First of all, we’re excited today to announce four pretty big things for us :
Our strategic partnership with NetEase for China
Our upcoming PC and Mac Vainglory. Get the “Vox on Ice” skin free by participating in the PC alpha [here]
Our commitment to cross-platform competitive parity with all esports going cross-platform in 2019.
Our intent for Vainglory to launch on console by the end of 2019.
In this (long!) post I want to share the post-platform vision we have been working toward over the past years, and why this announcement is a significant milestone not just for Vainglory but for Super Evil Megacorp as a game studio and (perhaps) even the industry.
While on the surface being a studio creating AAA multiplayer games for touch, we at Super Evil Megacorp have been quietly working away on a vision where players deserve not just cross-platform play across the widest range of devices, but also cross-platform competitive parity where skill is never defined by the platform or input mechanism but rather by how good you are. So as gamers we will be able to play together, truly, without thinking about who is on what platform. We think of this as a post-platform world for gamers.
Today we’re excited to finally announce this to the world and outline our new mission to create the very best AAA multiplayer experiences across all platforms and how we’re working toward it. If this sounds interesting, or provokes questions, grab a coffee and read on! If not - just go play the Vainglory PC alpha, it’s ok - just remember to tell us what you think and how we can make it better. :P
Since my start in the game industry in 2001, new growth opportunities have mostly been defined by new platforms; A new console, a new mobile device, a new social network, a new VR headset, the list goes on. From an industry point of view this has meant a stark division between game development for “red ocean” existing platforms, game categories and markets driven by large existing publishers with strong distribution and slowly evolving franchise sequels, and game development for “blue ocean” new platforms driven by fast moving startups building entirely new types of gaming experiences and business models.
This in turn has contributed to very different player experiences and expectations across platforms. While gaming culture in aggregate has grown explosively everywhere, it has also subdivided into entirely different tribes defined by what hardware we play on.
Today’s PC gamers, mobile gamers and console gamers largely play different games with different control inputs, expecting different quality standards, different business models and price points.
And - perhaps most importantly - we’ve existed in separate communities that almost never play with each other. Who we play with has been defined by who happens to own the same game device as we do. As players we seek friends online when we can’t convince our IRL friends to buy into our game platform. We may be used to it, but it’s still a little sad.
Only now, as multiplayer gaming has become the dominant form of gaming on all platforms, are these barriers slowly beginning to crumble. Fortnite in particular has been a frontrunner in pioneering cross-platform multiplayer play. By (almost) anyone being able to play with (almost) anyone, even with a pretty big disparity between platform experiences, Fortnite has been able to become a much larger cultural phenomenon than it would otherwise have been. To the point where it is forcing long standing practices in the industry to prevent cross platform play to start receding [see Sony story on cross-platform play].
Much like mass market movies and music stopped being platform specific a long time ago, so will most multiplayer games. This is not to say platform doesn’t matter. For watching a video, cinema is still a vastly different experience from YouTube with different native content. However most content is good to view on all screens. Likewise, while there will be a rich set of platform specific games even in the future, games designed for friends to play together real-time, will not just be cross-platform, they will be post-platform.
POST-PLATFORM GAMES? WUT? o_O
In the coming 10 years, we believe that it will not be VR, AR, wearables or some other specific new platform that will be the primary driver of the game industry. We believe instead that the next big evolutionary leap will rather be driven by us as game creators figuring out how to make awesome experiences that everyone can play together regardless of their native device or control input. This doesn’t just mean enabling cross platform play technically. It also means tackling hard problems around parity of control input design, UI design, business model design, social systems design and elevate game design as a whole to a level where we can offer truly delightful, crafted, responsive experiences that feel fun to play together, that feel native to your device, and whose business model is fair and understandable across the broadest set of devices.
We think this is not just cross-platform, it is truly post-platform and we’re working hard for Vainglory to be the first title to get there.
We are convinced someone will in the next 10 years create a post-platform play experience that is so compelling that it will attract an audience on par with the largest social networks today. Everyone has a device that can play. Play is more fun when everyone plays together. Viral growth is exponential when anyone can take part. Marketing budgets are more effective when anyone can play. Clearly the experience must be amazing first, and that’s what we as a company and an industry must learn to create. But if we can get there, post-platform will be a force multiplier for industry growth unlike anything we’ve seen so far in games.
NAVIGATING THE EVOLVING HARDWARE LANDSCAPE
For the past few years a quiet Cambrian explosion has been taking place in gaming capable devices. Not only are there more PCs, consoles and game capable mobiles than ever, there is also a whole new set of “hybrid” device platforms that do not fit neatly into any category - mobile devices connected to large screens such as the Samsung DEX or the ASUS ROG, Google Chromebooks, Microsoft Surfaces, iPad Pros, new yet-to-launch cross platform streaming game services and more.
We have been a pioneer across these hybrid devices with support for forerunner devices like Samsung DEX, ASUS ROG, Chromebooks and more over the past year. They present an interesting technical challenge in that they’re mostly based on Android, but mostly have screen sizes and control input associated with PCs. We even supported the Razer Linda concept laptop / mobile hybrid device to learn more about these experiences. We’ve been delighted with how well Vainglory turns out to run in this environment and are excited to be one of the leading games in this space as a result.
While devices are diverging, networking is converging. With broad launches of 5G starting in 2019 in many countries, we will soon be in a future where we can expect very low network latencies and high bandwidth capabilities across all devices, creating an unprecedented equivalence for real-time multiplayer play across devices.
The next generations of gamers will pick their primary computing and game play platforms from a much larger selection of devices than we can imagine. We believe that we as a gaming industry need to respect that choice. It will be increasingly less viable to make multiplayer games just for the platforms we are comfortable with today - or to treat a single game platform as your lead platform and other platforms as “ports”. Instead we believe we must embrace this post-platform world and learn to make post-platform games.
Getting there implies a transformation of approach to technology, design and art that is more profound than any platform transition we have seen to date. There will be a gradual learning process with a lot of trial and error of how to simultaneously fulfil platform specific expectations of an experience AND enable seamless, fair and fun play together.
It won’t be easy, but whoever gets it right gets to transform the industry. It has been fun to start this journey over the past year, and that’s why we’ve focused the company on it.
THE ROAD AHEAD
As with other platform transitions, there are significant challenges ahead, and we don’t have all the answers yet. Having already worked to bring Vainglory to a very broad set of devices we believe at least the following is important:
Talent. Passionate technologists, artists, designers and producers with experiences across many devices, but with a strong dose of humility and curiosity in approaches to creating post-platform game experiences across a wide set of input mechanisms and technologies. If this is you, we’d love to hear from you!
Tech. A highly performant and flexible game engine, like our EVIL game engine, designed from the ground up to enable high performing cross platform play across the broadest set of hardware, as well as the ability to evolve rapidly as new devices emerge. And equally importantly a technology culture that doesn’t accept limitations or the status quo of performance. This is hard with your own engine, we believe it’s even harder with off the shelf engines not designed for this from the start.
Tools. A fast, strong authoring pipeline for creating everything from UI to 3D AAA assets that look great on 100” OLEDs and 5” mobile screens alike and that can keep up with F2P update velocity. This is an area we’ve been working on for years - and will no doubt continue to work on and improve in forever.
Patience. A lot of patience, belief, trial and error in learning - in particular around designing and balancing gameplay where control mechanisms can be balanced as well as managing the end-to-end complexities of getting synchronous game updates out across the largest set of hardware ecosystems and geographies.
Community. Ability to work closely with a community to build it. We will not get things right day 1, day 100 or even day 1,000. But if we commit to learning, and making the experience just a little better for the community every day we may just get there. We owe all of who we are today to the pioneers in our community who have been part of our journey to date and we’re excited to take this next step together also!
We expect this to be a long journey of discovery and learning. But we couldn’t be more excited to finally announce our first major step toward becoming a post-platform studio today by announcing Vainglory’s cross platform plans.
Some of our most vivid memories from growing up come from playing multiplayer games in PC lan parties with small groups of friends. Once someone gets this right, one day that is something the whole world will be able to do together.
[Play the Vainglory PC Alpha] to get a sense of our direction and let us know if you think we’re onto something. We don’t have all the answers, but we’re excited for the road ahead!