Free to Play Deathmatch: Tribes: Ascend, as interviewed by Super Monday Night Combat
The term “free to play” used to suffer from any number of negative connotations, but we're in the golden age of free to play shooters. I've written about my love of Tribes: Ascend, and Blacklight: Retribution and Super Monday Night Combat serve as further proof that you can release a solid, fun shooter that doesn't require an upfront purchase from fans who want to shoot other people. Each game is very different in both mechanics and aesthetics, so I thought it would be fun to get members of each development team to talk their game and ask questions about another title. This is the second story in our Free to Play Roundtable, and the questions were asked by Chandana Ekanayake of Uber Entertainment, the developer behind Super Monday Night Combat, and answered by Todd Harris, Hi-Rez Studios Chief Operating Officer, the studio behind Tribes: Ascend. Enjoy!
Chandana Ekanayake: I first saw Tribes in action at PAX Prime 2011 and was amazed at the crazy tricks and acrobatics the players were doing. How was your launch and what type of things are you focusing on now that it's out there?
Todd Harris: We're constantly impressed with player acrobatics and skill within Tribes: Ascend. The game is all about physics and movement so we see all this emergent gameplay that isn't found in the typical shooter. For example, over the past week we've seen some of the competitive players developing ski routes based upon the location of specific small rocks placed within the level - they hit the rock just right to propel themselves to crazy altitudes and speeds. So we need to start looking at not only making our map designs symmetrical but even placement of key visual assets like rocks that could be exploited. That said, we couldn't be more pleased with launch. We're flattered by the many Editor's Choice awards we've received, we already have over 750,000 player accounts, and the population is growing very rapidly. With launch behind us we are now focused on new content patches every 2-3 weeks that deliver new weapons, new cosmetic skins, new maps, and new features.
What's the most requested feature that your fans ask for that you feel wouldn't fit mechanically or stylistically to your game.
We get requests to allow the same weapons to be shared across classes, or for all classes to be able to carry more weapons - but these sort of changes don't fit with the class-based design of Tribes: Ascend. We want each of our nine classes to be distinct.
Both Super Monday Night Combat and Tribes use the Unreal engine. What were some of the hurdles and problems you encountered using Unreal for a Free to Play title?
We've found the Unreal 3 engine to be really great to work with. We used UE3 for our first game Global Agenda so our studio was already very familiar with that engine when we began Tribes: Ascend. One thing it doesn't provide out of the box is all the services needed for a hosted game - like player skill-rating, matchmaking, server load management, automatic client patching, and anti-cheat technology. But that is all tech that we specialize in.
How was reception when you announced Tribes as a free to play game and what made you change the business model from a traditional product?
The initial reception was… skepticism. There are still some negative associations with free to play. But we feel strongly that free to play is really the best model for an online multiplayer game - for both consumers and for the studio. With free to play, the game has to succeed on its own merits - people can simply download the game and decide for themselves if it is worth their time or money. Like yourselves, our goal is still high production values and balanced gameplay just within F2P model.
What assumptions did you have about what players would like to purchase and what were some of the more surprising items that you didn't expect to sell that well but did?
We haven't been all that surprised in terms of items sales - weapons and cosmetic skins are both very popular. I'd say one surprising pattern is that some significant percentage of players may play for quite a length of time before choosing to spend money in the cash shop. With Global Agenda we typically see players purchase within the first 30 days. But with Tribes we see some players enjoying the game for multiple months, unlocking items through game play only, and then choosing to purchase items later. We’d like to thank both teams for their time, and more of this roundtable is coming in the near future. Be sure to give these games a try, the only thing you have to lose is your time.