crafting recipe in the game is similar, a crystal that can be manufactured in five minutes to sell for profit.

There’s also a storyline of some sort, involving both high technology and magic, and a choice of classes — although right now only one, the Gunner, is available. We’ll have to wait to get better access before we can find out more.

Kogamu is not a small bet; the game likely took a significant investment to pull off, and the synchronous play will involve more server resources and balancing issues than the average game. There’s also the question of whether this kind of game will fly at all on Facebook.

Several months back, the answer might well have been “no”. But more recently, there are growing numbers of players for games of all stripes; even if Kogamu’s style and gameplay doesn’t appeal to the Western, middle-aged women who are supposedly social gaming’s core audience, it quite possibly could catch on with a younger, more international set.

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