GamesBeat: How does the making-money part work here again?
Castle: Amazon is customer-obsessed, of course. First and foremost, we sell cosmetic items, just like a lot of other games in the character shooter genre. The game is free to play. That’s done so that as many people as possible can play it. Since it is a cooperative team-based game, we want a lot of players out there. Otherwise it can be hard to find the right skill mix. We do have matchmaking. That’s important because that’s one of the other big problems with battle royal. There’s no matchmaking whatsoever. As a newbie, you’re in there with experienced players and you have no chance. Crucible lets you play with people who are relatively at your same skill level, which is always good.
There’s never a pay-to-win element. There’s nothing you can buy that will give you an advantage over others. There are lots of ways to invest in the game to get your characters to have more flair and style. We have a battle pass system on day one. Not many games do that. We wanted to get it introduced to people right away, how you can purchase something that will help you accelerate how fast you get cosmetic items. It equally rewards people who are willing to invest a lot of time, or people who are willing to invest some money and a bit of time. You can’t buy your way through content, so if you’re just looking to pay your way to the top of the leaderboards, or buy your way to the fanciest-looking character, you can’t really do that.
GamesBeat: Can you still hide your way to victory in a game like this?
Castle: It’s hard to do in Crucible. Because the in-match leveling is how your character progresses in skills and unlocks advanced abilities, if you just sit around in the shadows, you’ll fall so far behind in the leveling that you won’t have any chance. Hiding as a strategy, camping as a strategy, there are some ways to do it. The sniper character, with Heart of the Hives as a focus point, you can hide in the shadows and wait for the other team and snipe them. That’s pretty disruptive, to shoot them and grab their essence. I wouldn’t say it’s not possible. But just hanging around and trying to avoid interaction is not a good strategy.
Your team levels as a team. In a weird way, if you do that, you will get carried by your team to some extent. But with only four people on a team in Heart of the Hives, everyone has to be pulling their weight. You don’t all have to be fighting, but you have to be doing something.
GamesBeat: Congratulations on shipping. It’s a big game to get out the door.
Castle: Our earlier game, The Grand Tour, was a big effort. We knew from the beginning we were supporting a show on a network, and there were a lot of things that would limit that as far as exposure. But I’m quite proud of what we offered for the price point and everything else. It was a cool little companion game for the show. But this is our first big triple-A game to go out there. We have New World coming in August as well, another big effort from the guys down in Irvine. It’s absolutely beautiful.
I’m quite proud of where we are with Amazon. I’m happy that we’ve taken the time to make the game as good as possible. At this point we just need customer feedback to make it even better. It’s time for people to go play it, tell us what they think, and get on the long track of adding features and refining things so that people keep having fun with it for hopefully many years to come.
GamesBeat: Is the season approach [for team shooters] the way to go?
Castle: We are actually doing seasons. That’s something we’re committed to. The first one is eight weeks. They’re roughly eight weeks. Sometimes they will be a little longer because of timing on the calendar. But we’re committed to seasons. We’ve already built a lot of content for the future. We’re trying to stay ahead of that wave so that we know exactly what’s coming and we can market it ahead of time.
We have a portion of the team that’s there for backup in case there’s something — maybe a character might be unbalanced, or we might have something wrong we need to fix right away. A portion of the team is dedicated to that, so that instead of just marching on the content treadmill, we’re trying to make the game better with features and improving the things we have.
GamesBeat: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
Castle: I’m super-excited to hear what people have to say. We’re a brand-new game studio, a brand-new game publisher. We’ve worked on it a long time, but we’re under no delusion. We know that the minute it goes live and we have millions of people out there playing, we’re going to find out all sorts of things we didn’t think of. We’re anxious to have people do that. We’re dedicated to making sure we respond to customers.
GamesBeat: We just had our conference with a couple of Amazon folks. Mike Frazzini spoke. We’re discussing our next one, and we’re thinking the metaverse is becoming an interesting topic again. I don’t know if you have any thoughts on where that’s going to go.
Castle: I do. I have a lot of thoughts along those lines. It’s interesting that games are becoming the likely place that the metaverse first occurs. When you look at the concerts in Fortnite, or when you think about the things happening in Minecraft — it’s interesting to me that you have games where hundreds of people in each instance, and then with dozens of those instances you can have thousands or tens of thousands or millions of people all in a shared experience. That’s where the metaverse starts.
Just like people might look at MOBAs and say — that all started with RTS games, when we realized it’s not impossible for people to do lots of things all at once. That led to the creation of MOBAs and these related esports. Similarly, we’ll look back at some point and see that those concerts on Fortnite might have been the first time we had a sense of what the metaverse was going to be. I’m still very enamored of VR and AR, especially AR in the long term. But it’s still frustratingly slow to get to where it needs to be. I’m super excited by that at some point. When you combine the kinds of experiences we’ve seen in these massive games along with the ability to be telepresent in the VR sense, that becomes powerful. I need to be able to see my friends.
GamesBeat: Epic feels like a new platform company, but it feels like the platform companies are the ones that can deliver on this, more than some of the pure game companies. I think of Facebook Horizons. It feels like a bigger effort than just games. That may be what the metaverse is. It’s not just a very game-focused world, but maybe — I don’t know. Fortnite is a contrast to that. But what you expect from the platform companies, with all the different skills they have in all these different areas, it’s an interesting competition there.
Castle: The companies that create spaces for people to get together — Facebook is certainly headed in that direction. I think you’re right. Those companies will create the opportunities. But if you think about it, Facebook became even more popular when Zynga made games. There was something for people to do while they’re there. Building a social platform in and of itself doesn’t guarantee an audience, but once you have an audience, a bunch of people doing a thing together, it’s much easier to get them to try other things.
I do think there’s going to be the marrying of people who know how to create content that’s compelling for hundreds of people — it may not be games exactly — but on top of a technology base that’s built by somebody who understands scale and platforms. That’s one of the nice advantages of being at Amazon, because we have expertise within the company across all of these verticals.
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