The perils of monetization
CD Projekt Red wants to make everything in the game unlockable without players paying a cent.
“That was really, really important to us because that’s our reputation at stake,” he said. “MOBA on mobile was enough for people to get angry. Monetization — a free to play game? You can imagine … we had our share of tough times, so to speak.”
But Zieliński said that seeing Battle Arena silences the doubters: “They accept it … when they notice that it’s not pay-to-win. It’s actually an RPG, and it’s fun.
“Every single thing you see — heroes, skins, weapons, and inventory — you can unlock via gameplay. Usually, when you play, especially when you play on mobile, you hit a paywall. In most games you have this sad moment when you basically have to throw some money to play. We don’t want that at all.”
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But Battle Arena has to make money, so there will be options to buy additional heroes and items with real cash, although everything for sale can also be earned through playing, despite what other mobile experts have recommended.
“We’ve been told, ‘You should have play-to-win … you should have gameplay mechanics connected to monetization,’” said Zieliński.
Who told you that? “I can’t say, but it’s one of the big companies that run mobile in the world.”
The correct way to monetize The Witcher Battle Arena is obviously playing hard on Zieliński’s mind, and he sounded almost apologetic about the fact that CD Projekt Red will include payment options.
“We want to earn some money from the game,” said Zieliński. “We have to pay the developers, we have to create new content, so we want to monetize it. We’re still thinking about options to put in that won’t be in that shady area.”
The toxicity of chat
The Witcher: Battle Arena has a matchmaking system that can pit you against friends, but it’s not going to feature audio chat despite some of the team pushing for it.
“We had fights about it,” said Zieliński. “’We should introduce chat.’ ‘No guys,’ [I said] we shouldn’t introduce chat because I don’t want to have a 12-year-old kid shouting at me on mobile.’”
Instead, it has an emoticon system to communicate with teammates. Zieliński says this removes some of the toxicity associated with playing MOBAs. It’s something he has first-hand experience of, often being the one dishing out grief in the past.
“Most of the MOBAs, they are kind of a social experience,” he said. “I always said that League of Legends is the best way of getting friends and then losing them in a very bad way.
“It took me at least three years to get from the level when I was excited in a bad way about the game. Basically I was angry and emotional. Three years later, I don’t care, but it takes time.”
More to come
The Witcher: Battle Arena launches with eight heroes, two arenas, and one game mode, with more content on the way.
The Witcher franchise has enough depth to bring a diverse range of heroes to the battle, each of which will have their own upgradable skills. Zieliński was initially coy about revealing exactly which heroes from the Witcher universe would be heading to the game postlaunch, but he eventually let up.
“Basically, all the prominent characters from the The Witcher, The Witcher 2, from the Witcher universe, from The Witcher 3 — which will be a huge pool of characters, basically — are coming in February,” he told me. “I can guarantee one thing — [main Witcher protagonist] Gerhalt is coming.”
And CD Projekt Red is working to bring a player-vs-environment mode to the game, which provides for solo play. This will sit alongside a variety of player-vs-player modes, which the design team are currently nailing down. They’ve got a lot of ideas still on the table.
“We were thinking of putting in a pure PvP mode like Deathmatch, actually,” said Zieliński. ”Maybe we will put it back because it was actually kind of fun. It was a little hectic and a little unorganized, but why not?”
Heading beyond mobile
I asked Zieliński if there was a chance that The Witcher: Battle Arena would head to other platforms if it proves successful on mobile. “Other platforms? Yes, maybe, no … I’m not sure,” he said.
“One thing I can assure you, though — no PC. There’s plenty of cool MOBAs already on PC.”
But with gamepad controls already mapped and working for mobile controllers, a move to consoles wouldn’t be completely out of the question.
“We have joypad support,” said Zieliński. “It works really well. Because we will be coming for different platforms — for example, Samsung has their joypad, so they requested us to have support … for all five people who will use their joypads.”
And The Witcher: Battle Arena may have an e-sports future, although Zieliński is adamant that the community will decide if it’s worthy.
“First of all we want to create a game thats fun, accessible, suited for the space it’s placed in, and suited for the players of different skill levels,” he said. “If that will grow to be an e-sport, we’ll be more than happy to support it. We’ll be hosting our own tournaments of course, but it’s not our main focus.”
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