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Dust 514: meet the man who aims to take CCP’s shooter into a new age

Wednesday, 23rd October 2013 10:32 GMT By Dave Cook

Dust 514 is a long-term project and CCP Games has just employed its new steward. VG247′s Dave Cook meets executive producer and veteran of the free-to-play scene Jean-Charles Gaudechon to talk about what happens next.

Jean-Charles Gaudechon knows the free-to-play space well. For starters, he was integral in both leading and launching Need for Speed World, Battlefield Heroes and Battlefield Play 4 Free during his decade-long tenure at EA. Today, he is executive producer at CCP Games, working along the DUST 514 team. Together he hopes they can help the PS3 shooter reach new heights and achieve the same long-tail success as its sister game Eve Online.

Eve Online is a hard act to follow however, even for its creator CCP. The MMO is famed for its moments of legendary emergent gameplay, forged by a dedicated fan base that have stuck with it for over ten years. We hear constantly that the key to holding a player-base is in delivering constant updates, but to explain the process in such basic terms is to do the craft of MMO-building a grave disservice. The online landscape remains a puzzle, but Gaudechon relishes the challenge.

Speaking with me over the phone, he shared some insight into his own work history, and how it will help DUST 514 weather the storm wrought by the fierce MMO pack. As part of extending his own knowledge of the free-to-play space, Gaudechon worked with EA in Singapore to help develop games like FIFA Online. It’s a territory that has seen mass uptake of free titles over the years, so it was something of a trial by fire. Once satisfied he returned to Vancouver to launch Need for Speed World, then relocated to Europe to assist DICE with its free launches.

“That was up to about two weeks ago,” Gaudechon explained, bringing his life story up to present day. “What made me join CCP Games was – for me – the opportunity to leave EA. I have only good things to say about EA but an opportunity to join a company like CCP and to take on a product like DUST 514, which capitalises on all the stuff that I’ve learned and done on these types of product, was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s a company I’ve always been extremely impressed by.”

When DUST 514 launched in May this year, it was met with mixed-to-average scores from critics. However, even the harshest of naysayers championed the game’s mass potential. Like Eve Online, the shooter has a solid enough foundation for the team at CCP Shanghai to build upon. It’s easy to forget that games like this – and of course, Eve Online – are iterative, organically evolving experiences that take time and resources to improve.

Gaudechon stressed that the emergence on free-to-play economies has been the most significant change in the MMO market across the last ten years, followed closely by the rise of triple-a experiences in the sector. On the second point, he told me that he very much sees DUST 514 at the forefront of MMO production quality. “This is also why I’m impressed with CCP,” he added, “to be the first ones pushing on something like that, which is very difficult.”

He stressed that the quality gap between sub-par $70 blockbuster games out there today and free triple-a experiences is getting smaller, then added, “I can tell you that when you see DUST as what it is today, and what it’s going to become, it’s probably going to close that gap.” This isn’t simply a case of developers trying to ape the big console titles out there, but the market now demands a better breed of free game. Simply pumping out weak, free experiences no longer cuts it in the market. It’s possible that many of those games are now doomed to fail from the start.

However, as we’ve seen in the console arena, triple-a budgets are inflating at an alarming rate. I asked Gaudechon if this is also true for the free space, and if it could see competition grow fierce over time. “Probably,” he replied, “but for the best reasons. That’s because at the end of the day you need to think about the quality of your product, no matter if you’re going for $70 or for free.”

He added, “When we look at DUST 514; when you look at the depth, the fiction and everything that game has to offer, it is an incredibly rich offering that is free to download. It’s free but it’s not a charity. But the whole point is that if you have a reason and a strong motivation for people to spend a buck, to make your experience better, nicer or X, Y, Z, then yes, we have a really strong model and a really strong product to offer. To me, that’s really important.”

This is where games like Eve Online and DUST 514 can run into potential trouble. They both open with harsh learning curves thanks to their open-ended, emergent nature. CCP has recently started hosting regular training sessions in Eve Online to ease newcomers into the fold, while the DUST 514 Uprising 1.5 update added new tutorials and greater accessibility into the mix. Guiding players in this manner can go a long way in capturing more potential spenders, and ultimately, keep the game afloat longer.

Beyond Uprising, Gaudechon hopes to further hone DUST 514′s opening hours to trim the fat and get players right into the visceral action as soon as possible. The meta-game that exists between the shooter and Eve Online is also not as apparent from the start as he’d like, so this will also be appraised moving forward. He explained, “The way I see it – and it’s one of the big battles for me across the next weeks, months and probably years – will be to add a whole new start of the game that gives you that first few hours, or even first two days to really kind of understand and get into that fiction, that deep experience.

“I could go on for hours abut the stuff I realise about the game, like an employment mechanic that makes you come back to your buddies to play together. That’s extremely important. I could go on but that start will remain a priority for us.” It’s refreshing to see someone run head-first into a new team with such a desire to bring abut positive change, although we both agreed that like Eve Online, the world of DUST 514 is emergent to the point that rolling updates cannot be planned as far in advance as they can in other MMOs. As ever, the community dictates content.

“To be honest I see that as a blessing,” Gaudechon stressed and added, “I see it as a tremendous asset more than a problem. On top of that, having to adjust or road-map at all is a blessing for that type of game. That’s why I’ve never seen a company like CCP bond as much with its community and they listen to their community. I’ve been here for five days and the word community has been mentioned more than any other word. If there’s one company that listens to what they want or tries to follow, it’s CCP.

“They push it even further, because it’s players writing their own stories, and [CCP is] offering all the tools for it, which is unbelievable and unique to any kind of online experience. This is what we’re striving towards for DUST too, so again, yeah that world and that universe and no matter how much it evolves organically or fast, I think it’s a blessing.”

It will be interesting to watch how DUST 514 evolves over time based on the habits of its player-base. It leaves a large question mark over the MMO’s future – and there’s still the question of whether or not its coming to PS4 – but it’s clear that such a transformation won’t happen over night. In Gaudechon however, it has a new steward, and we’ll keep an eye on how he helps progress DUST from this point.

Where do you think DUST 514 might go in years to come? Let us know what you think below.

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