While Avalanche is keeping tight-lipped about another Just Cause game, the community-made mods and co-op play in The Hunter are clearly influencing the developer’s thinking.
“Multiplayer has always been something we’ve struggled with a little bit. The mod was kind of an eye-opener because it sort of set the bar for us,” – Christofer Sundberg, Avalanche
Just Cause 2 was released just over four years ago, and it’s still making the news. Avalanche made a gaming sandbox with potential that perhaps goes beyond even what we expect from the PC versions of Grand Theft Auto games. Modders have run wild with it, and so even without any real word on a third Just Cause title that franchise name remains all over the PC gaming scene. For a game built as a solo experience, that’s remarkable.
Of course, you no longer have to play Just Cause 2 by yourself thanks to a massive mod that enables cooperative and competitive play all across the island of Panau. At this point, Just Cause 2 is the Minecraft of third-person action games.
“It’s the coolest thing that could happen. It’s really helped keep the game alive and selling for four years after release, which is quite unheard of, being a single-player game,” says Avalanche co-founder Christofer Sundberg.
“The multiplayer mod has obviously helped sales massively and increased the lifespan of the game. So I think the mods are just awesome. I don’t see anything negative with it.”
But while the folks at Avalanche may love and enjoy the mods on a personal level – not to mention the brand-building and cashflow that comes with tangible support from the community – it does not necessarily mean the studio will be taking cues from, for example, the JC2 multiplayer mod in building Just Cause 3.
Sundberg said he believes that what that mod does would not fly with consumers were it part of a retail game. It does, however, give them a baseline of quality that Avalanche would have to live up to should they build Just Cause multiplayer themselves in the future.
“Multiplayer has always been something we’ve struggled with a little bit. And the mod, it was kind of an eye-opener because it sort of set the bar for us,” Sundberg said. “We could never release something like that. It’s too chaotic. If we were to charge money for that, then players would expect a bit more structure.
“But definitely it’s very inspiring to see players actually enjoy playing against each other and with each other, and that’s something we’re trying to get into our plans for the future.”
In making those future plans, the team at Avalanche is incorporating the wisdom it has gained from maintaining its free-to-play game The Hunter. That game is operated by Avalanche subsidiary Expansive Worlds — a studio which focuses its efforts on free-to-play — and last year The Hunter was retrofitted with co-op play after being in release since 2009. Expansive Worlds CEO Pim Holfve explained how they’ve learned a few lessons from taking that plunge.
“That was a big upswing for that game. It’s been out for four years and the community asked for multiplayer, and we finally released it,” Holfve told me. “It makes a huge difference, but also it changes the game immensely, so you need to make it right so you don’t alienate your existing fanbase and scare them off with all this new stuff.”
“The Hunter has been out for four years and the community asked for multiplayer. It makes a huge difference, but also it changes the game immensely,” – Pim Holfve, Expansive Worlds
It’s a sobering thought. We may think a balls-to-the-wall, more-is-better approach on something like Just Cause will always be for the better — after all, that does seem to be how community mods have helped keep Just Cause 2 rolling along. But when there’s money involved, and the risk of losing it, the people in charge are going to be cautious.
But it’s also about control, to an extent. From Avalanche’s standpoint, user-generated content is great, but in the modern sense rather than the old meaning for that term.
“I think also there’s a difference between allowing the players to influence the game… and to completely have them create the game,” Sundberg said. “If you look at Clash of Clans for instance, actually it’s the players creating all the bases that you play and fight against, so in a sense it’s user-generated content but obviously Supercell creates all the assets and all the rules and everything. So it’s a different balance from actually… what it used to mean with user generated content.”
In that vein, building games for the new consoles does open up some new alleys for Avalanche as it moves forward. Though Sundberg doesn’t think modding for PS4 or Xbox One games is in the cards, what he described to me as the advantages of the new systems for Avalanche sound like stepping stones to allowing for the type of user content that has sustained Just Cause 2, or at least allowed Avalanche to fill that mod void with its own content easily based on user feedback.
“We can have more characters on screen. We can have more advanced world simulation going on in the background. I think the new-gen consoles offer a lot of things that we weren’t available to us before – new distribution ways, new business models becoming available on console,” Sundberg said. “The platform holders have enabled us to go directly to the consumer in ways we couldn’t before. In that way they’re super interesting to work with.
“The whole social connection part is so much easier also, not only being able to communicate directly with consumers but also create games based on your interaction with other players. Platform holders did restrict that previously, now they encourage it and provide services for it, cloud solutions for us so we can share data on all those things and make it so much easier to do things like that that really affects game design.”