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The Money Shot

Special report

We thought there was nothing left that could frighten us. Microsoft leaving the PC to launch a console.

Thief 3's Shalebridge Cradle level. Even that thing that started growing when Tom didn't tidy his desk for months. But we're a little rattled about the coming of these cash-oriented multiplayer games.

The idea is simple. A player deposits money into an account before they go online, and that account is then credited or debited with every victory or defeat they have against another player. And the service provider takes a cut for their troubles.

Imagine. Players becoming fanatical in their search for exploits and hacks, secretly ganging up on one another or frothing at the mouth when disconnects - whether they be accidental or deliberate - occur. Gamers get furious enough when it's just honour at stake. With money involved we'll get apoplectic. Then there's the need for all-new netcode that's client-server rather than client-client so that all transferred data can be hidden. In short, the operators could be creating gaming Hell.


Yet there's currently no end of people trying to get around all these problems (you can thank the multi-billion-dollar online poker industry for that). And they might have a winner on their hands with Kwari, an arena FPS boasting 'Cash for Kills'. "Kwari isn't about being the best player," says Eddie Gil, mastermind behind the project. "It's about the pursuit of money, with combat elements along the way."

Now that's a slightly misleading statement. Up to 64 players trying to eke money out of one another by spilling blood isn't just "combat elements along the way". What he's really referring to is how the ways to make the big money are usually benign.
The Killing Floor, for example, is a last-man-standing map where anyone who dies has a chunk of their cash added to a locked central area. After a countdown this area opens, and any players remaining are free to grab all the cash they can before they get taken down too.

Also, whenever a player takes damage from stumbling off a cliff or into one of Kwari's many environmental hazards (known as 'collectors') the cash they lose goes to one of the many prizes ('accumulators') that might be hidden in crates, or rockets that blast around the level and so on.

Some accumulators will be amassing cash for up to a year, so they'll pay out thousands to the lucky punters who finally get them.

The game takes place in total anonymity: players have no names, can't chat, and the avatars of your opposition randomise when they leave your view. Players are also secretly assigned the game they join by the server, which will measure their ability and try to put them with others at their level.


The game also uses a third-party MMO engine for maximum security - and finding this out in particular launched our eyebrows to the ceiling. Sure enough, our playtest revealed Kwari has little detail in the characters or weapons, and there's no locational damage.

But it also revealed something else - that having money at stake is a fiendishly effective way of boosting a game's intensity and addictiveness. When we tried Kwari we weren't even playing with real cash, but we experienced something of the "emotional rollercoaster" Eddie Gil told us was his goal when designing the game.

The thing is, Kwari is a truly mediocre FPS; yet whenever our avatar took a railgun round to the ribs or flamethrower flame to the flesh we recoiled and we winced, because we could always see that cash count in the top left ticking down. Likewise, at the end of one round we barely broke even, but felt a surge of endorphins when we saw our cash count spike because, out of all the players, we'd held on to a cash ball-type thing the longest.

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