gamescom 2012: Dust 514 Interview with David Reid
I’m admittedly very out of the loop on console shooters. Beyond the Battlefields, Medals of Honor and Call of Duty franchise, it’s rare that I’ll hear anything about a console shooter as a PC Gamer.
Dust 514 though is a notable exception to that ground rule. Being born out of (and in perfect synergy with) CCP Games legendary MMO, Eve Online, this is a shooter that was always certain to hijack my attention. The past few days at gamescom, I finally got hands-on with the public beta that PS3 users have been enjoying for a while now and better yet, took the opportunity to sit down with David Reid, Chief Marketing Officer at CCP games to talk about Dust 514 and how CCP are handling their first adventure outside of the MMO genre.
So you’ve been in Beta now for two months, are you happy with the feedback you’ve had so far and how things are going?
Yeah totally! It all really falls into a couple of different buckets for us; so you’ve got a bunch of shooter guys who are like “Wow, I’ve never quite seen anything like this” because it’s a much deeper game in terms of customisation, specialisation and not just like “oh yeah I’ll be the Sniper”. No it’s “I’m going to be the Sniper with this kind of a drop suit and this kind of a weapon, with these kinds of specialisation and I’m going to be a better Sniper than that Sniper because X, Y and Z.”3 It’s a completely different experience for them in that sense, but very familiar from moment to moment.
The second thing that we’re starting to hear from people is that again, you get a lot of good feedback from people on very ‘turning the knobs’ of the player experience – that’s what a beta’s for right? Eve is a very complex game; CCP are notorious for making complexity, so when you start chiseling things into a console you have to be thinking about a much broader audience. You have to be thinking about a very different UI and a very different control scheme, and we’re getting some very good feedback there, such as it being a little too complex for the console so let’s try it this way and see about adopting certain conventions and behaviours that first person shooter guys on consoles are used too.
One of the first things that people will notice with the precursor build we have that just went live that is different from the build before it is that literally when you start the game there’s a little thing that’s right there in front of you in your Mercenary Quarters that allows you to enter an instant battle. It’s a pretty familiar convention if you’ve been playing console shooters but is not really how Eve has been built. We’ll keep bringing things like that closer together in the beta as we go.
Obviously the massive thing about Eve that everyone loves to write about is its community. The community for Eve really does destroy that of any other MMO out there, and for Dust this is going to bring in an entirely new kind of community of gamers that maybe haven’t been exposed to Eve before – are you hoping to cultivate that same level of a community with Dust?
Well I don’t even know if we have to do it because the Eve community will be right there with us and doing it for us! What you’re going to find is that in a lot of ways, the idea behind Dust is really about bringing that singularly unique thing about Eve to a different group of people. Eve, because of its nature as a single shard game, because of its sandbox style mechanics, we don’t have designers writing a story that you must follow, we simply built the universe and gave you some tools and let players write their own stories.
This is where you see all those crazy stories about assassinations and bank heists, and the wars of tens of thousands of players that go on for years – that is something that even if you’ve never played Eve, you’ve probably still heard some of those stories and they are intriguing to you as a gamer. You may never have been someone who wanted to play a PC game, maybe never wanted to play a game like Eve. Chances are if you are one of those people, you’re probably a gamer that has played a first person shooter on the consoles and so this is the gateway into that infinitely scalable story without having to learn all of that arcana that came before.
Eve is a ten year old game – there are some notorious people and some great deeds in our history, but you don’t need to know any of that to jump in with Dust and start becoming a part of that story as well. We do think that, as a lot of shooter guys have been telling us, “I like shooters, I enjoy the moment to moment experience but I am wishing that there was something more. A meaning, impact, that there is change and persistence” and only in Eve are they going to find something where the battles they do on their Playstation 3’s can have this huge knock on effect into this giant universe of hundreds of thousands of gamers that have been doing this for years. So, we’re pretty sure that when you go to FanFest next year, in Reykjavik, you won’t just see the Eve community there. We think that you’ll see a lot of Dust players there as well.
There’s so much integration between the two and all of Eve’s mechanics and currencies. What’s really to stop any of the mega conglomerates and huge corporations in Eve from taking everything that they already have in Eve, spending it all on Dust and becoming an unstoppable force? CCP are infamous for staying out of these types of player led initiatives, taking a back seat and saying “Hey, come on guys, this is your world, you’re going to have to deal with your own problems” – are you planning to take the same approach with Dust if you find that things like this happen?
The idea is the same principle, the laissez faire approach. There are of course some things that you’re not allowed to do in Eve, but these are things like you broke the EULA, you broke the law and you can’t do that in Eve. But outside of that, there aren’t a lot of rules about how to behave in the Eve universe and just because you’re a Dust player that accepted a Eve contract doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to fulfill it, in the same spirit that just because you made an agreement in Eve doesn’t mean that you have to abide by it, and that’s just part of the nature of how the game works.
Now all of that said, we’re watching these things very carefully because once you join the Dust and the Eve universes all on the Tranquility server, there’s really no putting the genie back into the bottle at that time, and so it’s important for us to watch all of these things very carefully to be sure that we don’t accidentally add something that adds a game mechanic that we didn’t intend. As an example, you talk about the economy, this is a shared economy, they use the same currency and its not crazy to think that there will be guns in Dust that will be very expensive and very valuable, but you have to make sure that you don’t break the wall of reality where you have this great gun from Dust that’s somehow as valuable as this great starship in Eve that’s the size of a city!
So we’re looking at those kinds of things very carefully now as we twiddle with the knobs, but what the players do with that from there? Every scenario that you can think of where somebody could grief [another player] is something that I see is just another place where another player will find a way to counteract that, and in the end there are likely to be more Dust players than there are Eve players, just in the nature of the Free to Play business model and things like that, much like how in real militaries, there tends to be a lot more infantrymen on the ground than there are airforce pilots in the skies. And so we’ll see those kinds of mechanics happen, but I would say that as a company, we generally welcome that , we just have to make sure that there aren’t any unintended things that are flaws in game design.
Now Eve has been around for ten years now, and Dust is coming out on Playstation… now Playstation 3 has a lot of talk around just how close it may be that we’re coming to the end of its cycle and that we’re likely to see a new console from Sony in the next two years, what’s the lifetime plan for Dust when we are probably so very close to Playstation 4? Have you guys thought ahead on that and are you planning to keep Dust moving onto the new generation, carrying on supporting the game in the same way that you have with Eve?
We certainly can’t speak of any potential new consoles! But what we can say is that we definitely imagined Dust to be a service just like Eve, and there’s no reason why that once you’re…see you’re rendering your battles and that moment to moment experience on your Playstation 3, but the archaeology of that, the history, the connection into all of that happens in Eve, online in the Tranquility supercomputer in London where the Eve universe resides. So there’s really no reason why the end of one hardware device means the end of Dust, right?
We’re very much thinking about this as something that, much like with Eve, you have your expansion every six months, add new tools to the universe and to the gamers experience, and we are already planning for things like that on Dust as well. We have a very clear roadmap on things, to the end of 2012 and 2013 and beyond, whether or not there’s a Playstation 3 in ten years, our intention is very much that there is a Dust 514 in ten years, and if you start it on the Playstation 3 and the game migrates to other services and other platforms, there’s no reason why you can’t continue with that same character that you’ve been building, just like you can Eve even though PC’s have changed drastically over ten years…
…whether or not there’s a Playstation 3 in ten years, our intention is very much that there is a Dust 514 in ten years, and if you start it on the Playstation 3 and the game migrates to other services and other platforms…
…So it’s very much the intention that in the same way that we’ve seen DirectX advance the graphics in Eve, the switches from 9, 10 and 11, that if you wanted to, you could upgrade things, but exactly as it was for any player that start on day dot?
…Yeah! And that’s a great analogy because we, at CCP, have been big supporters of all these things and so at FanFest we were able to demo some of these things and say, this is what DirectX is starting to look like – we’re not done yet, there’s a lot of stuff in incubation and a lot of work being done with Nvidia and such – but yes, we are adamantly supporters of these things, we like living on that bleeding edge of technology and graphics. So once you have this notion of a server and a cluster that holds all of this data that is singular for everybody, there’s really no reason why you can’t keep bringing more and more devices into that network and being a part of that cloud.
Absolutely, that’s the plan.
So Eve’s been a record breaker, it’s held the records for the highest number of concurrent players active on the one server. We’re ten years on now and looking back at the competition in the MMO space, World of Warcraft has been there almost as long and annihilated so many other titles though lost a million in the last quarter and Star Wars hasn’t been able to keep pace, yet Eve has stayed strong – Is there any intention that with Dust you’re trying to say “Hey guys look, here’s this great game we’ve got with Dust but this [Eve] is what it’s connected to, come and join us”. Are you putting in place any systems or strategies to encourage new Dust players towards Eve?
Well, you know I think what happens in the end is that consumers prefer certain ways of playing games right, they have their platforms that they like, their moment to moment experience that they favour and business models that they favour. You know, gamers are gamers, there are some kinds of gamers that play everything right? And we’ll definitely find people who will multibox, Dust on the PS3 alongside Eve on their PC and they’ll drop orbital bombardments from their Eve characters into their Dust battlefields and that’s great. If thats how you want to play the game, that’s an epic way to play it that’s for sure! But in the end, we like to think of Eve as a universe that happens to be the primary way to enjoy it up until now, the PC online MMORPG, but now with Dust coming, there’s a new way to enjoy the experiences of the Dust universe, to earn your place in it and find friends and enemies, and to tell your own stories in that way.
I think what we see coming Eve is a lot more of these experiences. If we get Dust right , and this is not a small thing, there’s a lot of work going on right now to make sure that we pull this off, but once you see that happen you can start to imagine that there could be other devices, other gameplay experiences, other platforms, other business models – other kinds of gamers enjoying different kinds of experiences, all in that Tranquility based, singular shard universe. It might not be as simple as saying, “Oh, it’s a First Person Shooter on the console”, it might be a set of applications across a family of devices. It’s a big, crazy, future out there and a lot to think about.
I don’t think that there’s any intention, directly, to say that Dust is a vehicle for getting people into Eve. We think of it as a way for us to introduce the Eve universe to a whole new group of people who may never have encountered it on the PC.