It’s easy to look at StarCraft 2, League of Legends, and Dota 2 and assume that the PC strategy market is pretty much covered. Those massively popular games have a huge lead, and it is pointless for other developers to challenge them.
Blackbird Interactive’s Dan Irish, whose official title is a bit nebulous, disagrees. His studio is producing a new RTS called Hardware: Shipbreakers for the PC, and he plans to have it compete with StarCraft 2 and League of Legends by following in their footsteps and presenting it as an alternative for the hardcore strategy-loving crowd.
“It’s competitive in the RTS space,” said Irish. “Competing with StarCraft 2 and League of Legends presents a very challenging set of circumstances — but we see it a bit differently.”
Irish says that Blackbird doesn’t look at StarCraft 2, League of Legends, and Dota 2 as direct competition. Instead, these games have proven the wider strategy genre works and blazed a trail for games that strike a similar, but slightly different, nerve.
Hardware is ostensibly a hard sci-fi strategy game that has crews of roughnecks scavenging ancient ships on a desert planet. The conflict occurs when two different crews are vying for the same wreckage. Aliens might get involved at some point — Irish wouldn’t let us in on that secret — but it’s all human-on-human combat from what we’ve seen so far.
It’s a compelling shell for what is basically a squad-based real-time strategy title. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Blackbird came up with something so interesting — after all, a lot of Blackbird’s developers, including Irish, worked on the Homeworld games at Relic Entertainment.
Blackbird thinks it can use its expertise in strategy games to fit a wedge between its game and the genre-defining hits from Blizzard and Riot Games, but at the same time, the studio wants to ride on the wake that League of Legends and Dota 2 created.
“Our gameplay is unlike either of those games, but we want to include inspirations from them,” said Irish. “In terms of community support, the quality of the player experience, and the free-to-play model.”
Like League of Legends, Hardware is free for everyone. Irish credits that title with legitimizing that business model for hardcore gamers.
“You know, they took inspiration from Warcraft and the Defense of the Ancient maps and created an entirely new business that opened up the free-to-play space for the rest of us,” said Irish. “It verifies that there is demand for these types of strategy games in the free-to-play model.”
That is a bit of an understatement. League of Legends is one of the most popular games in the world. In April, League of Legends was the second-most played game after Call of Duty: Black Ops II among those on the Raptr social network. Dota 2 was third.
The demand is staggering, but most developers are interpreting that as a strict demand for League of Legend-like multiplayer online-battle arena titles. Blackbird thinks it will carve out it’s own place in the market by offering a gameplay experience that is still strategic but with different core mechanics.
“We’re taking the inspiration of Homeworld and focusing on how we can open that style of gaming just like League of Legends did for the DOTA players,” said Irish. “Our fan base is probably smaller, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t passionate. We’re looking at RTS players as an overall smaller group but each individual has a higher life-time value.”
Like Dota 2 and League of Legends, Irish wants Hardware to work as an e-sports title. It’s designed as a competitive title. It’s plot works with the idea that various human factions are fighting over the same resources, but it will also have a single-player campaign. Blackbird doesn’t want to leave anyone out.
“The game has a player-versus-everyone experience, which players are going to love because it is going to story drive,” said Irish. “Then of course there is going to be a competitive player-versus-player experience. The way the gameplay works, story is going to unveil key gameplay elements. You’re going to want to try both modes.”
Blackbird is planning years worth of story for Hardware. The studio also says it wants to convey that plot through gameplay, but Irish wasn’t ready to talk about how they’re going to do that.
He did say that they’re going to look for transmedia opportunities as well. The developer already released several excellent trailers that establish a truckers-in-space kind of vibe. That’s going to continue after the game launches, but it might expand into new kinds of games in the Hardware universe on mobile as well.
Blackbird is designing all of its trailers and reveals to tease players about its fictional universe, which is a bit cruel. Hardware: Shipbreakers doesn’t go into beta until much later this year. Players can guarantee access to that by purchasing a $100 First Wave VIP Package. That also comes with a Prospector’s Guide that is essentially a lore book that will further detail the history of game.
For now, we’ll all just have to wait and hope that Blackbird delivers on its promises.