Female characters are in demand this year in first-person shooters. Crytek’s online offering Warface, a free-to-play title nearing its formal launch in the West, has added women to its lineup of playable soldiers.

The game offers high-end graphics based on Crytek’s CryEngine technology. Warface has more than 7.5 million players in Russia already, and if it takes off in the West, it could present a real challenge to paid PC and console shooters, which contribute to a multibillion-dollar business.

“The female characters are a big hit in our Russian service,” said Joshua Howard, executive producer for Warface at Crytek. “We’re showing off a game that is more ready for primetime.”

The title has a revamped tutorial where you can play in a cooperative mode against bots. You can also experience more multiplayer co-op options and an easier way to get into matches for versus mode. It also has a new mode dubbed Storm where two online teams battle for the same territory on a map. Players can take on contracts and earn rewards for completing them, and they can purchase new material in the store.

Crytek has shared new details for its “sneak peek,” which will let people engage in gameplay sessions just before the formal launch.

We caught up with Howard during a live session last week. Here’s an edited version of our interview.

GamesBeat: You’ve been working on this for a long time. What would you say you’ve been polishing in Warface?

Joshua Howard

Above: Crytek’s Joshua Howard.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Joshua Howard: It’s been about doing some tuning that we thought was important for the U.S. and European markets, as well as doing some underlying work to make sure that the stability of the system was strong for those users. At the same time, we’re offering an example of some of the new features they can expect over time — the sneak peek features and a variety of new pieces of content that are good examples of what can happen as time goes on.

GamesBeat: It’s been out in Russia and other places for more than a year. What would you say you’ve learned from the beta market?

Howard: It’s been exciting to see what’s similar and what’s different. While the core of Warface has been successful in a variety of different markets, it’s interesting to find out where it needs to be different. What makes a Russian player different from a Western player or a Chinese player? Those have been interesting lessons. Trying to find the best lessons in each region. When the Chinese players really liked this, is there a version that we can use for the Russian players or Western players that works as well? That’s been an interesting challenge, learning what’s different and why versus what’s the same and why.

GamesBeat: Did your players demand the female characters, or is that something you were planning?

Howard: That was something players asked for in Russia. It turned out to be a really big hit. Since then, players in other countries have asked for it as well. It’s not something we necessarily planned on doing, but we responded to the users. That’s part of what we love about the games-as-service model. It’s not just us delivering a product and saying, “Here it is.” We work with the customer through the community and say, “What do you want to see?”

GamesBeat: Warface is a free-to-play game. It depends on players buying virtual items and so on. Is that working well?

Howard: It is. We see the free-to-play model as a great opportunity for players to decide when and what they want to consume. There’s a variety of ways you can pay for something in the game, but you don’t have to. That’s important for us. The tuning and what’s different about it in different regions involve the things you can pay for and how the balance of that works. The goal is to be fair. What we’ve learned is that fair in China is different from fair in Korea is different from fair in Brazil. It’s about being fair in each individual market. We’ve taken some time to do that well.

Warface Asia

Above: Warface’s Asia setting.

Image Credit: Crytek

GamesBeat: We’ve noticed that one of the things you can buy is a mystery box in the shop.

Howard: Yes, the random box is something we’ve especially seen in Asia. It’s an effective system. It works well for us in Russia. We are making some changes to it for our Western launch, but the core idea of playing a game and maybe you get lucky. You’ll get something of value regardless, but if you’re lucky, you get something extraordinary.

GamesBeat: How long are the play sessions now? Have you adjusted that?

Howard: On both sides, sort of. Including the two initiation matches instead of just one means that new players come in, and there’s more content for them to consume every day until they’re comfortable. More sessions overall, more play types overall, have increased play time with more experienced players. Things like the new mode in [player versus environment] mean that we’ve seen long-time players come back for more. The core strategy of continuing to evolve and grow the game, our data demonstrates that’s been working out in various regions. You may feel like you’ve seen a lot, but you come back next week, and there’s something you’ve never seen before.

GamesBeat: What are some new kinds of scenarios that you have?

Howard: The new versus mode, what we call Storm, is a variation on the team-versus-team area-capture mode. One of the things we’re excited by is, not only is it a new mode for us, but it’s the first to feature some of our new setting. We’re just announcing our Asia setting with the sneak peek in the West, which has a very classical Chinese city feeling to it. It’s a very different environment for Warface.

GamesBeat: It sounds like people are trying to dominate one area, hang on to it, and then move on to the other side.

Howard: Yeah. You control an area and keep the other team out. If they can lock it down, then there’s another area you have to defend. If they can take all three areas before time’s over, they’re going to win. If you can defend, you win.

GamesBeat: It sounds like you’re going to introduce a lot of variations on these scenarios.

Howard: We have a variety of versus modes already. Over time — Storm is an example — we’ll continue to add more of them. Players can continue to see some of what they expect and some things that they won’t expect, some new modes that we’re excited to spring on people.

Warface assist

Above: Assisting a player.

Image Credit: Crytek

GamesBeat: Talk about the challenge of executing on a high-quality fast shooter that people play over broadband. U.S. broadband rates are not the best in the world, right?

Howard: We’ve done a lot of work tuning the networking in the game to be latency-tolerant. Most modern connections are going to be fine. There’s the occasional issue when we have Internet problems in any country in the world, but for most users, we’ve located servers in places where you’re going to see good performance.

GamesBeat: So, it’s not necessarily the kind of game where you’d have to turn off a bunch of features in order to get the best speed?

Howard: Not necessarily, no. … Our official low spec is an Nvidia 8600 chipset. That’s more than five years old. So, many gamers in the U.S. and Europe are on better hardware. They’re going to experience the game in really nice flavors. It’s important to be as broad-based as we can, so we still continue to support that mid spec, but we want to give users Crytek quality, even on machines that aren’t the latest and greatest.

GamesBeat: Have you thought about advertising or subscriptions as a way to also support the game?

Howard: At this point, probably not. Never say never, but the free-to-play model has worked for us in other regions. If users tell us there are other ways they’d like to pay for the game, we’re not against that. That’s exciting for us. We see the core of free to play as putting control back in the player’s hands. We think we have good options today. If options like subscriptions prove to be something players tell us they want, then, that’s a thing we would invest in.

Warface extraction

Above: An extraction event in Warface.

Image Credit: Crytek

GamesBeat: Do you feel like you have a niche in the shooter realm, or are you fighting in a crowded market?

Howard: There are some great shooters out there that we enjoy playing. It’s an established, successful market. But in the free-to-play space, there hasn’t been a breakout title that offered modern military combat in the free-to-play world. What has existed hasn’t been of the highest quality. Crytek wanted to deliver triple-A retail quality in a free-to-play experience. The fact that we’re free to play, the fact that we’re so accessible, the fact that you can get to us through the browser with GFACE, this means we’re going to find an audience.

GamesBeat: What’s the latest with GFACE Web service? Has the interface evolved very much?

Howard: I’d say it’s gotten a lot tighter. It’s about making sure it delivers on its core mission. Focusing GFACE around a set of core services. It manages your friends. It manages launching the game. It manages getting into the environment and making sure those core scenarios are done well. GFACE continues to be an important part of the glue in our self-publishing effort. You’ll continue to see us invest in it. For now, it’s just the thing that makes getting into Warface easy for our players. That’s a great message to start with. We believe GFACE will grow over time, but right now, it just makes getting into Warface easier.

Warface duo

Above: Soldiers in combat.

Image Credit: Crytek

GamesBeat: Do you think Warface would be doable on consoles or something like a Steam machine?

Howard: That’s an interesting question. Officially, we haven’t considered or commented on anything with the SteamOS side of things. It’s an interesting idea. At a technical level, a number of our developers are quite excited about it. But as a business, we’ve yet to make any decisions.

As far as consoles go, we have announced with Microsoft that the Warface 360 Edition will be coming to the Xbox 360 platform some time next year. That’s an exciting partnership. The core Warface experience coming to the console just continues to extend the brand. Some players are on PC. Some are on console. And we’re glad to reach more and more players either way.