We caught up with Respawn CEO Vince Zampella to talk about the first year of Titanfall, the future of the franchise, and what effect the hire of God of War III director Stig Asmussen has had on the studio. Zampella, as always, was candid, and if you pay attention there is always something to read between the lines. 

Respawn just completed its season pass for Titanfall, so overall how are things going?

I think they're going well, the game was obviously pretty successful. I think we announced 7 million [entitlements – or unique players] a month ago or so or whatever...We're obviously still selling so we are closing in on 8 million now. So for us, as an early launch on a limited platform we're pretty happy. I think the DLC has been pretty successful especially the last one – Frontier's Edge – has been very well received. I don't know what are you hearing about it? I would be interested to hear your take.

I really enjoyed the game, but I feel the PC version underperformed versus the Xbox One. Personally, I would attribute that to the fact that it's exclusive on Origin and not on Steam. Will you be able to get the game on Steam sometime here in the short future?

At some point you look at it and you say is it even worth it now, this much later, the effort to put it on Steam, when it would be a lot of work and kind of bifurcate the community? We would have loved for it to be on Steam from day one, but at some point it just doesn't make sense anymore and you start looking to the future and I think we should not make that same decision again.

The season pass is complete. Obviously there will still be service updates to address bugs and balance issues, but will there be any further content updates for Titanfall?

At this point we don't have any new content necessarily planned, that doesn't mean there won't be. But you know we have to move on to the next game as well. We've been putting so much effort into content to support this game up to this point that it's been a little debilitating in moving onto the next game.

Looking back over the last year of Titanfall, is there anything that you would've changed perhaps or you would look to change in the future? Should the game have had longer term multiplayer rewards or invested more in the single-player experience, or are you standing behind multiplayer being the main tent pole for the series?

I would say we stand behind it. It's kind of the decision that was right for the team, the brand, the timing. Will that continue in the future? I don't know. We need to look at that. We're going over sales data now and sales reports and seeing what future extensions of the brand would mean. There's some potential that we're going to look at different things. But I think with where we were at the time, I stand behind that as the right decision for sure.

When you talk about the next game, which game do you mean? You announced in June the hiring of Stig Asmusson. Is Respawn now two teams?

There is a second team. Non-Titanfall related.

Is this also part of the deal with EA? Do they have the rights for the second game?

We haven't announced anything yet.

When you turn the game on it says Titanfall is a registered trademark of Respawn Entertainment, so I would assume Respawn would want to make more Titanfall.

Respawn Entertainment does want to make more Titanfall.

One of the things you said that I thought was very powerful at the time we did our cover story was that focusing on one console with the exclusive Microsoft deal really helped you guys get the game done and make it exciting and fun. On the other hand, there was a lot of discussion and confusion about Titanfall being exclusive and for how long, so while the first game is exclusive to the Microsoft platform, Titanfall as a brand is exclusive to Respawn. So as you move forward are you open to different deals as it goes forward? Do you think there's a multiplatform, multi-console version of Titanfall in the future?

I've already said future projects will not necessarily be exclusive.

If it will not necessarily be exclusive, does your deal with Microsoft and EA cover just the first Titanfall title or is it multiple titles?

Just this one.

Just this one. That's interesting.

Yup.

One of the things I think you see talked about a lot, particularly in the PC market, is that first-person shooters should be free-to-play and that they have a longer life and a bigger community being based on that model. I'm not saying I agree with that statement, but I'm interested what you're take is on free-to-play for a title like Titanfall or first-person shooters in general.

You know I think it's a valid business model that obviously works very well for some people. I think you have to approach the game with that business model in mind and build around it. We didn't have that in mind, so for us it wouldn't have made any sense. But not to dismiss the business model – it obviously works fantastically for a lot of people.

Do you think that business model is something you would consider, or do you want to stick with triple-A all in one packages?

Honestly I would consider anything. When we start a new project we look at what the best setup would be for each game, each title. If we were to do a mobile game say, would it be more likely to be free-to-play? Probably. If we were to do something for the Asian market would it be more likely free-to-play? Probably. Here, I don't think triple-A titles are going away any time soon. But I also don't think free-to-play is going away any time soon. So I think it comes down to the idea, the game itself, and the design of what you have. Does that make sense?

Yeah, totally makes sense.

I would definitely consider a free-to-play game in the future, but that's not necessarily where Titanfall is going right now. I don't want to start a rumor that this next game is going to be free-to-play, but I think Titanfall is a triple-A brand right now and we intend to keep it that way for the short term.

Will we get a glimpse of Respawn's next project at E3 this year, be it either your second team or a follow-up in the Titanfall universe?

No, I don't think so. Next year will be a little quiet. We'll be heads down, back to work. Next year [we will be] figuring out what we're doing and really kind of honing in on what the next games will be.

That follows toward the two- to three-year cycle for most triple-A games these days. I know you guys work like mad but it still takes a while to get a game together at this level. With two teams, do you have one that's in pre-production and one that's in full production? Or do you have two full production teams?

The Titanfall team still exists as a fully functional team...We have another team in pre-production that's smaller, just starting up. But it's a much smaller group at this point.

How do you split your time helping those two teams along? Or do you just not sleep?

Steve [Fukuda] has done a wonderful job with the [Titanfall] team. He's the game director on that. I support him, help him, and pay a lot of attention to that, because it's important for us. I think EA kind of considers it important, too. It's very fluid. It depends on the needs. My main job is to make sure the company and everything the company is doing now and in the future is perfect. What that means changes every day. There's days when I'm all Titanfall and there's days when I barely talk to anybody on the Titanfall team...except Abbie [Heppe, Respawn community manager].

Part of the reason I was shocked that you guys were starting up a second team so quickly was because I know from your personal history that you have a very high standard of what you expect from a Respawn employee. I know sometimes fielding talented people is a difficult thing for one team and the demands of making one triple-A game, not to mention when you start two. What was the thinking behind starting another team so soon and so aggressively expanding down that path?

It probably sounds more aggressive than it is. There's no pressure right now as to what it is. We're waiting and doing it right. Stig's somebody I've known for a long time. I have a lot of respect for him; he's done an amazing job on past projects. I was talking to him for a while and the opportunity came up when things went down at Sony to bring him on board and I jumped at it.

You have a history with first-person shooters and Stig has a history with third-person action with his God of War work. Does this project have any leanings either way, or are you both going in with an open mind toward what kind of game you want to make?

We're going in with an open mind.

Do you think coming out early in the year this March hurt your chances for end of the year awards?

Probably. I'm interested to hear your take on that. My assumption on that is it's a little bit "out of sight, out of mind." It's natural. I would even say there are some people that assume Titanfall was a launch game. I've heard that from people – "Oh wasn't that out last year?" 

 

EDIT: Changed units to entitlements in regards to Titanfall performance, per this story.