Crytek Prepares For The Future
Developer Crytek is known for creating some of the most impressive graphics in the games industry. The third entry in the team's sci-fi shooter franchise Cyrsis is coming out this February. Game Informer spoke to CEO and president Cevat Yerli about where Crytek is going forward, the studio's free-to-play focus, and his thoughts on the current state of the gaming.
Game Informer: What are your thoughts on the industry right now overall? The console market is kind of fading a bit, the social games bubble has burst a little bit, mobile has kicked up a lot, what do you think about the games industry right now?
Cevat Yerli: It’s a very exciting time to be in it, to be honest; a difficult one but very exciting. It’s difficult because there’s so many moving parts that any bets, especially for developers like us, are quite risky and could be defining as good or bad. I’m excited about the fact that there are new business models like free-to-play, mobile, tablet, and those kinds of areas. I’m actually excited about social as well, not social like what has been done before but social for core gaming. Going forward we are still very excited about making awesome experiences, whether it’s on PC, or consoles, or the new platforms. We’ll see.
I’ve noticed a lot of long–time industry people leave the hardcore gaming scene for more free-to-play stuff. Do you see any issues with the industry as far as things that might not be prevalent now but could be in the future? Is there anything that worries you about where things may be going? High dev costs are always a thing that people point to as a rising problem in the industry for example.
Yeah, there are concerns obviously. The difference between the top five titles and the rest of the top 10, so to speak, is getting larger and larger, and between the top one and two is getting larger as well, so you have to be somewhere in the top five spots if you want to survive making high-end blockbuster titles. So that’s a challenge, and that challenge pressures people to question, “Why am I doing this?” It is all back to the same reasons. I want to be creative and I want to make decisions that I like to make.
These kind of decisions are actually easier when costs are lower, such as mobile, tablet, or some of the browser Flash games. That risk is actually amplified right now especially due to the potential transition of fear. It’s not clear when next-gen is coming for many developers and publishers, and there’s the fear of, “Okay, can I start something now even, and if I start something now how big does it have to be simply from a focus perspective?” These are kind of the things that designers don’t like to do, they don’t like to think from the beginning, “Oh I have to make a game concept that sells 10 million units or I’m out.” They want to resort back to “why did I start in the industry in the first place?” and be able to do this commercially.
A couple months ago you talked about free-to-play as the future for your company. Obviously you have Warface coming out later this year or early next year in North America. Can you expand on that, is free-to-play really something you’re going to just only focus on going forward, or do you think you might still dabble in the traditional console $60 boxed retail side?
For me, when I say we are going free-to-play in the future, I mean that definitely, but the practice and how to go there is going to be more complicated. Not for the sake of complicating it but rather for the consumers, the consumers are still in the mindset of going to a retail shop and spending 60 bucks. They are not all necessarily ready for transitioning.
I think as a company you have to be the most friendly to consumers, so when consumers want to buy something at retail they have to get it, if they want to download the free client and get free-to-play they should be getting that. Consumers should be getting what they want to get in one franchise. I think there is an ability for a game where retail and free-to-play can coexist in a meaningful way, and that’s probably going to be in the very near future that we’ll see more of that, not only from Crytek but from others as well. I think that maybe two or three years down the road you might have only free-to-play releases. Maybe the retail and free-to-play hybrid models are going to be very successful, and maybe that’s going to be a defining business model for the next five years, who knows? I think it’s really about giving the consumers a nice package; they want to have a nice package. Maybe a mantlepiece, where they know, “I paid something and now I can play this like I used to play.” For people who actually want to enter the game for free, they might be able to do that too.
Is that a goal with Warface? To show people that you can get a free-to-play game that also looks awesome and plays awesome? I think you would probably agree that there’s the perception that free-to-play, at least in the past, are kind of cheap or they don’t necessarily have a deep gameplay experience. Is that what you’re trying to prove with Warface?
Absolutely. We spent effectively a AAA budget on Warface, and this is a AAA title that you can play for free for sure. We think that being able to play a game for free for as long as you want is paramount, with making sure that the game doesn’t become unfair for those who pay and for those who don’t pay. It’s not pay-to-win; it’s a true play for free as long as you want experience where if you spend the time you can get a top-notch, high quality experience and career in a game that you used to normally pay for.
Most exciting for me is that we are bringing with Warface a social component to the table where we say, “This is a game about you and your friends.” We are being extra careful of delivering you and your friends a very high quality experience, and we think that will differentiate this shooter, Warface, from the others. It’s really about saying free-to-play can save you a lot of money potentially, and going forward free-to-play might save five friends $20 to $50. That’s a good argument for a group of friends to say, “Hey, let’s put this $20 or $50 on a LAN party instead.”
I think the bigger draw with the original Crysis was obviously the graphics at the time. Of course Crysis 3 still looks really awesome, but did you notice a shift in your design philosophy after nailing the graphics, focusing on other aspects of the series, or was it always graphics first before anything else with that franchise?
To be honest, what people perceive as graphics in Crysis is actually a gameplay decision. The gameplay decision was that we wanted to have an open environment which is as immersive and believable as possible, so that the AI and challenges we put out were as credible and immersive as possible. It was driven by gameplay and it was the same thing with Crysis 2. In Crysis 2 we picked a story, we said we need a city that presents this story, we picked New York as the biggest man-made city in the world as representative of all cities in a symbolic way. The city then drove sandbox design. Just like in Crysis, the environment choice of going to a jungle drove sandbox design, the same way that New York drove it, but New York implicitly came with a much more narrow sandbox square-foot-wise. It was much more volumetric instead, using the verticals.
With Crysis 3 now we listened to the feedback from Crysis 2 users and gamers and we have said, “Okay they want more openness, and frankly we do too internally.” So we flattened some of the New York pieces and came up with a much more interesting and visually rich experience that brings back the best of the Crysis world and marriages it with Crysis 2. When I say marrying it, we actually have some reminding pieces of Crysis 2 New York, but with a look and feel that is much more like Crysis. We wanted to finish the trilogy with Crysis 3.
Looking back at the Crysis series as a whole, do you feel like you’ve accomplished what you set out to do? Is there anything you didn’t get the chance to do?
I’m quite satisfied with 1. I wish, retrospectively, we could have done a different city with [Crysis] 2, a fictional city. A fictional city would have allowed us to drive the gameplay in line with Crysis. When we picked New York City, it limited us because New York has these crowded city structures and buildings and crossroads, which made an open sandbox difficult. A fictional city would have supported gameplay more because we wouldn’t have been driven by the authentic design of New York. With Crysis 3, again, we took that creative approach and said “Okay let’s transform New York so much that we can be creative again from a gameplay perspective. Again, that’s why I’m happy with Crysis 3. I’m less happy about Crysis 2. I’m very excited with what is awaiting us from the Crysis 3 angle.
Where does the Crysis series go from here?
We’re just talking about it, but we’re going to wrap up Crysis 3 for now. Crysis as a franchise has tons of opportunities for us, we feel it’s a very flexible and strong IP, especially with things after the launch of Crysis 3. We have a very strong foundation and fan base. So we are going to look at what we can do and with what business model. My gut feeling is it’s going to be a free-to-play/retail hybrid. Which platform is difficult to say but most likely it will be on PC.
How was Fibble Flick ‘n Roll for you as your first mobile entry?
Oh definitely a big learning curve from a sales perspective and how difficult it is to make money on iOS still. We were expecting a different uptake because we had a good amount of Fibble quality tests on the market. The game was tracking really well, and the game was looking very mainstream. We learned tons about marketing, we learned tons about price as well, and how harsh the markets are on the mobile business. [It was] a big learning curve, and we are not going to give up on this.
So you’ll keep going in the mobile market at some point?
Yeah, we just updated the Halloween pack for Fibble. We still believe in Fibble as a franchise and as an IP. We’re going to modify and revise it because it’s not perfect, but we believe in it. Again, everybody who plays it actually likes it, usually. People say “This isn’t Crysis, I don’t want to play a Crytek game like this,” but hey, we’re trying to branch out. But people who have families actually give it to their sons and daughters or actually play it between husband and wife, they usually like this game. This is the targeted audience for it. We have to communicate to the right people with our game. If you try to sell this game to a Crysis fan, he’s going to look at you and say “What are you doing with me?” So that’s part of the mystics and part of the learning we have, part of branding Crytek as well. We launched the Halloween pack, and we’re committed to improving Fibble in the future.
I’m sure you get this question a lot, but is Timesplitters a franchise still very beloved at Crytek? A lot of people hope you’ll eventually return to it. Can you speak to that at all?
There is actually a petition running online trying to bring the fan base together. But unfortunately the petition doesn’t look that convincing. If the petition picks up it will be an even better argument for us. At a personal level, I’m a big fan of Timesplitters 2. For me, I would love to see the game out there, as a newborn HD version or what not. I definitely would love to see it. But the case of turning this into a business decision is still difficult, despite the fact that there was a Twitter request feed to test the waters. And now the petition, it just seems to be as we expected, as it was when it was Free Radical.
There’s a very hardcore market that is very verbal about it. I would love to see this, and if the fan base approves a further petition. They’re trying to call 300,000 voices, I think it’s at two or three thousand right now. If they could get the petition together I would be very happy to put in front of decision makers in the company, the key stakeholders, and say “Look here. This is how it is, let’s make it now.”
Are you going to be pushing forward with both your engine and gameplay, or will Crytek be pushing acquisition of other studios? What will be the company’s focus in the future?
As a principal push right now, we are looking at Warface right now as the next big launch alongside Crysis. That is a very big one for us. We will have some mobile things going on next year, some titles that we haven’t announced yet. We have a nice collaboration with Chris Roberts going on with Star Citizen. That’s an exciting one for us. As a principle, we have never pushed the engine business, we are not trying to be the most-used engine in the world. With that being said, we have significantly higher licensees than is assumed on the market right now, because we’re not talking about that publicly. But this will show off more next year than people are aware of. That’s a good thing, actually, because there will be a lot of nice Cry Engine 3 games.
We are launching Warface on platform Gface, which is going to be a big deal for us, which is a free-to-play social platform for gaming. We have a lot of things to do, but we effectively want to have a straight, direct, social relationship with gamers. We want to offer this to other developers as well, as a platform. Other developers, indie developers, casual developers have launch high quality social environment games. It’s going to be the future focus for us, the main business for the next two years. Again, Crysis will see an announcement in the next year, what we’ll do with it. We have some titles that are already announced such as Homefront 2, and Ryse. That will be exciting for us, we have really high hopes on that title too. I’m trying to think which is the most exciting, but they’re all going to be exciting moving forward.
Is Ryse still slated for Xbox Kinect? What can you talk about for that game?
I really can’t talk about anything on that game.
What about the Homefront franchise intrigues you? The first Homefront sold pretty well, but the reviews weren’t really high.
The proposition, the basic concept of Korea invading the U.S. and having this battle on U.S. soil. I think that was very interesting, this rebel group trying to gain power again. That appealed to me a lot, and from a conceptual perspective it’s a very strong foundation for an IP. I played the game, I enjoyed it. It wasn’t fantastic, but I enjoyed the potential of it. When I played it, “Oh, this art, this could have been better, this could have been different, and this mission could have been pushed later.” Not only me, but a lot of people at the company [thought that].
When we got together with THQ, it was mutually very respectful and also mutually high-demanding about where we want to take this. Then we actually tried to make all the things we talked about, and all the things we thought about, could be done better, we are now going to do better.