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Omerta

Feature: How to get ahead online... a horse's head

Think of what you'd like from a game of gangsters. A thrilling car chase, the chance to pump lead into your enemy, a cool hat. Now play Omerta, the MMORPG and, er, you don't really get any of that. Not even the hat. It's text based. But while that may be off-putting to many, this is still the Football Manager of gangster games.

Omerta recently saw its two millionth registration. That's two million people quite happy to click around a few text menus to rob a hotdog stall, dip their hand into another's pocket, buy a gun, or indulge in narcotics or booze.

You're thrown onto the mean Mafia-controlled streets of 1930s Italy or America, with the task of making it big. To do that, you need to commit a multitude of crimes but, more importantly, join up with like-minded souls to create solid Mafia crime families.
And that's what makes this game. Only by communicating with your fellow gangsters can you hope to succeed.

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You start at the rank of 'empty suit', only able to steal cars and commit petty thefts. Make enough loot, and you become a delivery boy - or girl - with access to the in-game forums. There, you can link up with other players, share tips, and plan your own crime sprees.

Organised crimes such as bank-jobs are multi-step, multiplayer affairs. Four people play their part, getting a safehouse, buying the guns and ammo, dealing with explosives, and driving the getaway car.

Each time you climb a rank, more opportunities appear. As a shoplifter, you can pull a Route 66 heist; as a mobster you can get married. Become a local chief and you can start your own family. As a family, you can go to war - exterminating your rival Don and then popping off the successor. Yet every rise up the ladder brings a concurrent risk of being noted, and targeted, by other players.

Omerta has been running for three years, spawning a comic, countless fansites, in-game newspapers and 'oBay' - an in-game means of buying and selling ill-gotten gains. Crime is clearly paying for creators Moritz Daan and Steve Biddick. They began running Omerta from a tiny office in Hull.

Now there are 22 people keeping the game going in four countries. Add to that a 200-strong team of volunteer support staff, helpdesk and game administrators and you can see the unbelievable progress made - especially as the game was created by Daan in a two-week marathon coding session.

Biddick became involved shortly after the game's completion and he decided it would work better if it was completely free, relying on players making a donation only if they wished to. Three years on, it's a clear a lot of people have shelled out in gratitude.

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Does he have any tips for us? "A good way to begin when you have nothing is to bust people out of jail," says Biddick. "It's free, you don't need great weapons and it's a way to meet other hoodlums. Because everyone is trying to get ahead in Omerta - and for this you need lots of friends."

Try it at: www.barafranca.com.

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