Adhesive Games and Meteor Entertainment are aiming to reconcile core gamers with a meaningful free to play experience via killer mechs. Stace Harman speaks with Mark Long to find out how.
Warning: this article features themes of both a free to play and pornographic nature.
Many of you are now squirming uncomfortably as an internal conflict rages between your Pavlovian aversion to the mention of one and your base response to the possibility of t’other. Alas, immediate gratification is not my thing and I’d like to believe that at least some of you are here to read about the free to play Hawken. So, let’s first talk about why the notion of free to play sticks in the craw of many a core gamer.
Thanks to a period of rapid evolution, the clued-up gamer has developed an instinctive wariness of the free to play concept. In part, this is due to the overwhelmingly negative connotations that free to play has managed to engender in its short lifespan. Since its introduction to the gaming landscape as means to fight rampant piracy, free to play seems to have grown into something that is often revealed as both ugly and pernicious.
The depth of its dark nature has been exposed over a short span of years, in which the free to play concept has grown fangs and roamed the deceptively placid environments of our web browsers, social networks and mobile phones. Here it seeks to sink its teeth into its unwary prey; in the hope of bleeding dry its victim before it thinks to extricate itself.
For many core gamers, one company above all others has risen to represent the least wholesome side of free to play. Zynga’s recent fortunes might have brought its CEO close to tears but it has long been held in contemptible awe for its ability to churn out soulless experiences for the purpose of luring new victims.
“Zynga don’t actually make games, they make compulsion loops,” posits Mark Long, CEO of Meteor Entertainment, the company responsible for publishing Adhesive Games’ free to play mech shooter, Hawken.
“They have some really evil practises to dead-end players, liking switching buttons around so that you end up buying stuff. It’s the same on the mobile side, they create obstacles and you have to use money to avoid frustration.
“If we’re going to do something different with free to play it has to respect the hardcore players that aren’t going to put up with that shit, right? The people that put up with Farmville have never played games before so they don’t know any better, but certainly you and I know better and the first inkling that I get that I’m being ripped-off in a core free to play game, I’m out.”
"The people that put up with Farmville have never played games before so they don’t know any better, but certainly you and I know better and the first inkling that I get that I’m being ripped-off in a core free to play game, I’m out."
It’s perhaps at this point that you expect me to claim that Hawken is set to cure all of the ills of free to play core-gaming. That with its worldwide, open beta launch on December 12 it will arrive like a mechanised harbinger of Christmas spirit to deliver us from the evils of conventional free to play (or maybe you just want to get to the part about pornography). However, the very nature of free to play requires a suck-it-and-see approach, which is necessary to establish if the player-base is willing to invest both time and money; this is especially true of the core gaming community.
What Long, Meteor and Adhesive are attempting first, is to identify a consistent and coherent vision of what free to play should look and feel like in the core gaming space. This vision stretches far beyond ensuring that the player never feels like they’re being set up to be ripped-off.
“Core free to play is not going to be about convenience or about buying your way out of inconvenience,” Long states. “It’s going to be about things like customisation and about choice. Being able to customise your character however you want, to show your affiliation in-game with things that are important to you, be that the sports team that you’re into, or the university you go to or even just a skull and crossbones. It’s going to be not just a game but a lifestyle; a destination on a Friday night for me and my friends.”
Hawken’s customisation options enable you to buy parts of a mech, a whole mech or even a bundle of mechs and to strip everything down to its constituent parts in order to construct custom-built killing machines. There’s also a plan to offer the ability to customise the cockpit view of the mech, in much the same way as you might personalise a real world desk or workspace. As Long hints, the team’s vision for Hawken is to create a place where friends gather and so clan support and the option for private servers are also coming.
"Usually, pornography is the experience that drives things forward, it’s the reason that VCRs were possible, it’s the reason that the internet exists and the same thing will probably be true for HMDs.”
Amongst the ambitious plans that Meteor and Adhesive have for Hawken the game – which forms just one strand of a multi-faceted transmedia plan for the IP – is the inclusion of support for Oculus Rift, the virtual reality head-mounted display (VR HMD) designed by Palmer Luckey. To hear Long talk of the VR capabilities of Oculus Rift in connection with Hawken is to hear a man excited by the possibilities of a new experience. Despite Long’s claims that Oculus Rift solves many of VR’s legacy technology and comfort issues, it’s a medium outside of gaming that he believes will help it finally gain mainstream acceptance.
“I would argue that you don’t ever buy technology, you buy the experience,” says Long. “Usually, pornography is the experience that drives things forward, it’s the reason that VCRs were possible, it’s the reason that the internet exists and the same thing will probably be true for HMDs.”
Before we reach the brave new world of VR pornography, however, Long is intently focused on the job at hand: to bring Hawken to a worldwide core gaming audience, complete with PvP, clan support and copious customisation options. After that, will follow the possibility of expanded PvE, co-op play and fully featured VR gaming, with the development of each new strand directed by Hawken’s audience. It’s this audience Long hopes will feel valued and respected by the team’s efforts to make free to play a more desirable and worthwhile proposition for core gamers the world over.