DUST 514 Interview (PS3)

Whilst EVE Online was a no-show this year, CCP were out in force to show off the new build of their free-to-play online shooter DUST 514. We sat down and talked to frontman David Reid to see how things were coming along:

Strategy Informer: Before we get into the interview properly, would you mind giving a brief overview on the state of the game at the moment, and what improvements you’re showing off at Gamescom?

David Reid: So, ‘Precursor’ is the name of the build right now, that’s what we’re calling it, and it is in the process of... you know, we have a private ‘Big Ben’ server that we have been running it on up till now, but we’re now migrating it over to our Singularity server, which if you’re an EVE player you’ll know is our test server for all new code and features etc… before they get put onto the main Tranquillity server. This is literally the first historic connection between EVE and DUST where now EVE players are in the same world as DUST players. It’s not the full experience we’re going to have coming, but it is that first step.

So that’s the first thing, but with the build over all there are a number of new improvements, new graphics, new maps and play modes… but a lot of what you see is a result of feedback we’ve got from the players. We’ve been getting a lot of feedback from players – and we like this – who haven’t heard about EVE or CCP before, but are just playing a free-to-play shooter. They come from a background not of MMO’s but from Battlefield or Halo, and from that we’re learning about how to make the game accessible to a larger group of people.

For example, one of the things you can see in the Mercenary Quarters is the new instant battle stand, where you can jump right in. If you’re a console player you would have grown accustomed to stuff like that, but it is decidedly not how the EVE Online experience typically works, right? That kind of feedback has been really important as we move towards our open beta… now, to make sure you can enjoy the game and have fun with it, we’ve got that quick deathmatch experience that you’d come to expect from a shooter, without requiring you to know everything else about the game in order to jump in.

Strategy Informer: The running joke with EVE Online is the war on lag, all the players trying to get all the ships in one place and you guys trying to cope with that. Whilst DUST works differently to EVE, considering the two communities will exist in the same ‘place’ as it were, do you worry about the War on Lag spilling over into DUST?

David Reid: You know that’s a fascinating question… I mean of course you have to worry about that, when you look at it in that way, it is something that could happen. There is a difference though, right? It’s a very different load on the server when speaking about DUST, I mean as you said there are only so many people in one match, but there are more and more of them across battlefields across the tens of thousands of planets in the universe. That’s different to use rendering all of the ships and all of the missiles etc… all at once in real time. It is something that we have to keep an eye on right now, but everything we hear from the folks in Shanghai is that it’s going well… we think we’re prepared.

Strategy Informer: You’re supposed to launch this year. How do you think your game is going to stack up against Halo 4 or Black Ops II? Are you worried about taking those franchises head on?

David Reid: The way we launching DUST is a lot more like launching an MMO than launching a AAA FPS… I mean the game is both, but rather than try to take the same path that Halo 4, Black Ops II, Borderlands 2 and those guys are going to do, they have a very different business model… the way we think about launching DUST is a lot like how you would launch an MMO. You start with a core group of players who form the beginnings of your social infrastructure… that’s why EVE Online continues to grow unlike anything else on the market is that some of the guys who were there in 2003 are still around, and every year more players come in and the social infrastructure that started it all is still in place, nobody comes into EVE with no one to talk to, there’s always someone around who’s been there a long time to help them out.

We’re thinking about it in a similar way for DUST, but the shooter audience is very different, so part of our thinking is that the goal in the immediate term is to try and bring in a very veteran FPS player, so not someone who’s just played COD or Battlefield, but someone who has played M.A.G., who is familiar with the core shooter experience regardless of EVE, and is used to these battlefield-like experiences with all these vehicles etc…, but with the integrity of our economy. I mean there are no magic spawnpoints where a tank appeared – that tank was paid for with ISK by someone who earned that money fighting elsewhere.

That’s a very different kind of player to someone who’s just playing Call of Duty this holiday, because they played Call of Duty last holiday because all their friends play it and it’s the only thing they’ve ever played. Ultimately we believe those kinds of people are our target customer, but we don’t believe we need to go after them right away, especially during Q4. I mean when we think of PlayStation 3 we think of M.A.G., SOCOM, Killzone… all these people and clans who are accustomed to the core shooter experience. Once we move out from that, that’s when we start targeting the Halo and the Call of Duty or Borderlands guys, but they will have a different level experience as that first circle will have.

Strategy Informer: How have these ‘shooter’ players been adapting to things like the marketplace? You don’t exactly see that in Call of Duty or Battlefield...

David Reid: There are really two different sorts of feedback we’ve been getting – the first is like, wow, I’m playing this… I picked up this game because I’d heard about it and thought it sounded neat, and you start playing through those moment-to-moment experiences… but then you start to see what we call the Rabbit Hole, you see how deep it can go. You see the amount of customization and specialisations you can do. I’m not just a sniper, I’m the kind of sniper I want to be / can focus on… you know as I earn skill points in the game and get ISK (and Aurum, if I choose to), I can try out different weapons, dropsuits etc… I mean in the Beta right now, it's all pretty terrestrial planets, very easy to understand… but we’ve made it very clear that as we go forward, we’re going to go from high-sec all the way out to null-sec, and have terrestrial planets all the way to gas rings and water-worlds… and there’s going to be an enormous amount of difference between being a sniper in high-sec, than being in null-sec.

People are starting to see that, and are like, wow, that’s what all these skills and items are about? That sounds cool. It’s something that the shooter audience, they haven’t always known what they were looking for, but they’re like “I like this, I enjoy it, but I wish there was something with more meaning”. They wish for something more than simply unlocking a new rank on a prestige level, they want more persistence...

On the flipside though it can be pretty daunting, it’s like how do you even get your head around it? What we’re doing with Instant Battle though… I mean we’ve had people in the game since last December, and if you put a new player in against those guys… it’s pretty messy. So Instant Battle is designed to get people into a match-making system, where they’re immediately jumping into a match which is what they want, but they're also being thrown against people with similar skill levels, and in parallel with that we want to bring in more New Player Experience stuff, explaining various aspects of the game so people can choose a specialisation and become a true specialists within their clan.

It’s one of those things that we expect EVE players to get, but we don’t’ think most of our players are going to be EVE players, so we need to make sure that we educate them about these things in a way that gets them into the economy without overwhelming them.

Strategy Informer: You mentioned how all these player battles are going to have meaning now, but are you going to communicate that to the player? How are you going to tell them that Deathmatch they just played means that GoonSquad just took over the universe?

David Reid: Part of how this happens, it is a bit of a journey of discovery that the new shooter is going to have. At some level, every gamer has probably heard stories of the craziness that goes on in EVE Online… they may not have ever played the game, and they may not want to play that kind of game, but they’ve heard these stories about the bank heists, corporations, assassinations etc… so, we expect that a fair number of people coming in with a general awareness of this idea, just because they’ve heard of these stories. The moment we think the uninitiated DUST player will being to realise how that happens is when they start going into contracts, and they see some from computer controlled corporations, but then they see one from a player controlled corp and go “ohh, this is interesting, what’s this”. It’s a real mission, from real people, who need the resources of a particular planet.

So you and your DUST friends (or even going solo) will start taking on these player contracts, and that’s when you start going into the rabbit hole, you start chatting with them and negotiating the rates and you could be like “yeah, we’ll do this battle for you, but we want you to throw in an orbital airstrike, or enough ISK for another tank or something”. But you begin to realise that what you’re doing is taking control points so you can control this district, which is one of several on this planet, and when you control all the districts, you control the planet and that EVE Corp has another advantage in their war. So there isn’t a single moment where it happens, but it’s gradual process of awareness.

Strategy Informer: Will you be including things like Factional Warfare or the other more PvE concepts into DUST?

David Reid: So a couple of thoughts for that – we have plans for more of a direct tie for events that happen in Factional Warfare to effect events in DUST. It is coming, so stay tuned… but we also want to think of other ways to make a more familiar … an MMO player would think of it as PvE, but to a shooter player that’s basically single-player, and like EVE, DUST is not going to have a single-player mode. A lot of shooter-people do like playing that single-player experience, but at the end of the day it’s the multiplayer content that will keep you coming back.

The way we can do that is to start introducing modes that shooter fans like, Survival and Horde mode for example – we have those plans, they are coming… the game is going to be updated on a very regular basis. WE don’t expect that to be the most fulfilling part of the game… like EVE we see interacting with the other players as the most fun and most rewarding. But in EVE you can be the guy who just sits there on his own and mines all the time – you will be able to do that in DUST. Not quite yet, but it’s not far away.

Strategy Informer: You guys have been working on this for a while now, and as you mentioned you’ve made many improvements with regards to feedback… but what’s the biggest thing that hasn’t gone according to plan? Something that you know you still need to work on?

David Reid: Honestly, it has been the complexity… I mean we’re CCP, EVE Online is a very complex game, and we don’t apologise for that. We worked in EVE and in DUST … we don’t want to make it an easy game, but we don’t want to make it too hard to understand how to play… but it’s one thing to think like that in EVE, where it’s been going for a long time and we know who those people are, it’s another thing to think like that in DUST, where at the end of the day, we hope for example a guy who’s only played Call of Duty to come in and be able to enjoy it.

The game is not quite there yet, but we’ve been very focused on that and are working on it… but that is part of the plan, you need to take big steps as the game moves from closed to open beta, and from open beta to launch. It’s not like we didn’t know that was part of the plan, but it’s been good to get that feedback… the Instant Battle for example, players just want to be able to jump in and not get slaughtered by someone who’s been playing longer. So we put that in… I mean, when a player starts to get a beat on what everything does, that’s when they'll start investing the time in tweaking their load-outs and the marketplace etc… but that’s not what they want to do the first time. They just want to jump in and shoot a guy in the face.

Thanks David for taking the time to chat to us. Keep an eye out for more DUST 514 coverage, and don’t forget to check out our preview.


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