In case you missed the interview with gstaff a few weeks ago, I am the Community Manager over at id Software, and recently I asked QUAKE LIVE Executive Producer Marty Stratton about the project’s beginnings, as well as where it is headed. Read on after the (rocket) jump.
Can you give us a little background on yourself, and your position at id?
I started at id back in March of 2000 as Director of Business Development. At the time, I was a producer at Activision working on all of id’s games (including QUAKE II and QUAKE III Arena), so when they offered me the position, it was like getting “called-up” from the farm team to the majors. I’m now an executive producer, leading the QUAKE LIVE team and building that very talented core group of developers into another full development team here at the company.
How did the idea for Quake Live come up?
Several years ago we were talking about exploring something new in the QUAKE Arena style of game — i.e. a fast-paced first person competitive multiplayer shooter. John Carmack originally suggested that we create a version of QUAKE III Arena that we could distribute electronically and allow people to play for free, while also trying out a new business model that initially would rely on in-game advertising. As we began to develop the game, talk about ideas, and implement features and functionality for our very small closed beta group, the scope of the project grew quite a bit to include everything we offer today at quakelive.com.
The project was conceived with a bit more of an experimental mindset than we typically have in developing our primary titles. We’ve built QUAKE LIVE with a very small team and because we were using a pre-existing game for the gameplay part of the experience, it has allowed us a lot of flexibility to experiment with things like interface, content delivery, matchmaking, back-end system architecture, web development, and how a web experience can seamlessly tie to a game experience, to name only a few of the things we’ve tried.
What were some of the challenges the team has faced during the game’s development?
There are always challenges when you’re doing something new, but there are a couple that have probably had the greatest impact on our development cycle. First, we’ve kept the team very small throughout the development process, even as the project’s scope expanded. It helped that the team started with talented guys that had been with id for a while, but we’ve remained small even as the scope has grown, so everyone on the team has really had to be a major contributor to the final product. That’s obviously challenging in that everyone always has a lot of work to do, but I think it’s also rewarding in that anyone on the QUAKE LIVE team can point to the game with a huge sense of pride and ownership in their contributions. Every team member’s contributions have been critical. Another key challenge has been in the development of the back-end systems and front-end web systems that run the QUAKE LIVE site. Going into the project we didn’t really have any experience building websites, much less a web service, so it’s been a learning process. Again, it really comes down to the quality of the people on the team and their ability to be resourceful and solve problems, and we have some of the best.
What do you think makes Quake Live such a compelling online experience for first-person shooter fans?
One of the reasons that I think a lot of people like QUAKE LIVE, and have always liked QUAKE III Arena is because it works well and is rewarding as a fairly quick “on-demand” game activity. What I mean by this is that you can jump on quakelive.com and in 15-30 minutes play a couple of matches and have a very fun, rewarding and complete experience. It doesn’t take hours to level up, unlock the good weapons, or understand an epic story that’s trying to be told. Those are all great fun too, but sometimes you just want to jump into something for 15-30 minutes, instantly be in the action, have a great time and be done with it. There are of course people that do make a greater commitment, become very skilled and even make a good living competing, but for most of us, QUAKE LIVE can neatly fit in with our other entertainment activities. It’s simply a great game to jump in for a rush of entertainment.
I also think people and particularly game players inherently enjoy competition, and the soul of QUAKE LIVE is competition — whether it’s with strangers, friends, or testing yourself to get better. We’ve really tried to embrace both of these in the development of QUAKE LIVE. By making it incredibly accessible, easy and quick to jump into from anywhere, easy to connect and communicate with friends and others playing, and then focusing on features like matchmaking, stats and the presentation of match results, and fun awards to attain, we’ve tried to further enhance the core reasons we believe people are drawn to the game. It also certainly doesn’t hurt that it’s free.
Quake Live is new ground in a lot of ways for an online game, what do you feel are some of the features of Quake Live that make it stand out from other online games?
I think the overall presentation of the game is where we’ve obviously made the greatest strides. Downloading and subsequently updating the game are as easy as installing something like a Flash plugin for your web browser. We’ve made matchmaking an integral part of the experience, but still allow players a freedom to play with friends or others that may not be at their skill level; and I think the way in which we present match results and statistics is really second to none. I’m also very happy with the way we’ve been able to incorporate advertising (a new business model for us) into the experience in a way that feels as natural as possible.
Overall, what I’m probably most happy with is that QUAKE LIVE pulls so much together into one place – all you ever have to do is type quakelive.com in a browser and you can get the game, always be updated, find matches, play the matches, find friends, chat, check your match history, stats, share your results, track your progress on leaderboards, and so much more, all from that single site.
During his keynote at QuakeCon this year, John [Carmack] mentioned that we were going to start investigating some premium services for Quake Live, could you touch on these a little bit and give players an idea of what they can expect from them?
We’re toying with a number of ideas for features, functionality, and even content that will translate well and represent a real value for players wanting an affordably-priced premium service. One of the most requested features in QUAKE LIVE and something that I think would be at the core of any premium service, would be the ability to very easily and quickly start a private match (that only you and the players you invite can join). Right now, all of our matches are open to the public and started by our back end systems. So, what we’re looking at creating is a totally integrated and very easy to use method for starting and running a personalized private match.
It’s a similar concept to players in other games renting their own server, but our approach would be to allow them more of a “private match on demand.” Making this type of system available through the same site you are playing the game on, allows us much more flexibility in making the interface easy to use and more integrated with things like your friends list.
The team has been heavily involved with the community on this project, how has that impacted the development of the game?
We’ve definitely engaged in a dialog with the community and our active players more in QUAKE LIVE than any of our more recent titles. First, QUAKE LIVE started with a game (QUAKE III Arena) that had been out, successful, modified, used in competitions, and generally battle tested for almost eight years. There was already an outstanding community of people that had meaningful feedback and years of insight on the title, so it was important to listen. Also, the game had been modified for years to work well in competition settings and tailored to fit popular play styles. So again, it has been important for us to look at that stuff, listen to the players and continually look at how that feedback can fit with our goals for the game.
Another area where we’ve had tremendous community support has been in testing the game. As I’ve mentioned, we’re a small team and haven’t had a QA team. We started from the very beginning of the project with a very small closed beta group which we grew over the course of a year to over 200,000 0– all exposed to the product at one point or another, and some that helped us throughout the course of the project. It’s been a unique experience, but I don’t think we could have done it without the support of the community and in particular those that really stuck with us and provided meaningful feedback throughout the closed beta period. If you see someone with the “Crash Dummy” award, you’ll know they helped make QUAKE LIVE what it is.
Is that level of community interaction something that you believe is worth exploring on future projects?
Absolutely. Longer term, I’d like to see us be able to begin incorporating the community in some of our more traditional ways — like user generated content and enabling more of the community sites and active contributors to actually have a voice on QUAKE LIVE or push their own content, contests and activities through avenues within QUAKE LIVE. We’ve developed some great relationships with groups that broadcast matches like quake-live.tv, ESL, QuadV, LO3 and others and I hope we can bring more of those activities to the forefront within QUAKE LIVE.
Do you have any tips for people who are new to Quake Live?
Patience, practice, and play within your skill ranking (look for the green check mark). QUAKE LIVE is a very fast-paced game, and I think some people spend a few minutes playing and feel like it’s too fast paced for them. The experience though is very much like driving a fast car — at first the speed can feel like too much to handle, but after you spend some time playing, your brain and reflexes adjust, you become comfortable with the controls, and then the speed is what ends up being so exhilarating and thrilling. If playing against others online is intimidating at first, we also allow players to practice against AI opponents in any combination of arenas and gametypes they’ll see online, and we’ve even created 3 training arenas and accompanying tutorials that demonstrate, and allow you to practice, specific skills that are needed to really be successful. The great thing is it doesn’t cost anything to try, play, and come back to whenever you want. If you’re a fan of any games, but particularly action or first person shooters — you won’t find a better free experience anywhere.