Recently, Hi-Rez Co-founder and COO Todd Harris announced that Tribes: Ascend—one of our favorite shooters—will not receive major updates for at least six months, with development almost entirely shifting to in-beta MOBA Smite. Harris later added the news that Hi-Rez is looking into releasing map-making tools for the community, a long-requested feature.
I spoke to Harris earlier today to discuss Tribes: Ascend's success, what he would have done differently, how map-making might work, and the future of the franchise.
PC Gamer: It's been a little over a year since Tribes: Ascend launched. Did its success meet your expectations?
"We acquired the franchise probably more out of passion than having a specific commercial return in mind."
Todd Harris: Yeah, it did. You know, as we've shared in other interviews or at least with the community, we acquired the franchise probably more out of passion than having a specific commercial return in mind. But it has been a profitable effort for us in itself, and now we have the franchise, and there's things we can do with it in the future.
I think it has long-term potential as well. But when we look at it, we're like, “OK, commercially, it was slightly profitable—not like a huge growth vehicle for the studio—but it made its money back," which is great, and I think it was certainly well-received critically. And also, we think it kind of established a new wave of free-to-play games. This idea of triple-A, or more hardcore free-to-play, as far as the production values, and non-pay-to-win.
In February we introduced this Game of the Year edition that let people pay one time and get all the gameplay elements, which is a new concept in free-to-play. So, with all those things, we think it's made a good mark on the industry, and it's a really good shooter. We're proud of what we've made. It's just at a point where, for the next six months, we don't really think it needs all that much more content, certainly in terms of guns, and it's at a good point to entertain what a lot of the users have been asking for for a while, which is a way for users to contribute their own maps to the franchise.
Is anyone actively working on those map-making tools, or SDK?
So, we have someone scoping out the effort right now. It's only in the past few days that we announced that as an intent, so we don't have a timeline, but someone is looking at- you know, there's a few different ways we can approach it. So right now we have a developer looking at the options, and what's the best way for us to go.
Would you expect something like Steam Workshop, or would you let players run unofficial servers?
I think it's too early to know. I certainly wouldn't use the word “Steam Workshop,” because that's been a tremendous investment for those guys, and it's a great platform, but we wouldn't use that, because probably the majority of our users are not on Steam. So we wouldn't want to require that.
"We support anything that's not enabling players to unlock content that would normally only come with time or money."
Right, but might it be a similar system—as in, you subscribe to maps in the client—versus letting people run their own modded servers that aren't operated by Hi-Rez?
Got it, I understand. I think sometimes, at least when I hear Workshop, I maybe get some vision of people creating custom content and selling that on a marketplace, or trading, that sort of thing. Definitely that's not what we're looking at. So, we'll just try to look at a system that's relatively simple but...bottom line, it wouldn't be Workshop, and we still have to look into the implementation, but we'd be looking that's something hopefully relatively simple that gives users flexibility to run their own maps. Beyond that, everything else is still to be determined.
What's your stance on the community-made SDK that's been in development for a while?
I don't know enough about the details, so we've kind of talked through that on a community show, and at this point, it's not clear to me whether that effort is trying to get around the server authentication and basically the monetization scheme or not. So, it has to get further along, and we've got to do some more discovery on our end to understand how compatible we could be with that or not. We support anything that's not enabling players to unlock content that would normally only come with time or money, that's getting unlocked for free. So we just have to understand whether there's a path we can work with that project to make that happen, and right now I don't know the answer to that.
Everyone here understands that the initiative is out of users wanting to create content, it's just working through what's technically able to come together.
Any idea on when we'll hear more about the official map making tools?
We'd like to have some sort of update within the next month, but again, it is very, very early, so right now we just want to communicate what our intent is and what the next step is.
On the next page: community feedback and the technical reasons for a Tribes: Ascend 2