The Command and Conquer series is one of the longest lasting real time strategy series to date, with a hardcore fan-base to prove it. As you can imagine, when EA announced the latest entry in the series would be Free-to-Play, there were quite a few questions and a variety of mixed reactions. Thus, when EA invited us late last month to come check out the current alpha build of the game I took the opportunity to sit down with the game’s General Manager, Jon Van Caneghem in order shed some light on the franchise’s F2P future. In the interview we talk about the decision to go Free-to-Play, the game’s monetization plans, customization, tournament support, social aspects, and the future of the other C&C universes.
MMOBomb: So for those unfamiliar with the Command and Conquer series, can you give a brief description of the franchise and why it has been so popular with players?
Caneghen: Command and Conquer is a long running RTS franchise that’s been around for more then 17 years with over 17 products in the series. The most recent entry is being built on Frostbite 2 (used in BF3) as a F2P title. So it’s an ongoing live game.
MMOBomb: Why did you decide to go Free-to-Play vs the long standing tradition of the series being Buy-to-Play?
Caneghen: That’s a question we get all the time. In the big picture I think you’ve seen a lot of PC titles selling in boxes starting to go away you know? It’s not been easy to sell them in a box. So everything is moving online and I really think it’s the future for games, especially for PC games. So moving to F2P really seemed natural and we really wanted to bring this game to an online service to continue to add to it. It’s kinda the old box game, we built it, we put it in a box, we send it, we hope you like it. As an online game you can start playing it, we can continue to add to it, and I think its the best of both worlds. It’s best for the customers and it’s best for the developers who iterate on the game.
MMOBomb: How do you plan on translating the Command and Conquer RTS experience where traditionally everyone has had access to everything, into a balanced non pay-to-win free-to-play model?
Caneghen: First of all its a AAA game that would have been in a box. So I think it’s a big bold move for EA to take a game that could have easily been put in a box and charged 60 dollars for and make it available to people who don’t have that barrier of entry. So that’s a huge benefit right there. They are being given this high quality game that’s never really been given to people as a F2P product.
Secondly, I think to be able to add to it constantly really helps in terms of what players want to do and play and see. We had small communities in the previous box games that followed the games and waited for an expansion. For us to support that as a publisher and as a development group, constantly making a bigger live audience I think is a much more exciting piece of moving into the F2P space. If you think about it F2P is really just a monetization scheme and a way for people to pay for games in that respect. So we really like to think about this as just the next great Command and Conquer game and F2P is just the way people are going to access it.
MMOBomb: So along those same lines, will there be any sort of gating of content such as the restriction of a particular set of units or even faction? Will players have to pay with either in-game currency or cash shop currency in order to unlock any of the content that could affect gameplay? I am essentially asking you if there will be any P2W properties in the game.
Caneghen: (Laughs) No that’s a great question about P2W. That’s our biggest fear from core fans that want an even strategy game. So we are really striving to ensure that once you start the match the game is even. Everyone will have access to all three factions and their respective units.
The main piece we are monetizing is which general you play. So they all modify the game slightly differently, but they’re all fair in terms of how you play. So it’s all about customizing your playstyle and of course, the customization of how the units look in the game. Then on top of that there is more of the bigger picture game of leveling up and gaining access to more and more stuff.
MMOBomb: You mentioned in your original presentation the company’s plans to expand upon the base F2P Command and Conquer game with the addition of the other popular C&C universes such as Tiberium and Red Alert. Will these be added as paid expansions or will they be free also?
Caneghen: No we absolutely want to follow the same path. So when we come out with Tiberium and Red Alert and their respective units, players can try them out for free and add those units to their collection.
MMOBomb: With the push for games to be more socially interactive there has been an increase in the fear of publishers focusing too much on the social aspects and “dumbing down” the title into a more social MMO or RTS that has a much lower skill cap. How do you balance trying to appeal to a wide F2P market while still striving to be a hardcore competitive RTS?
Caneghen: We want it to be a competitive product. We want it to be exactly what you expect out of an RTS. The social elements are only there to add to features. They are not critical features that make it unplayable unless you go get 10 friends or something. We do want to add the social features we have seen be very successful in other games in order to bring in more players, keep people connected, see what accomplishments your friends have had, one click join a game with your friends list or your clan as well as participate in tournaments.
MMOBomb: Going along the tournament line. Do you have plans for built-in tournaments within the client where players can sign up without having to go to a website outside of the game?
Caneghen: No that’s definitely part of our plan and will in fact be a part of the main user interface. When we have a tournament ready to go all you will have to do is click on it. We want to have automated tournaments going on all the time so you can do smaller ones and bigger ones with us being able to keep track all of those. It’s a big part of the development plan.
MMOBomb: One final customization question. A lot of times we see games offering so much customization both cosmetically and through things like skill trees that a player going into it may not really know what they are going up against. Do you have any plans outside of customizing generals that effect units such as modifying their health or spawn times etc?
Caneghen: Yeah there are some, but they are all really focused around the players level which I can mention helps with all the matchmaking. It’s really about the general though, so seeing a player’s general you kinda already know the strategy they are going for. Obviously if you go up against a GLA tank general then their tanks are going to be a bit more powerful then other players or even other GLA tanks. So you can gauge right away from the start screen based on what general they choose pretty much how it’s going to go. There is no hidden tech trees or anything that would make the units play totally different. It’s all right up front and pretty clear.
MMOBomb: Of course the question that a lot of people want to know the answer to. Any official details as to when players can expect to jump in the beta?
Caneghen: (Looks over at PR agent) So I think the only thing I am allowed to say is 2013, but we do have some major events coming up that are pretty well known for Command and Conquer.
MMOBomb: You mentioned in your presentation that the game will have integrated Twitch.tv support. Is there any plans to get any esports celebrities to stream the game competitively?
Caneghen: It’s certainly part of our marketing plan. It’s down the lines of wanting to become an esport product. I don’t think you go after it saying you are going to be one. You have to build a great game and you have to build a community first. Then I think some of the more famous players will come and try, and once they adapt then I think you can say we have an esport.
MMOBomb: That’s a humble response to say that you are going to try and be an esport versus just saying you are going to be an esport.
Caneghen: No I think it happens after you have something popular and you’ve built a great game.
MMOBomb: I appreciate you taking the time for this interview!