Major League Gaming CEO says an MLG-created first-person shooter is inevitable
The Major League Gaming 2012 Pro Circuit Spring Championship pulled in 4.7 million unique online viewers. 2.2 million people watched on championship Sunday alone. The organization has viewers in 172 countries. It’s not a matter of whether professional gaming is going to get big, it’s a question of how much bigger it can grow. I recently spoke with MLG CEO Sundance DiGiovanni, and asked about his dream game for the organization. His answer was interesting, and what he wants doesn’t quite exist yet. He has a solution to that problem though: MLG will simply create a game itself.
The perfect competitive game
The two of us sat down to talk during the recent PlanetSide 2 event, and the question of DiGiovanni’s dream game came up. He thought about it for a few moments. “The thing is, I think it would have to be derivative of a few things. I loved Quake, and I’ve played a lot of Counter-Strike and fighting games,” he said. “The perfect game for me is something that would disrupt a little. I’ve always dreamed of a multi-screen experience where you have players and coaches interacting and having touch surfaces and communication… but that’s so complicated and hard to explain.” While the idea of giving coaches and players an infrastructure of devices and interfaces for play and communication is appealing, something more basic would be easier to play, describe, and show to the public. “So I would start very simple with an arena duel, deathmatch-type shooter that just works and has draw. It’s something we haven’t had for a while,” he said. “There is something about Quake, one-on-one, that’s special, and we don’t have that anymore.” Think of the simplicity of classic games like the Quake series, and Unreal Tournament. The rules were easy to understand, and the maps were designed for competition. It was easy to memorize weapon placement, and skill played a large hand in determining the winner. The persistent leveling systems in games like Call of Duty and Halo make it much harder to present a clean, skill-based competition, especially when you add in things like killstreaks and ordnance drops. That sort of play is enjoyable for the mass market, and for players who enjoy having fun and being rewarded for time, but it’s not competition-friendly. DiGiovanni described watching professional gamers who came up during that era of first-person shooters, and likened it to watching Michael Jordan in his prime. “That stuff is great, and I think it still exists, but with the additional layers of complexity… I think because the engines exist and can do certain things, we’ve taken a step away from [skill-based combat],” he said. “Some people would argue that these games are twitch and not talent, but I’d argue that twitch is talent.” So the dream game would be a title that brings back the classic deathmatch feel, with strong level design and balanced weapons. A game where you could have two players, or teams, duel each other, and show the action to fans. “I’d like to see more of that because it’s fast, it’s fast-paced. It’s like basketball: score score score score, where a lot of games we have are really drawn out,” he explained. “Which is also fun, but I like those quick engagements and being able to have those things exist in our universe. There’s nothing out there right now that does it. A few things that are close.”
Creating the game they want to see
So why not just create the game yourself? It’s something DiGiovanni says is inevitable. “One day we will. One day we will. Yeah,” he said. “We’ve had people approach us about it. Right now we want to focus on partners with games like PlanetSide 2 and help them broaden out and take advantage of what we’ve built. But we can also take advantage of their understanding of the game mechanics. We’ve done this with folks at Bungie, with folks at Activision, we’ve done it with lots of studios. We’ve done that enough times to have the understanding to take to our own title, eventually.” It's a pretty incredible competitive advantage. Major League Gaming has the audience and infrastructure needed to push its own game, and by working with so many partners and studying player behavior they can say what works and what doesn't in a number of existing first-person shooters. Building a new game from the ground up using those lessons and then launching it in the competitive space via Major League Gaming's existing audience is an attractive idea. It's also not going to happen tomorrow. “I don’t want to rush, I’d probably create an arena shooter and have people say I’m crazy. It’s not time for that,” DiGiovanni said, laughing. “That time has passed, but who knows?” Who knows indeed. With the rise of eSports, MLG's large audience, and knowledge of how to package and sell competitive experiences we may see the return of the skill-based, twitch shooter. A game that MLG itself seems poised to create.