What does it take for a casual MMO to stand out from the crowd? In the case of Rebel Monkey’s CampFu, it’s team-based co-operative gameplay that encourages community rather than competition. Rebel Monkey was founded by industry luminaries Margaret Wallace (the former CEO of Skunk Studios) and Nick Fortugno, designer of the original Diner Dash. Nick sat down with Gamezebo to give us an exclusive preview of CampFu.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Nick. Why don’t you start by telling us a bit about yourself and what you do at Rebel Monkey.

My official title is Chief Creative Officer. I co-founded Rebel Monkey with Margaret Wallace, who is CEO.  As with any scrappy start-up, we kind of do a bit of everything at Rebel Monkey, but I’ll narrow that down to a few main things. I oversee the development of CampFu, lead brainstorming around new game designs, write a plethora of specs, and generally make sure our 30-person staff keeps going strong here at Rebel Monkey.

We’ve been building out the CampFu infrastructure for over a year. As for myself, I’ve been making games since I was a kid – and have been officially involved in the game industry for about 8 years. Prior to co-founding Rebel Monkey, I designed over a dozen casual games. I was the lead designer of the original Diner Dash game, which led the way for the establishment of a whole a new genre in casual games, namely time management games.

Give us an overview of CampFu. What makes it unique from other Casual MMOs or social games?

When Rebel Monkey set out to build CampFu, we didn’t want to be another “me too” play in the Casual MMO space. There are enough people chasing after Club Penguin, for example, and we knew we had it in us to do something totally different but still accessible to casual gaming audiences.

So, what sets CampFu apart from all the others? Well, for one, CampFu is focused on co-operative gaming. Although you can play CampFu games as single-player, it’s this team-based, collaborative play that distinguishes us from others. We feel that so many games are head-to-head competitive and that’s not very casual. So, when designing CampFu, we built a co-op multiplayer gaming platform because none existed to enable this kind of online collaboration. Co-op games let you be a part of something that is bigger than yourself – and we feel this is very timely. With all of the games on CampFu, people play together with friends in order to win together and achieve together using group scores and shared rewards. In the near future, CampFu will offer special online group features to make your team’s experience even more real and meaningful.

The spirit of CampFu is all about working together and being part of a team. CampFu isn’t just another web games site. Instead, it’s all about the community you build with your friends. When we release the World of CampFu, you’ll see the theme of CampFu reflects that spirit of community: a combination of the natural and the technological with a green sensibility.  

CampFu is also free to play. Most of the games and the features of the site are available to anyone who registers, free of charge. But players who spend a little money at CampFu can get access to the full CampFu experience. We have a special currency you can purchase called FuCash. FuCash gives you a la carte access to the best game levels, social features, and avatar options. You can also become a VIP player to get a premium CampFu experience.

Who is your target audience?

We expect CampFu to appeal to a broad range of people. Based on our initial tests, it seems that teens really respond well to CampFu and to co-op gaming in general. However, the initial games we’re launching are going to be somewhat familiar with all casual audiences so we’ll see.

How will the co-operative play aspect of CampFu work?

CampFu is real-time cooperative gaming unlike anything else you see on the web. When we say play games together, we mean that literally. Every game on CampFu is designed to be played together in real-time with a team of friends, as well as by oneself. Right now, most cooperative gaming on the web is asynchronous, meaning that players don’t play together at the same time, and the synchronous, real-time play is where we differentiate ourselves.  

We don’t have issues with asynchronous games; in fact, there are a lot of great asynchronous games, but is that really the only way you want to interact with your friends online? To really drive this point home, let’s look at asynchronous vs. real-time interaction in another context: dating. Pretend you’re on a dinner date. While on this date, you wouldn’t go out to dinner by yourself, have a nice meal, leave a note behind at the table for your date, and then leave – knowing your date will arrive sometime later.  Wouldn’t you have had more fun enjoying dinner together? That’s the difference with CampFu – you don’t just have a fun game by yourself and know that your friends may or may not show up later. You play together, in real-time, in the context of this online hangout.  

To further illustrate how co-op play works, take one of the games on CampFu, Veg-Out. In Veg-Out, you and up to four friends are trying to grow vegetables to sell to customers. Players aren’t competing against each other to be the sole winner, although they do score individual points at the end of the game. Instead, player naturally trade off tasks ranging from planting seeds to watering crops to talking to customers. The more effectively players work together in Veg-Out, the more points they earn as a team – and the more rewards they receive to get virtual goodies to enhance their CampFu experience. All of the games follow this pattern: players work together to beat the game, the better they do as a team, the more rewards everyone earns, both individually and collectively. Rebel Monkey thinks this “all for one” focus is very prescient.

This cooperative focus is only in the games themselves. We also have taken what is really powerful with traditional hardcore MMOs, namely guild play, and have made it casual. In the near-term, we’re also rolling out a new feature called Squads. Squads allow players to make their game teams a permanent part of CampFu. Any player can start a basic Squad for free, or for a little FuCash, players can upgrade their Squad experience with cabins, chat, and other special features.  

So when you and your friends join CampFu, you don’t just play together. You win together and achieve together. That’s what we mean by “Team Play Your Way.”

How will casual game developers be able to deploy their own co-op games on CampFu? What measures will you be taking to ensure quality control?

CampFu is built on Rebel Monkey’s Multiplayer Co-Op Gaming Platform. We’ll be releasing an SDK [software development kit] that allows developers to plug games into our website pretty seamlessly, and make use our avatar and scoring system. This enables developers to make their own cooperative casual games to be hosted on CampFu. We plan to work with only the best content creators out there for adding games to CampFu and have a Play-Tester Program in place for users to provide direct feedback on pre-release versions of additional co-op game.  

I should also mention that Rebel Monkey’s Multiplayer Co-Op Gaming Platform is fully skinnable and will serve as the starting place for other kinds of online multiplayer game sites.

Tell us about the avatar creation system.

We’re particularly proud of CampFu‘s avatar system. Unlike the avatars on other casual MMOs, they don’t just sit on the sidelines. Your avatar is a part of every element of the CampFu world.  

When you join CampFu, you get to customize your own avatar choosing from hundreds of clothing items, hairstyles, and accessories. That set is just the beginning – we’ll be rolling out new virtual goods on a regular basis. In CampFu, you can also preset several outfits in order to switch between various styles to suit your mood. There is a near infinite variety of looks for your avatars and they come equipped with dozens of animations and poses that avatar can perform.

Once you’ve designed your avatar, you use it everywhere in CampFu. Your avatar appears on your profile. Whenever you enter a game, any game on CampFu, you play with your avatar in the outfit you’ve chosen. We designed the characters so that they can support a variety of cool animations.

Will there be opportunities for user-generated content (such as allowing players to create or customize clothing)?

is a place for players to express themselves, and between our rich avatar system and the unique cooperative mechanics, we expect players to be able to make their CampFu their own.

For now, you can customize your CampFu avatar to your liking. As our clothing inventory grows, you’ll only have more possibilities to express yourself. Soon, CampFu is launching our Cabin feature, so that you can purchase and decorate your own personal room in CampFu. We also have plans to allow more user-generated content but these are still top-secret.

We understand that CampFu will be free-to-play with opportunities for players to purchase additional items. What sort of virtual goods  will players be able to buy, and how will they enhance the gameplay experience? Can you give us an idea of how much they’ll cost?

Most of CampFu is available for free to everyone, but players who want a full CampFu experience can get special features by buying FuCash. FuCash is a special currency you can use to purchase cool new levels, exclusive games, premium clothing and game-enhancing items, more powerful and sophisticated squads, and special features such as Cabins and Pets.

Tell us about the campsites feature.

Campsites are the world of CampFu – they are coming soon. Players can take their avatars into the Campsites to chat, show off, and play around with other players. Campsites are locations for news and events, and players will be able to take part in special quests here.

When is CampFu expected to launch?

CampFu is launching to the public in February with our first set of cooperative games and initial features. We’re also rolling out additional games and features in the coming weeks, including Squads, Rooms, Campgrounds, and a few other exciting surprises we can’t disclose yet…