Warface. I remember seeing it at last year’s GamesCom. It was an interesting title, had some decent enough ideas on the co-op side, and even some nice touches on the competitive side as well, but I never heard much about it after that – for a brief time I thought it might have been cancelled. Instead, it turns out Crytek were just busy conquering the east instead – Warface has been running in Russia, China and Korea for a while now, and is already proving to be a successful product. Now, the company wants to conquer Europe and North America, and they’re going to do it on their own, with nothing but a bunch of Russians and their new GFace social platform to help them out.
I sat down with Executive Producer Joshua Howard to talk about the new face of war:
Strategy Informer: So, you guys have already released in other markets, include China and Korea. I believe you have 11 million subscribers in Russia? What have 11 million Russians told you about your game?
Joshua Howard: What have they told us? They’ve told us that it’s a much bigger hit much faster than we expected, which is always a nice surprise. They’ve told us that the pace of content that we release is something that they really enjoy, and it’s been good to hear from them what types of content they’d like to see more of, as opposed to not. We were producing so many guns per month, for example, and we decided there was a better rate for that. It’s been good hearing from them on new types of content.
The Russian player-base had this idea of full body suits skins, we did a couple of them and they turned out to be really successful so we did more of them, but it wasn’t part of our initial plan. Balancing wise, it’s been interesting watching how the Russian player plays, and for me, as someone who’s traditionally been playing with a North American/European audience, it’s been different, and understanding those differences has also been interesting. Especially when we’ve been able to contrast it from what we’ve learned from China, or Brazil or other regions. There’s also a different level of ‘fair’, or ‘balance’ that works in Russia, that might not work so well in the West. As a team, we’ve had to grow to appreciate that ‘fair’ means different things in different regions. The Kiev team, where we do most of the Warface development, is close enough to that player to understand some of that, but not entirely like the Russian player so that they still had to learn.
Strategy Informer: Seeing as Crytek is all about ‘Games as a service’ at the moment, how do you see this approach working when you have to deal with a lot of different cultural wants and needs. Do you see Warface having to maintain several ‘faces’ of itself, depending on what territory it's in?
Joshua Howard: We think of it as a world-wide brand that has a lot of the same value, independent of some regional variation, but we’re proud to make some regional adaptations. I think we’ve been able to do those in a way that feels entirely consistent and authentic. So there are parts of the game where , in absolute terms, Weapon A might be different in China or Russia than it is in the West, but what’s more important than are they all the same, is how does Weapon A compare to Weapon B. Those are fairly similar differences across all regions, so the absolute balance numbers themselves might be a little different. Local variety and local flavour is important, but we always do it with an air off trying to maintain what we feel the larger WarFace brand should be.
I wouldn’t introduce lasers in one region ,for example, because they are not part of the Warface world, and when I do introduce something, like the female skins we introduced for example, we have to introduce them in a way that’s coherent for the world of Warface, as well as different sets of female skins for different audiences.
Strategy Informer: It’s interesting that you guys want to also become your own publisher. How have you found that experience?
Joshua Howard: I think Crytek went into this smartly, as a high-quality developer, wanting to make the transition to Free-to-play, and wanting to become our own online F2P publisher. How do you do that? You start by finding partners that do things really well, that you can learn from, and that you can take advantage of in a mutual way. We didn’t start Warface as a self-publishing effort, we started it in Russia with mail.ru, and in china with Tenzen, in Korea with Nexon. We’re working with very large organisations who know these things well, and who understood how to take an online game and make it work for their player-base.
That meant that when we came to making the transition from being a developer, to a publisher, we already had this experience and this knowledge to draw from. We’re still working with these publishers, but in Europe, Turkey, North America, we’re publishing the game ourselves. It’s nice because instead of having to adapt to what mail.ru think of as a ‘service’, or Tenzen think of as a ‘service’, in the territories we are self-publishing in we get to do what we think of as a ‘service’.
Strategy Informer: The headlines of late have been filled with Valve, and their newly revealed plans for Steam. How do you guys feel about that? I imagine it could be quite exciting on the development front, but you have other things to consider on the publishing side?
Joshua Howard: Yeah, I mean these are great questions, and they’re so fresh! Obviously Crytek hasn’t had a lot of time to dive into it. I think on a personal level, speaking on behalf of members of the team, they’re really excited about these kinds of developments. I think any time we see more options for customers and more options for developers, that’s a good thing. The industry moves forwards, and the consumers get better experiences, when the toolset for that becomes more varied and diverse. So in that sense that’s cool, that’s a cool opportunity. Exactly where Crytek stands on that right now – too early to say. I think it’s good that the industry is becoming more open to things like this though.
We’re trying to do our own thing called GFace, which we want to launch our own games on, and you know, it’s not about taking over the world, we don’t have to take over the world to be successful, we think it’s going to be a good way to deliver great social experiences through our games. And if it’s got a future to go beyond that, then so be it.
Strategy Informer: Do you think now is a wise time to be trying to launch your own platform? Have you taken any lessons from services like UPlay or Origin?
Joshua Howard: I don’t see it as an “either/or”, and I don’t think the industry sees it as this either. You do see games from large publishers that show up in multiple channels, just like how you see games show up on multiple platforms. This is not a world anymore where you are tying yourself to just one thing unilaterally. So we’ve released Warface as a PC game, but we’ve also announced how we’re doing a 360 version as well. And I wouldn’t be surprised if, as a brand, you see Warface show up on other platforms or other devices. So GFace is a way in which we can realise our vision of how social gaming should work, and we think that this is an interesting story and that there’s value there and that people will appreciate that. I think now is a good time to be striking up on your own – it’s not steam all or nothing.
I like to tell a story from when Steam began. I was one of those initial purchasers of Half-Life 2, and I decided to buy it digitally because I was all excited about that and I was one of the few people at the time who had really good bandwidth – the advantages of living where I lived and who I worked for. But I had to install this ‘Steam’ thing to get it, and I've got to tell you, I was pretty pissed. I was this close to trying to fight for a refund and going to pick up a boxed copy, but at the time I didn’t realise that even the disk had Steam on it as well! I was just like “I don’t want this thing, I want the game”. But what Valve knew was that if they deliver a great piece of content, then that’s going to be the reason that you give this thing a try, and they knew as soon as they delivered that Steam had a future. They believed in that future and they knew they had to kickstart that future somehow. I think the industry has proven that that was a good choice.
So, we think, as Crytek, that we’re delivering a great piece of content for these markets, and all we’re asking of (the player) is to take a moment and become a GFace user and there you go. We think GFace makes it easier, we think GFace makes it a better way to play with your friends, so between the benefits of use, and the fact that we’ve put out this great content, I think that’s a good value proposition. We KNOW Warface is a successful product, because it’s been successful for our partners. We have confidence that GFace adds to the experience.
Strategy Informer: Warface isn’t the best looking PC game out there, if we’re being honest. PC gamers can sometimes be a bit snobby when it comes to their ideas of visual performance... how do you see Warface’s technical/visual fidelity fitting into your long-term strategy for the game?
Joshua Howard: As a Crytek studio, we’re always interested in pushing and getting the most out of a piece of hardware as possible. We have the wonderful tension of, as a free to play game, wanting to run as much hardware as possible. So the challenge we have, that the Crysis 3 guys didn’t have to worry so much about, I want to run on 5 and 6 year old hardware, I want to run on cards that aren’t even supported by their manufacturers anymore, because it’s important in a free-to-play world that I bring as many players into this fold as possible. So that’s the cause of the compromises we are going to make with Warface. I think as a team we’re incredibly proud of the fidelity of the experience we deliver, in such a varied, unstable environment.
If anyone was wondering, Joshua told me that the game officially runs on NVidia GeForce 7600’s, which was launched 7 years ago in 2006. The official minimum spec is 2007’s GeForce 8600. Crytek are serious then about having anyone and everyone play their game – but in a year where Battlefield and Call of Duty are stepping up their game, can Warface compete in Europe? Only time will tell. Don’t forget to check out some impressions we wrote about when we last saw the game.