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5th Cell's shooter 'Hybrid' experiments with Xbox Live Arcade microtransactions

"I'm very against being cynical" Jeremiah Slaczka


Hybrid lets players speed their way to player progression with microtransactions on XBLA.

Hybrid, the third-person shooter from Scribblenauts and Drawn to Life creators 5th Cell, will be something of an experiment for the independent developer. Hybrid plays in a well-worn genre, but eschews free movement for cover-to-cover, jetpack-powered multiplayer action between small teams. Players take part in a global multiplayer war for territorial domination, fighting for "dark matter," leveling up as they slay each other online.

The minimal shooter, with its focus on fast-paced, 60 frames-per-second combat, is unlike the fare 5th Cell is better known for — namely Scribblenauts. The inclusion of microtransactions, the option to spend money on in-game currency to unlock weapons and equipment, may also seem like an unexpected move from the Bellevue, Washington-based 5th Cell.

"We wanted to experiment," says 5th Cell creative director Jeremiah Slaczka. "I'm very against being cynical with that type of stuff."

"We don't want to do anything consumer-hostile."

Hybrid features a considerable list of unlockable helmets, weapons and specializations — the power-up perks players can use to boost armor, reduce damage, decrease ability cooldowns and such. All that content be acquired by playing the game, scoring experience points, and leveling up, 5th Cell says. Less patient players can opt to spend in-game credits purchased with real money to get access to those unlockables.

Players can also purchase limited-time XP boosters with their money, helping them rank up faster through Hybrid's player progression path. XP boosters can be purchased in three- and seven-day-long increments.

Without those boosters, Slaczka estimates it will take players about 10 hours worth of normal gameplay to unlock everything in Hybrid. "It's not a grind-fest," he says, adding that 5th Cell doesn't want to do anything "consumer-hostile."

Hybrid includes free, built-in XP boosters as well. One of the unlockable specializations will speed XP gain, as will special helmets players can equip.

"We were talking about doing Hybrid free-to-play with Microsoft a couple years ago," Slaczka says, saying 5th Cell built in-game purchases into the game with that business model in mind, but that Microsoft wavered on bringing free-to-play games to Xbox Live.

This is not 5th Cell's first microtransaction experience. 5th Cell included in-game purchases in its iOS "micro-platformer" Run Roo Run. It's also not a first for XBLA. Previous games, like Certain Affinity's Crimson Alliance and Monolith's Gotham City Impostors, have also toyed with microtransactions on the Xbox 360.

"We just wanted to see what the market would be like, to test it out," Slaczka says. If players respond well to it and Hybrid is successful, he says, the developer will consider adding more content down the line.

Hybrid will be released on Xbox Live as part of Microsoft's Summer of Arcade promotion on August 8th. The game will cost 1200 Microsoft Points.

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