Much has changed since the last time Electronic Arts talked about BioWare Victory's Command & Conquer: Generals 2. The publisher today announced at Gamescom that the real-time strategy project has been converted to a free-to-play business model and that it has been redesigned as a platform that will span the Command & Conquer series history, with Generals merely being the first of the franchise's various worlds offered to fans.
Set for release next year, Command & Conquer will be built on the Frostbite 2 engine (the tech behind games like Battlefield 3 and Need for Speed: The Run) and require players to install a client program on their PCs. EA is promising "an authentic and modern RTS" designed for veterans of the series as well as newcomers. EA is prepping to begin closed beta testing on the game, and has asked would-be testers to sign up on the game's official website.
EA VP and GM Jon Van Caneghem recently took some time to answer GameSpot's questions about the project, including the rationale for the free-to-play switch, what this means for the future of the series as boxed products, and why it will require players to use EA's Origin service.
GameSpot: The jump from packaged goods to downloadable free-to-play game seems like a pretty fundamental change. What was the reasoning behind making the switch?
Jon Van Caneghem: When I joined EA, I shared a vision of moving the franchise to a digital direct-to-consumer platform--a single destination for Command & Conquer games making it easier to play with your friends and allowing us to more easily respond to feedback and update the games. Today is the official announcement of that platform, of that vision realized.
A live platform allows us to be more responsive to community feedback, delivering content that they care about. As developers, this sort of direct and evolving relationship with our audience excites us. Going free-to-play is the best model to use with these goals in mind, because eliminating the price barrier widens the audience and gives us a larger community to interact with.
GS: This sounds ominous for the future of traditional Command & Conquer games. Has EA shelved the franchise as a boxed retail product?
JVC: Traditional Command & Conquer gameplay isn't going anywhere--we are simply adjusting our delivery model to one that allows more consumers to play it and allows us to provide content based on more accurate feedback. EA is committed to spearheading the industry's digital transformation. As a company, we believe that a direct-to-consumer relationship is meaningful and incredibly powerful. That said, we still have fans who want that boxed retail product experience, and we are not walking away from that anytime soon. We still have exciting announcements in the pipeline that will satisfy exactly that type of gamer.
GS: Don't we already have a free-to-play Command & Conquer with Tiberium Alliances? What's the difference between the two games' target markets?
JVC: We are excited to have a great franchise that gamers and fans can experience on different levels and in different ways. Command & Conquer: Tiberium Alliances is a free, browser based strategy-MMO that introduces a new way for players to experience the Tiberium universe. With over 1 million players in less than three months since launch, the game has carved out a growing passionate community. This new Command & Conquer is a more traditional, full client RTS experience with high-definition graphics, real-time, fast-paced action, full destruction and a best-in-class physics system, all made possible with the power of the Frostbite 2 technology.
GS: How is the free-to-play integration going to work? Will it be the social-style free-to-play of Tiberium Alliances or something closer to a microtransaction-driven market, like League of Legends?
JVC: We are still building out the game, and the exact scope of the advanced experience has not been announced yet. In our development, we are guided by the commitment to create a gameplay experience that offers the cerebral, strategic fun and fast-paced action that fans have come to expect from our franchise with no barrier or resistance.
GS: The name change from Generals 2 to the overarching Command & Conquer (with the Generals universe being the first wave of content) suggests the free-to-play product is a new platform as much as it is a new game, a shell for the rest of the Command & Conquer universe to live within. How much of a shift in the way you approach the series is this?
JVC: "Platform" is definitely how we're approaching the development of Command & Conquer. This is more than a game; it is a free-to-play destination for gamers to access every Command & Conquer universe, from Red Alert to Tiberium and to where it all starts next year: Generals. This is a live service and we are committed to continually delivering content. Heralding feedback-driven design, Command & Conquer will evolve and develop with an expanding array of new content based on community feedback and activity, which is more than we can normally do when shipping a traditional boxed game, benefiting the consumer.
GS: Will there still be a single-player campaign told from multiple viewpoints? How will the business model work in single-player?
JVC: Not at launch. We are currently focused on building a fun, high-quality RTS experience that we want to get in your hands as soon as possible. From there, we will continuously add additional content based on a variety of player feedback.
GS: How big will the initial download for the Command & Conquer free-to-play client be? Are there any concerns about that being a stumbling block for players?
JVC: We are still building out the experience, but our goal is to make the game accessible to download for all players.
GS: Will EA Origin be required for Command & Conquer?
JVC: Yes. Origin will help us deliver content and support that better serves our players and community.
GS: Are you looking at bringing the game to platforms beyond the PC?
JVC: We're fully focused on delivering a high-quality experience on PC at launch.
GS: What impact has the BioWare rebranding had on the studio?
JVC: Both studios are focused on high-quality products, and both studios have a long history on PC, so even before the rebranding we were closely aligned. Having the support of BioWare has been tremendous for us.