The grand old daddy of Mafia-themed web games is resetting its international .com version ( www.barafranca.com) today to version 3.3, with a smoother gameplay experience and brand new features - including a newly improved Lackeys system, which lets players rank while offline and helps combat scripting (cheat) players.
Now in its ninth year of existence and well past its four million th player registration, yet without the highly graphical panache of games like CCP's Eve Online or Blizzard's World Of Warcraft, the text-based old soldier is fighting-fit and ready for a new wave of players.
What makes Omerta so durable?
The Mafia-themed MOG, Omerta ( www.barafranca.com) may not look like a very strong player at all - but how looks can be deceiving. The venerable web-presence, launched in 2003, is still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and relaunching its main version just in time for the Christmas school vacation.
Omerta's success over the years was brought to the game not by advertising, but (more or less) entirely by word of mouth.
"We've never paid for an advertisment for Omerta" claims Omerta Game Limited CEO Steve Biddick "we tried a couple of promotional offers, way back at the beginning of Omerta, but were not impressed with the results. At the time (and still) we received most referrals via word of mouth ? and so it has remained".
So what keeps new players flooding into the Mafia streets of Omerta?
"We offer a break from the slash-and-burn glitz of animated casual games and the timeless wonder of MOGs where, try as you may, you just can't die", added Biddick. "In Omerta you need to plan your gameplay carefully as you stay dead a very long time - there's no translucent gangster spirit, trotting off to recharge to its corporeal form, no avatar clone waiting in a vat on a distant space station. Lead bullets mean death; death means begin again from the start. And furthermore the bullets from my Tommy are as hard, hot and heavy as the ones from yours. Omerta players who don't learn to interact and cooperate with the rest of the community soon come a cropper. This means people tell their friends, who tell their friends and very clannishly come together for the sake of a truly shared goal - to stay alive and make it to the top".
And get to the top they do - by fighting over Casinos and Whiskey stills, protection rackets and money-laundering operations, and by smuggling and, of course, making and buying as many bullets as possible to stockpile against the threat of rival families. All of this calls for a lot of cooperation, which itself takes place on another old trooper of the web, IRC.
"IRC is cool. Most contemporary chat-clients such as MSN and Yahoo don't offer the user a great deal of flexibility", suggests long-term Omerta employee, Jonathan van Dijken. "Omerta's IRC server is where the real action in the game takes place - deals are made and fates are sealed. You can't just shoot up whoever you want - it is like Goodfellas where the pivotal moment of the movie is an unauthorised killing. In Omerta, if you wander around shooting players just because you feel like causing some mayhem, your career will be short and violent. In order to whack a player, you will first need to approach a family via a Capo Regime or the Sottocapo - these guy's dispense the elusive Don's permission and preferences, and killing without approval is a taboo in Omerta".