Today, the Fury Challenge kicks off with a revised prize pool of $2 million. At AGDC, we spoke to Fury CEO and Executive Producer Tony Hilliam about the game, the Challenge and the upcoming launch.

Fury Challenge is essentially Open Beta, but it is also a part of a large plan for Fury. Upon launch, the game will be free to play (after retail purchase) with an optional subscription for jazz like voice chat, etc. Unlike Guild Wars, which releases a new box every year in place of a subscription, they’re relying on this premium membership for continued revenue. However, they also hope events like Fury Challenge – which is likely to happen again after launch – change things a bit.

Auran does, though, plan to do retail expansions from time to time. However, they will be true expansions, not “sequels” and they also plan a wealth of free online updates to the game, much in the style of subscription driven games.

The Challenge is sponsored by assorted companies, both in terms of prizes and in-game advertising that are not part of the regular Fury product. For example, health packs are labeled after an energy drink and loading screens have been replaced with advertisements. This is not at all what the regular day-to-day of Fury looks like.

“Fury is a game, Fury Challenge is an event,” Hilliam noted. While this one stands in for Open Beta, the future ones will happen on dedicated, level playing field servers especially designed for the event. In the future, “Immortals” (subscribers) will get into challenges for free. “Heroes” (box copy non-subscribers) can pay an entry with in-game gold and non-owners will be able to digitally download as part of a free trial or a small flat fee, just for the event.

Auran clearly demonstrated their enthusiasm for this kind of event model when they doubled the prize pool early today. They have a lot invested in this and hope that one day, Fury Challenges will be a regular part of people’s gaming lives.

“Maybe it will be instead of ‘Friday night football’, Friday night Fury,” Hilliam quipped.

As the game rapidly approaches launch, Auran faces one scary proposition. Most MMOs work just fine whether they have one full server or 100. Fury though requires a critical mass of people to work. If there are too few people logged on, then the queues for PvP battles get really long and the experience of the whole suffers. Hilliam told us that he believes the game needs about 10,000 concurrent users to operate at peek efficiency. He believes that one cluster (players are divided into different servers and when they enter a PvP queue are matched against players on other servers) could handle roughly 100,000 people at a time. The more people, the shorter the lines, the better the experience.

Hilliam believes that Fury speaks for itself and the more people who get into it, the more that will play it. They don’t have a knockout marketing budget and a slow build in the style of an EVE Online is harder given the game’s design. Thus, they have made sure to give players as many ways in as possible. From day one, they will have a digitally distributed version of the game online for the same price as the box. He also expects free trials to follow shortly after launch and, of course, believes the Fury Challenge should turn some heads.

One other barrier to entry they’ve faced is the system requirements to get into the Unreal-engine driven game. Simply: they’re high, too high and Auran needed to make sure that fans of games like Guild Wars could load their client. While they continue to tweak and optimize the client, they also decided to do a full on second client for low end machines. It’s not as pretty, but it runs like a gem with base requirements similar to Guild Wars. This should mean more people can get involved and also might just provide a competitive edge for those who want every frame to go as fast as possible. As someone who is not overly concerned with graphics, you’ll find me exclusively on the low end client whether I need it or not.

Check out the Fury Challenge for free as of today at UnleashTheFury.com and judge for yourself.

Fury hits stores on October 9th in North American, Australia and New Zealand, then Europe on October 12th. All of these players will play together on the same group of servers.

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