David Jaffe, the mastermind behind the cult favorite Twisted Metal series, confirmed to us at E3 last week that he's working on a free-to-play shooter. Are the days of big budget titles behind him?
Jaffe described his thinking in great detail and why he settled on free-to-play, and he also talked at length about wanting to change the typical free-to-play model so that core gamers will be more likely to embrace it.
"I had probably 10 concepts and I wasn't sure which one I really wanted to focus on, so a lot of my time has been spent whittling that down and finally saying, 'This is the one.' So I'm fleshing that out and generating assets for a lot of concept art... kinda just getting up a rough prototype, and then just figuring out who the team exactly is going to be. That's what a lot of my meetings have been about today [at E3]. From that spectrum of games I had [in mind], I had people saying, 'Hey Jaffe, we want you to come work on this big triple- or quadruple-A next-gen thing' and the kind of team you need for that is very different from what we're ultimately doing, which is a free-to-play, browser-based, third-person shooter," he revealed.
"I hate free-to-play but I love aspects of it. I love the instant-on, I love the low to no barrier of entry to get all kinds of people to jump in and play, I love the fact that you're sitting there at lunch and can play for five minutes or you can get sucked in and play for three hours. You don't have to sit there and power up your f***ing machine and go through legal screens and load screens and load the game. I know that sounds kind of petty but when you think of all the distractions and fragmentation of entertainment today, for me that's kind of a pain. I'll choose to do other things rather than sit down and load up a triple-A game unless it's super, super special," he continued.
For Jaffe, gameplay is king and the gameplay in browsers or on phones can be just as good as on consoles, he asserts.
"When I started thinking about it with regards to pure gameplay, the games that I can get on an iPhone or iPad or something that's simpler or quicker to access, I'd say are 90 to 95 percent as good or better - just in terms of game mechanics - as what I'm playing on next-gen. That next-gen stuff 5 to 10 percent of the time is worth it because you're getting great gameplay, amazing spectacle, bleeding edge graphics and that's wonderful but most of the games that come out and put themselves in that $60 box, I don't get enough that I stay away from my other devices these days."
The biggest thing for Jaffe now is figuring out how to build a successful free-to-play product that's successful and isn't "pay to win."
"So while I love parts of free-to-play, I hate other parts. I hate how it's like the tail wagging the dog and it's the business model and all about getting people to pay [with more micro-transactions]. You can listen to developers all day long tell you it's not pay to win, but you know, it kind of is pay to win. I'm not saying they're evil or they're lying - but one of the things they like to say is pay with your time or pay with your money. Well both of those are really shitty," Jaffe commented.
"Let's take a shooter - if you think about what's happened with shooters, so much of what makes shooters today work (and it's unfortunate that sometimes it's the only thing that makes them work besides graphics and spectacle) is sort of the morphine drip of powering up and leveling up. So if you're saying pay with your time, you're saying have sort of a crappy time because we're stretching out those morphine drips really long because we want to motivate you to pay. And if you pay immediately and get the really cool stuff, then suddenly you don't have that meta desire for a while to go back to it and to want to keep playing," he added.
At this point in time, Jaffe's company and project is very much in a nascent stage, so he simply wants to ensure that he's working with people on a team that will share his vision for free-to-play: "For me it's about starting a company and finding the right group of people that really believe in this vision that there's great stuff about free-to-play but we want to make it genuinely for gamers. And I know a lot of people say that, but what they mean is we're making games that are thematically and mechanically appealing to gamers, but then we're going to f**k it all up with a business model that kind of pisses gamers off and keeps gamers away."
"So there's nothing original in my saying I want to make free-to-play for gamers. It's really about how we're going to execute our version of what that means. So that's what I'm extremely passionate about and what we're building."
In terms of funding and publishing, Jaffe said that working with a publisher is an option, venture capital is an option and even Kickstarter is a possibility. Jaffe remarked how he spent much of a party the previous night talking with Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert and Jenova Chen, and hearing from Schafer all about Kickstarter was enlightening for him.
That said, he does have some concerns about going the Kickstarter route. "There are so many cool things we could do with this on Kickstarter... but most Kickstarters are 'give me $15 and you get the game' but we're free-to-play. What's great about this - and why I hate that free-to-play has gotten such a bad rap - is you should be able to strip away the entire business model of free-to-play and what's left is just as good as any other game. That's thing thing - I want to be able to know that if I go Kickstarter, I want to be able to properly communicate to people that the game underneath is meant to be a great game outside of the business model," Jaffe emphasized.
"So if you donate a certain amount and get access to everything, that's not f***ing it up. You're getting a great game without having to pay more than what you might pay with free-to-play [under the typical business model]. I can't even articulate it yet; I just don't want to disrespect people and say 'oh it's free-to-play and give me 15 bucks' because as a gamer I'd go 'it's f***ing free-to-play dude.'
Jaffe also wondered aloud about how perceptions of himself amongst gamers and business folks could affect the project, especially if he goes with Kickstarter.
"The other part that fascinates me about it is if I go out to the world and I go to Sony and VC guys and publishers, and I say I want to do free-to-play but I want to change up this business model... I don't know if they're going to be like, 'Dude, f**k you, World of Tanks works, Battlefield Heroes works, so thanks but no thanks.' So if that's the case then maybe the Kickstarter audience would be a great way to go... so it's absolutely something we're thinking about but I haven't made a decision. I'm kind of scared to go Kickstarter, truth be told. Because I'm kind of divisive," he acknowledged.
"Schafer's not only known but he's loved. Who doesn't love Tim Schafer? He's a super nice guy and has given the world great entertainment. And while there are people who love the stuff I've worked on and I love that they love that, but there are probably an equal number of people who just think I'm an asshole. And I'm not but because of the way I present myself... I don't make a conscious choice to be outspoken but I do think a lot of people walk around being too buttoned up and I think it's not healthy. I think there's a balance - I'm not saying just say anything that comes to your mind but I think as a society we should let ourselves shine through a bit more. But my point is that I'm more polarizing than Tim Schafer and if I go out there with a Kickstarter and it doesn't work, a) it sucks, and b) what message does that send to someone I might go to in order to raise money from a VC guy?"
It would certainly be an interesting test of Kickstarter and perhaps a measure of Jaffe's popularity with gamers. We'll bring you more on his company and project as we hear it.