When Dead Space 3 appeared to have gone all brotastic co-op cover shooter at last year's E3, the reason given was simple: EA wanted the game to appeal to a wider audience. The reason for that was equally straight-forward: Dead Space 3 needs to sell five million copies for the series to continue, according to EA Labels president Frank Gibeau.
Okay, but considering that estimates have the total combined sales for previous Dead Space games (excluding Extraction) at around that number, the game will need expand its audience greatly if it has any hope of clearing that hurdle.
Or will it? Last week it was revealed that Dead Space 3 would include microtransactions, which, if successful, may ease the sales pressure somewhat. However, they are unpopular enough in the mobile space, and their inclusion in a hardcore full price singleplayer title has many concerned about game balance and what sort of precedent is being set. The words "slippery slope" come to mind...
Q: Why are there microtransactions in the game?
Thank you for asking, because there has been a lot of misinformation that came out when that story broke. The system allows you to buy three tiers of resource packs and that’s all it is. Resources are organic or inorganic materials that can ordinarily be found by enemy drops, by exploring the world, sitting out in the open, by opening up lockers, etcetera.
These resources basically replace the credits from Dead Space 1 and Dead Space 2, and are more or less the economy of the game. What do they allow you to do? You can craft ammo, you can craft med packs. You can craft upgrades for your suit – even weapon parts that maybe you found but you want two or three more for yourself or to trade with a friend.
The resource packs are available because there is a large audience of players out there who come from a mobile background. People who are 10 or 15 years younger than you or I are actually mobile first: they play mostly on iOS or Android and don’t necessarily play a whole lot of console games. The concept of instant gratification, having only 15 minutes to play, but wanting to still be able to succeed – that’s the kind of game design that those people are used to.
So we wanted to make sure that Dead Space was accessible to all kinds of players, whether you’re hardcore or coming from a mobile background, which is why we put them in there. We know that hardcore gamers are going to chafe at the idea of paying for something, so here are a couple of facts: Dead Space 3 is not a pay-to-win game. All the resources available naturally within the game are enough to beat the game on its hardest setting. This is entirely an optional feature for people who choose to use it.
Still, there’s going to be hardcore gamers who are like, “Hey you’ve built a feature but I don’t wanna spend a dollar for it therefore I feel like I’m missing something”. So we developed a secondary way to acquire these resource packs, and that’s via ration seals. Isaac can find these ration seals, and so can his scavenger bots, which are autonomous resource collecting robots. The ration packs are used for acquiring the resource packs. We’re really trying to be inclusive and think about the gamers first.
Q: Whose idea was it to put microtransactions in? Did it come from you or EA?
EA leaves us alone. Almost every decision when it comes to the game is ours and ours alone. We’re trying to find ways to make sure that Dead Space 3 is really accessible. That doesn’t mean we’re going to sacrifice who we are or what the core tenets of Dead Space are in order to attract new players. Dead Space 3 shares the exact same DNA as Dead Space 1 and Dead Space 2. So a decision to do things like microtransactions for us really started as the resource packs first and then coming up with a different way to acquire them via real-world dollars or in-game currency.
Our dev team is made up of pretty hardcore gamers, right? So you have to ask yourself, if you were a hardcore gamer and you could make your perfect game, would you make it so you had to pay real-world money on top of the sixty bucks you spent for the disc? The answer is no. We are not gonna make that kind of game because it would drive us crazy. We’re just trying to make sure it can be as successful and as open to as many different people as possible.
Q: Are microtransactions going to feature on the PC version of the game?
Some of them appear on the PC as well, yeah.
Q: Do you think that microtransactions in singleplayer full-price games will be a commonplace occurrence in a year or two?
I personally don’t think so, the reason being that if you were a game developer you have to think about what’s best for your game first, and know that if you make a really quality product the money will follow. If you think that "I'm just making a piece of software and I need to monetise this in any way possible”, then that is going to be the perception in your audience. So, we don't think that way. The last thing we think about is monetisation. If we lose Dead Space 1 and 2 fans we’re lost, so we’re gonna make sure that everything we do is for them first and foremost.
Then on top of that, how do we get those fans to play with their friends? How do we get the people who love Dead Space to bring one or two more people in and say, "Look, this is something I've really enjoyed for the last couple of years, I think you'd really dig it. You like sci-fi? Hey, check out Dead Space." That's the kind of game we're making. If you’re gonna think about the money first, it’s gonna feel like what it is – a cash grab. And I think we've seen a lot of games in the mobile space try to swing the pendulum a little too far in that direction and they‘re getting punished for it right now.
Q: How far along were you in development when the idea was first mooted?
We had the idea of resource packs as part of our game for a long time. The idea being that if you don’t choose to explore the world fully, you might not have as many resources available to you at the endgame. So we developed the idea of ration seals and these resource packs etc. It wasn’t until later on in the cycle that we realised, “Hey there might be people that might be willing to pay real-world money for these".
So if it's a chicken or egg question, the answer is: we developed the feature first, and it wasn't until kinda late in the cycle that we decided "Hey look, mobile gamers might actually be willing to pay, because they have 20 minutes... they're gonna play the game but it's gonna take them a whole year because they play it in really tiny chunks of time. If it's something they want in order to succeed and enjoy the game on their own time, let's give it to them.