The Xbox One will soon be getting its first free-to-play multiplayer online battle arena game in the form of Smite, which launches into open beta on July 8. The game draws its cast of characters from gods, and deities from different mythologies including Greek, Egyptian, Chinese, Roman, and more. To find out more on how developer Hi-Rez Studios is adapting the game to the Xbox One audience, I chatted to producer Andy Anderson.
GameSpot: Smite will be a free-to-play game on Xbox One. Traditionally, this genre is more known for being part of PC gaming. What do you think is stopping the free-to-play genre from getting bigger on consoles?
Anderson: It's been interesting because I think a lot of people haven't really figured that out in some ways. We've been trying to message that but I think early on, people placed a higher value even on beta keys because they think that, "Hey I'm getting access to the game for free, that normally I'd have to pay for." No, it's going to be a free game, you're just getting it early. It'll definitely be a free-to-play game which has the exact same economics that the PC has.
I think you're starting to see [the free-to-play] shift on consoles; there are a couple of decent titles that have come out recently and done pretty well on the free-to-play market. I think we'll be next in line to help keep pushing that forward. Some of that comes from quality. I think, at least in my mind, the free-to-play games from years ago were kind of associated with smaller shot, not very deep games. Now, you've got games like Warframe or Smite that are coming on board and have a large following from PC and bring a really high-quality game, even though it's free. People will see the graphics and get excited about it. I think that will help shift the flow as you see more free-to-play games migrate to the console.
GS: Where do you think the MOBA genre and free-to-play are headed for on the Xbox One in particular?
A: I think as the first MOBA on next-generation consoles, we feel like we will translate to that very well. I think that we're introducing the MOBA genre to a whole new group of players.
With free-to-play, I think you'll see that publishers like Microsoft are embracing it, and they're learning the best way to navigate the market. We're partnering very well with that and we're working with each other. They've been very flexible.. their processes are more geared around discs and paying for a game, and now they're adjusting some of those processes to better support a free-to-play game where you get more frequent updates of content and things like that. Basically, I think it's going to take off.
GS: Do you expect to see a wave of clones hitting Xbox One?
A: It's hard to say. I don't have the industry background to make those kind of predictions. We don't want too much competition too soon! I think you'll definitely see other confident software companies trying to come up with, "How can we compete in that market," and understanding how those economics work, and how they can make money off of that. If people can make money off of it, they're going to do it.
GS: The MOBA community sometimes draws criticism for being quite toxic. What are you doing to curb toxic behaviour on the Xbox One version of the game?
A: We have the ability to mute. We have a feature where you can mute people with a bad reputation automatically. You just set that up and if you go on the game and someone has a bad reputation, they're muted automatically. That's a Microsoft setting, not our setting. You can mute individual players or mute all players so you don't have to deal with [voice chat] if you don't want to. It allows you to do a combination of face buttons to initiate commands for strategy in the game; like attack right lane, attack left lane, call missing right lane. So that way of communication means you usually do not have to deal with the voice interaction. I've actually been surprised at the lack of people using voice in the game so far. I hope people get over that fear, I'm guessing that's more of an Xbox systemic thing. I assume on consoles in general that people aren't using voice as much as I thought they would… I think you'll find in general that people are pretty nice, and if they're not, just mute them.
The Smite community in general is not as toxic as others… I think people are embracing the fact that MOBA is new and people are new to this. I think they are more patient than maybe they would be if you were playing a game for two years. You may not be as patient as, "hey this is all new to everybody."
GS: There are players migrating over from the PC version who are more knowledgeable and experienced, versus people coming to the game completely new. Will there be a system in place to ensure that people get matched up correctly?
A: Absolutely. We're initiate the same matchmaking that we have for the PC side of things… we have asked people to be patient with us because it's absolutely been a challenge. You've got two things that are being factored in. One, you might be a ranked player that comes into the Xbox version but to the Xbox system you're brand new. And until you've played a certain number of games we're not really sure how great you're going to be. So you come in at the same level as someone else who's brand new, but they're truly new. To the system you're both brand new players, they don't know how good you are. The other thing we're challenged with, intentionally during the Alpha and Beta we're limiting the number of players at one time. The fewer people you have, the worse your matchmaking is going to be. Unless you want to wait a really long time for a match, you're going to have to balance the [win] rate versus how quick of a match you can get. We've already seen our matchmaking improve a lot as we got more people in the game.
GS: Is there any friendly rivalry in the office between the team who works on the PC version of the game, and the Xbox One version of the game?
A: There's really not a rivalry. It's interesting because it's a challenge trying to get the content that's on the PC version out on the Xbox One as close as we can to the PC release. We'll probably always be three to four weeks behind the PC. Right now we're a little bit further than that because we're still developing the foundation of some of the game and features, so the content sometimes has to wait. Once we're live and we're launched, we should be about three weeks behind. There's not really a rivalry per se, I actually think more will develop over time, but it's fun. We have a good time.