Firefall e-sports toolkit revealed: Red 5's Morgan Romine on building the next big competitive shooter

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In the trailer you mention the idea of catering to a whole range of casting abilities - that’s an interesting side of it that people don’t always think about, that you need to get people in at the bottom of commenting in games...

Yeah.

Is that something you feel you’re taking on - are you taking people to caster school?

Yeah, I think we could be a caster school because we’re providing the tools in the game. In the past you’ve needed capture cards, you’ve needed various different production capabilities and you’re having to bring in these outside tools to do communicate what you want to with the game. Not everybody has the technology or the money to put behind it - it’s hard, when you don’t have that skill-set already, to be like “I’m going to invest this money that’ll let me do this.”

So you have a very small community that have really been able to get into shoutcasting and get good at it. I think with this toolkit that we’re providing we’ll see a lot more amateur shoutcasters, as it were - and I think when you have a bigger pool of people you have people who are even better coming out of it. We’re looking forward to seeing how people take advantage of what we’ve provided.

What was the thinking behind splitting up observer mode and broadcaster mode?

We wanted to save broadcast mode for special occasions, and for those approved broadcasters who we know are really standing out. We can give them access to broadcast modes for specific online tournaments. If you were to phrase it as the question “are we going to unlock that for everybody at some point”, that’s a really good question! But as it is we’re only just launching it and the observer mode is really powerful. I don’t know that your beginners are going to need to take advantage of much more than what we’re giving them. You can do replays through the game client just in the observer mode and I don’t know of anybody that has a replay mode like that. It takes higher skill to be able to use the broadcast mode because there’s a free flight cam that sounds really awesome and fun but you can lose track of the action if you’re not someone who is used to following that stuff.

So it makes more sense to give people the easier way in first?

I think that we’re already giving people a lot of power in the observer mode - a lot! But you know what? We’re extremely open to beta feedback as we’ve seen in the past, so it may be that we see people scrambling for those additional features right away. One other thing, for example - the multicam preview functionality that will let you see all of these cameras going on, that’s going to take some major graphics card crunching power probably. There are certain tools that at this point it makes sense to save for special occasions, but we’ll see - if our beta community is like “we want those tools! We can make good use of them!” then we’d be perfectly receptive to that feedback.

Is there a next step for the toolkit, or is feature complete now?

No, I’d say that this was phase one of the e-sports toolkit. We plan on expanding, refining and watching how the community uses it and being responsive to what needs emerge. We can only anticipate so much, you know. I feel like we’ve anticipated a lot, through years of experience of watching demos and watching shoutcasts and playing ourselves - our dev team really represents a large body of e-sports experience - but players are always imagining new ways to use things and I definitely see this as a phase one.

E-sports have been one of the fastest parts of gaming recently. Do you think that the industry isn’t moving fast enough to support it?

That’s an interesting perspective. Well, the industry is facing its own growing pains and challenges right now, and I think that e-sports is a small part of it. The games that have been able to cater to that audience - League of Legends being a great example - it’s to their benefit! It’s obviously been a great thing for Riot that they have made e-sports a priority and that they have been focusing on that. I think that’s huge for them and they’re very smart to be doing that. Because we think that’s smart we want to be taking advantage of that momentum as well.

I do think that people in the industry are starting to realise “oh, this e-sports thing has some legs finally.” Especially people who have been in the industry for the long time and have known about e-sports but never really taken it seriously, either because it’s a niche population of gamers or because budgets and development cycles haven’t allowed for it. I think now as the industry is changing, we’re becoming more aware of the potential. Certainly in games that are free-to-play - this is speaking from our perspective - for us, longevity of play is a really important thing. We want to make sure that our players are happy and that they’re willing to keep playing for a long time.

We want to have an FPS that has the long term viability of a Counter-Strike, because we’re not catering to the model of “we want you to buy our box once for $60 and then we don’t care if you play it.” For us, we want longevity - and e-sports is a great way to do that. You have people who are playing and practicing and trying to improve and as they become really good you have shoutcasters who are showing off that gameplay, then you have new people who are like “I want to be that good!” They start playing, they get their friends into it - there’s a whole snowball effect that happens.

That happened with Halo, as well. Halo was was, well... I think that Bungie was very happy to discover that Halo had that potential but the reason why it was so good is because people wanted to compete and they could play against their friends and that’s what kept them engaged with it. That’s our hope: by catering to that it’ll be part of our successful business model as a free-to-play game. As the industry is moving towards free-to-play I think there’s going to be more recognition of the benefits of investing in e-sports modes. I haven’t seen too much of it yet - we’re hoping to pioneer that.

Is that’s why it’s so important that your commentators come from the community? Are you giving those tools to the community because it has to come from them, this extra life of the game as a sport?

You can’t have a successful game without your community backing it, without them thinking of bigger and better ways to play the game. I think any successful game should be embracing their community. Certainly, we’ve been all about the community since the beginning and our unusual launch cycle of “we’re in beta until we think that it’s ready” is this big long window of engaging with the community and getting their feedback and engaging with that. That applies to big successful game development in the current era in general, not just in e-sports.

The only reason that beta program is possible I guess is because the game is free-to-play.

Yeah. Well, basically. We have a special, magical environment here [laughs] because we have people who think the game is really good, so we have the luxury of doing that. I think the games industry is a tough environment right now in general, so... well, I’ll say that much. Because we’re free to play, and because we have a really high standard for quality, and we really understand the value of community, doing the beta this way is the only way it made sense for us.

For a while now, people who play online games tend to divide themselves between PvE and PvP, and over time that division has become much pronounced as people identify as one or the other. There’s a hard division between how those different games play [in Firefall], but you’ve still got both. Are you interested in getting people to cross over?

So, this is coming from me specifically - trying to think of what my colleagues would say to this, but - I think the consensus that we’d come to is that it’d be awesome to see more crossover, but we also recognise that there are going to be dedicated hardcore players who only want to do PvE raid-style missions or there are people who are hardcore PvPers and are only going to be interested in that. So we wanted to build a game that could stand alone on either side, so if you only want to PvPer you can do it. You can get the experience that you need, you can get the equipment that you need - you can do pretty much all of that within PvP if you want to. You can isolate yourself if you want to and still have a really fun and fulfilling experience. But we also want to make the game enticing enough on both sides that people want to cross over. Mostly because it’d be a damn shame if we spent all this effort on making awesome PvE and PvP experiences to have people isolate themselves into one. I think that’d be their loss! But we’ve built it in such a way that both of those halves of the experience can stand alone if necessary.

Next: Firefall's GamesCom beta tournament and upcoming showcases in North America.