Total War: Arena devs 'excited' by esports potential - interview

PCR speaks to Creative Assembly about its upcoming free-to-play multiplayer game
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The developers of Sega's upcoming Total War: Arena free-to-play PC multiplayer game say it has the potential to prosper in the growing esports scene - read the full Q&A interview here.

The game - which will go live as a closed beta in 2015 - features 10 versus 10 player battles. Each player takes on the role of a commander who controls three groups of units - whether they're archers or infantry for example. For example, Julius Caesar is a support commander who has two groups of archers and a collection of spear-wielding infantry.

PCR attended a media event and spoke to Creative Assembly designer Elliot Lock and live operations manager Jan van der Crabben for more info.

PCR: Esports is now a big business, with League of Legends tournaments boasting huge cash prices and drawing millions of viewers. Do you have any sort of esports aspirations for Total War: Arena?

Elliot Lock: This has come up a lot, and I am excited that it has because it is not a natural direction for us - I didn’t believe we could buy a way in or force our way in. It has to naturally happen.

What we want to try and do is just make a good game, make sure we’ve got all the right elements there with the team-based gameplay is there, the competitiveness and the adrenaline sort of rush and then that will hopefully naturally progress into something more competitive and esports based.

When it does we can re-evaluate and if we need to change the game in certain aspects, to make sure we are fully supporting that. That’s one of the reasons it’s a service: so we can constantly provide updates and make sure it is constantly supporting the communities.

That’s how you grow a multiplayer game in my opinion, you just have to constantly be there to push it, and with a boxed product that is far more difficult. 

Do you think it will naturally happen, or are you going to encourage it?

Jan van der Crabben: We have approached some programmers to get their opinion and so far the feedback has been really positive, so we are positive that this might happen and we are going to do what we can to help it happen, but we certainly don’t want to push it because as Elliot said, we really believe it needs to come from the community itself, who need to embrace it first and then we can help them get it off the ground.

Elliot Lock: One reference I draw from us when Quake was out, and Counter Strike came out later, everyone was like: “This is really slow."

I believe Counter Strike is doing okay now – so we draw reference from that in terms of we are slowing down ever so slightly in a strategy element to a kind of older audience.

That doesn’t mean that there is less strategy there [in Total War: Arena] or that many less actions, it just means you can approach it at a slower pace, and take your time. 

How is ranked play going to work?

Elliot Lock: Matchmaking is basically a portion of the system that takes into account a player's progress or tier, what you are bringing into the battle as well as the player skill based in certain stats that we've got. It juggles all of that together and makes sure you have got a good balanced battle.

We’ve also got party matchmaking that we are going to be looking at as well as clan-based gameplay, but these are very difficult so we really need to look into that to make sure we do it right, so it doesn’t affect the general balance of battles as well.

We want to take that into account to make sure everyone plays in a fair battle and at a fair level.

Do you have any promotions in the works around Total War: Arena with other PC vendors, for example graphics cards manufacturers?

Jan van der Crabben: We have approached various companies and we are still talking to them, but as the launch is still a while away we really haven’t got any fixed deals.

But we could imagine some of the companies that usually do something with esports games might want to do something with us, but that is still open.

How will the payment system work?

Jan van der Crabben: Gold is the real money currency that you’d buy with you local currency. You can spend that in a variety of ways – such as gold units and gold commanders. In order to make sure the game is not pay-to-win we balance them in such a way that they are not stronger than any of the other units, but they are more specialised or slightly different and obviously cool.

So the idea is that we give you a shiny new toy for real money, but you’re not going to win with it - you need to learn how to use it just like any other unit, and it should actually be harder to learn because they are more specialised.

There is also personalisation and customisation options in which we will sell colour packs to paint your units. In the future we might sell skins for commanders, and then we might sell you things that will help you progress faster, without actually affecting the battle. Because once you reach a certain age, you want to spend money rather than grind.

We want to let people progress faster but not too fast, so not to impact the battle too much because we really don’t want it to be pay-to-win. That is why at the moment we haven’t actually activated any gold yet because we are not focusing on it. 

We want to make a great game first as a free experience that is a lot of fun, and then slowly add in the gold features to see how it goes and react to the community feedback.

Is there a typical price for units yet?

Jan van der Crabben: We want to make sure that people will be able to spend as little as £2 to get something – far less for colours probably. But we also want to make sure that the people who really want to spend some money can also do exactly that and spend hundreds if not thousands of pounds in the game over a period of time, if they really want to.

The game started life as a MOBA. What is it now - a team MMO?

Elliot Lock: It’s a team based strategy game.

Jan van der Crabben: We’re not pushing the MMO label that much but you could call it that.

Elliot Lock: We originally came out calling ourselves a MOBA. And we are definitely not that. We are different from that. We just have elements that are similar if you like. We’re a niche, we are ourselves and in a way we are creating our own genre because we aren’t quite the same as anything.

I don’t think there is another game out there like us to be honest. We didn’t intend to create another genre but we are just that little bit different making it harder to put us into a category.

If anything we are team based game with strategy and other different elements.

How different was the game when you started it?

Jan van der Crabben: We tried all sorts of things. It was bigger before, then smaller – we tested all kinds of variations. It has been in development for quite a long time, over two years now.

We arrived with this formula of 10v10, because that is essentially where one player can make a difference but doesn’t solely decide the battle, and at the same time the three units allow the one player to have enough to do to be able to be constantly engaged. But at the same time it's not so big and complex like a traditional war battle.

You are really in the action because you can follow the individual units, give them commands and make much more refined manoeuvres of flanking and rear attacks with a large army like you can in a normal Total War game, where it's hard to pull off because there is so much going on.

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