Gamescom 2013 – SMITE Interview with Todd Harris

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We sat down with Todd Harris, Chief Operating Officer of Hi-Rez Studios to talk about SMITE, the 3D free to play MOBA game. Check it out!

My name is Todd Harris and I’m Chief Operating Officer of Hi-Rez Studios, we’re a studio located outside of Atlanta Georgia in the United States, and we’re here at GamesCom in Cologne to talk about the game Smite.

<Q>. What’s SMITE?

Smite; it is positioned as a 3D Action MOBA, so you might be familiar with games such as League of Legends or DOTA or DOTA 2, those are MOBA games, but with Smite the big difference is the camera; it’s a third person camera and all the graphics and environments and animation are in 3D. So it plays more like a 3D shooter or MMO PvP, but within the framework of a MOBA. The other big thing with Smite is the theme, it’s a theme of mythology, so you’re playing a god. We have gods from various pantheons, so here for instance Agni he’s a fire god from the Hindu pantheon. Then we have Egyptian gods like Anhur, physical ranged god, others such as the Chinese god Ao Kuang. So as a player you choose a god, your teammates choose a god, and then you engage in session based arena combat.

<Q>. How is SMITE different?

Smite is a little different in that we have multiple game modes, most MOBAs only feature one or two game modes, but in Smite we have multiple. You can of course practice with the Tutorial or Co-op, but the real meat of the game is player versus player. Conquest is the main game mode, for MOBA players this would be very familiar, it’s a DOTA style three layer map with a jungle, but you end objective is a minotaur. So it’s like a boss fight where the boss comes alive at the end. This is the most familiar mode for MOBA players, but also Arena mode is like team death match, so still five versus five, within a Roman coliseum, but a much more casual form of combat. Domination is more familiar to shooter players, there’s three points and it’s a capture and hold, king of the hill style map. Assault is our version of all random all mid, so you get a random god, again a more casual experience. Joust is a small single lane map so we can play one versus one or up to three versus three; it’s quite popular as well. Then finally we have a Match of the Day, which changes all the time, it might be Greek versus Egyptian, or male versus female, or everybody’s Cupid, it’s just a fun game mode that changes every day.  In the game there’s also Party system, Clan system, every one of your match statistics is recorded online so you can see statistics of which gods I’m playing the most, which rolls I’m playing the most, which type of matches and how I master gods over time. Also, it’s kind of nice that we’ve integrated live streaming into the game itself, so at any time you can turn on the game and watch people streaming the game Smite and you can also broadcast directly from the game. Here we see someone that’s broadcasting the game Smite.

<Q>. What’s new on SMITE?

So here today at GamesCom there’s a few big announcements that we’re talking about. Number one, we’ve showcased a big graphical improvement of the maps, so the Joust map, the Conquest map and the user interface have all gotten a big graphical upgrade, and Arena map is next for graphical upgrade. Number two, we’ve communicated a very important strategic operation announcement, this is really the major news out of GamesCom, and that is a partnership with Tencent Games, Tencent Games is the largest game publisher in China, the third largest internet company, fourth largest game company in the world. They’ve selected Smite to publish in the Asian markets, so they’ll be starting a beta in China this October. That’s good for players all over the world because a larger community means more players, means more resources for us as a developer, to give you guys new content. The other big announcement that we communicated is ten versus ten support. So most MOBAs are a maximum of five versus five, but this winter we’ll be introducing technology and user interface changes to support ten versus ten, which will be crazy, we’re gonna start by doing that in Match of the Day; it won’t be a regular game mode but every once in a while players can look for to Match of the Day with ten versus ten on Arena or Conquest, and that should be fun. And then finally, with the cooperation of Tencent we’ve been working on a new set of gods for the Chinese markets, of course all players get them but we really wanted to make sure our Chinese gods were authentic, so for the god Guan Yu, he’s currently in the game, but he’s getting an improvement, he’s going to change from magical to physical because that matches his lore, and Guan Yu was historically was depicted on horseback so his ultimate ability, his number four will be riding in on a horse dealing a lot of damage. The next god we’ll include from the Chinese pantheon is called Zong Kui and he is a collector of souls and controller of demons and both Guan Yu and Zong Kui will be released next week so players can look forward to playing.

<Q>.  Tell us about the free to play business model of SMITE.

Final point is the game is of course free to play, you can download and create an account, you get access to ten gods for free and then you can unlock others with time or micro transactions.

<Q>.  Are you planning to add new Pantheons?

Our first priority is to expand the existing pantheons, so we have seven pantheons, some are quite developed like Greek, but others like Mayan are not, we have Xblanque from the Mayan pantheon but there’s many more interesting characters. So we’ll start by rounding those out and then in the future we’ll look at new pantheons.

<Q>. Are you going to translate the game into other languages?

We are. We’re currently in beta, it’s more of a soft launch, but we haven’t focused on localization yet, but we will. Definitely we see a large player population across Europe, our European population is now a higher percentage of our beta than the US and so it’ll be important to us to translate into the languages of Europe.

<Q>. Do you plan on improving the ranked system?

We wanna improve ranked play, so it was important to us early to develop a competitive scene for Smite, we wanted it to be accessible but also have competition in eSports, so we put in a ranked system very early into the game. Even when our population was not that large, so one challenge is just the population in a particular region because the ranking and matchmaking can get better with a bigger population so that will improve. But, we are looking a new system for ranked, because we’re not satisfied with the current system, so the short answer is we’re looking to improve that system.

<Q>. What can you say about the current e-Sports scene?

eSports is very important to us. The first thing we’ve done as a developer is put features into the game so we have demo recording and spectator mode, and we’ve had that for some time to provide a good viewing experience that allows you to navigate the map, snap to a player, see a players item build. We’ve recently just last week added a chart of golden XP over time, which is a nice view that MOBA players expect, also because the game is 3D you can do slow motion which allows for some really nice post production or rewind and slow motion replay which is a really nice viewer experience. So that’s number one, good feature support, we’ll continue to improve that but we think we’re in a good place. The second is weekly tournaments, so regular competitive play. Every single week there are tournaments online, there is every Saturday the best North American teams can compete for a 1000$ in prizes, every Sunday the best European teams can compete for 1000$ also. So we’ve already seen very good participation in that. The next thing is LAN tournaments, so we’re doing that right now on an event basis, at PAX East we had a US tournament, here at GamesCom, tomorrow, Friday, the ESL is hosting on the stage four invited European teams and they’ll be competing for 15,000 Euro. Next week at PAX Prime the four best North American teams will compete for an equivalent prize pool. So those are the LAN tournaments that will be event based, and when we eventually release Smite, no date yet, but when we do we’ll have a large tournament that brings the regions together and that will have a 100,000$ prize pool. And finally already we’re seeing good interest from sponsors and teams that players would recognise; SK Gaming, Dignitas, they have Smite teams currently competing so already there’s interest from these well-organized eSports teams.

<Q>. Would you like to add something?

Well I would say for players in Italy and elsewhere in Europe, definitely we encourage you to try out Smite. If you play MOBA, this is like a MOBA with more action and maybe you don’t play MOBA, maybe you play Shooter games or MMO PvP, you might want to try this because the combat feels more similar to that. So we welcome you online and hope you enjoy the game.