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Inside The Flock, the Mac game that slowly dies as its players do (online)

Andrew Hayward | Aug. 18, 2015
Slated to hit Mac and PC on Friday, August 21, The Flock is a truly eerie experience. The first-person multiplayer game is draped in shadows as you control a hobbled, sluggish human-like creature protecting a glowing artifact--or one of the four ferocious monsters out to claim it. The Flock is billed as a horror game, and it's the rare one in which the scares come not from scripted sequences or computer-controlled characters, but rather other online players.

Here's where things get interesting: Sure, the Flock have an obvious physical advantage, and if unseen in the darkness, they can easily steal the artifact. But the carrier's light is even more powerful--so much so that any movement within the illuminated path will immediately burn them to death. Luckily, the Flock creatures can stand still (like a statue) to avoid that grisly fate, and their majority means that the carrier probably can't keep one foe pinned down with light for long without risking a sneak attack from another. 

Each battle will surely generate a small stack of Flock deaths, and those will be taken away from the starting tally. That initial number is 215,358,979--so hundreds of millions of lives are up for grabs before the game shuts down for good. The developers used data from the closed beta test to help shape that figure, but player demand and interest will determine how long the game actually lasts. And there's one caveat: If Vogelsap opts to release the game on consoles, that total will be adjusted for all platforms. 

Will The Flock last months? A year? More? It's a question that flies against conventional wisdom in the gaming space. While it's true that online games typically don't last forever--although World of Warcraft still attracts millions of subscribers after 11 years--there's such a preoccupation with the concept of "value" for many game players. You buy a game and expect to play it over and over again, right? But at some point, with The Flock, that just won't be true. 

It's almost inching towards performance art, paying for one experience that lasts a certain amount of time--only unlike a play or screened film, that end time isn't finalized from the start, and your own actions help hurry it along. The Flock isn't structured like most other games, so treating it with the same expectations seems like a fool's errand. 

"Instead of the game's player-base withering away--as most (indie) multiplayer games are destined to--we want the game to end with a climactic finale and have the players' experience be solid from start [to] end. I understand people like to go back to their games, but if there's no other players online to play against, that's not worth much," Van Hasselt asserts. "We chose to sacrifice that option of being able to replay the game years from now, and turn the overall experience of The Flock into something better for most players."

At least the finale might be worth the wait, however long that ends up being: Van Hasselt says they'll tease out hints while the game is live, but although he won't get into details now, he says the playable ending event will be memorable. He also claims that a second season or return run won't happen, since it would kill the uncertainty that helps make The Flock unique. "We're here to make sure the players feel amazed and excited for what we have to offer," he explains. "They can't go through the same experience when they already know the outcome."


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