Rugby union games are usually few and far between, but this year sees two games based on the sport arrive fairly close together--Rugby World Cup 2011 and Rugby Challenge. GameSpot AU managed to catch up with Mario Wynands from Sidhe Interactive, the studio behind Rugby Challenge, to find out why it has taken so long to jump to sporting codes, to talk about the competition, and to hear what it's like working with the PlayStation Vita.
GameSpot AU: You've made rugby league games for years now. Why has it taken so long to make a rugby union game?
Mario Wynands: The Rugby League games have been a staple in our studio for years and have been a franchise that we have been able to build our business on. But being based in New Zealand where rugby union is the national sport has meant that we have long looked for a way to develop a game based on that code.
We have investigated many angles in the past in pursuit of that goal, though it was clear that when EA was publishing rugby titles that other publishers were very cautious about challenging their very dominant position in sports video gaming, which generally includes a tight grip on licences. When EA stepped away from rugby and cricket several years ago, that opened up the field a little more.
GS AU: Are you worried about the competition from Rugby World Cup 2011?
MY: Both Rugby Challenge and RWC 2011 were actually well under way before the respective teams became aware of each title in development. HB Studios is certainly a solid team with a history in developing rugby union titles, and we had a lot of uncertainty what they might offer in relation to our product. As it turns out, they have taken a very different approach than we have. It is clear from the information, media, and demo that they have released that Rugby World Cup 2011 has a very narrow window onto the sport of rugby union. By contrast we are bringing our game to more platforms with much broader scope, depth, and longevity, and with that in mind we don’t feel that RWC 2011 will hamper the sales of Rugby Challenge at all.
GS AU: What sort of licensing issues did you come up against during development?
MY: Sports licensing for video games is very complicated, so there were numerous issues that arose during development. In particular, the approvals process can be quite cumbersome where some things need to be checked off and approved by multiple parties, introducing the possibility that certain things might need to be changed and resubmitted multiple times. This issue is amplified by the ever-changing nature of the sport with respect to shifting player rosters, performance, sponsors, and uniforms, meaning it can be very difficult to lock down specific aspects of the game and definitively say "done."
Success in this area really comes down to keeping tight management and control of all assets while maintaining strong and highly communicative relationships with licensing partners. All parties want to ensure that all licensed content is shown in the most accurate and best light possible, so everybody is incented to make it work.
GS AU: Sports games are no longer about just the matches. Games like FIFA and Madden pack in franchise modes, management elements, and more. What are you doing to keep players occupied off the field?
MY: Rugby Challenge is our first rugby union title, but we have done enough sports games to know how important it is to offer something beyond the matches themselves. Competition and franchise modes are one aspect that we put a lot of work into, giving gamers the opportunity to take a team through a competition or multiple seasons of competition to build up a legacy. A lot of gamers get significant enjoyment out of both the explicit and implicit narrative arising from such play. While in this initial iteration of Rugby Challenge we have limited the extent of the detail in these modes, we anticipate gamers will be spending a lot of time with them.
Additionally, as with our earlier sports titles, we offer a lot of customisation and creation options, giving the power to gamers to create their own players, teams, and competitions.
GS AU: Jonah Lomu also plays a big part in the game. What exactly does having a name like his attached to the product bring to the table?
MY: Having Jonah involved has had both tangible and intangible benefits. His own personal support and expertise provided during development has delivered us a veteran perspective on the sport, as well as a unique motion capture performance. The weight of the name has also given us added credibility in the market, as well as confidence internally.
GS AU: You've come out and said that you'll be bringing Rugby Challenge to the Vita. Why did you decide to bring it to that platform?
MY: Sidhe has always had a strong interest and ability to bring our titles to multiple platforms, including spanning console, PC, and handheld. And when Rugby Challenge was first started, we knew there would be demand across a broad range of platforms for a rugby union title given the lack of such a title in the marketplace for years. And when Sony approached us behind the scenes about Vita, we knew there was an additional opportunity to bring rugby union to handheld in a way that has not been viable before.
The incremental effort required to bring Rugby Challenge to Vita is relatively small, meaning the cost has been kept low. And the timing of release means that we can be a launch title for the device, which puts us in an advantageous position sales-wise. Combining those things means there was a sound business case for pursuing a PS Vita version of Rugby Challenge.
GS AU: How has it been working with the Vita so far?
MY: The PS Vita is a great device. Given the features and abilities of the platform, there is very little that we have to compromise in bringing Rugby Challenge across to it from PS3. Smooth sailing so far.
GS AU: For the PC version, do you plan on supporting the modding community?
MY: In addition to having as much customisation as possible within the title itself, we have traditionally left our games as open as possible to allow for all sorts of modding. We haven't directly supported efforts beyond this with the likes of tools and customer support, but given modding has been relatively straightforward, that hasn't stopped modders from being able to produce some fairly elaborate updates to stats and content. We will be continuing with this approach for Rugby Challenge.
GS AU: And finally, what are your tips for the 2011 Rugby World Cup?
MY: Always bet on black.
GS AU: Mario Wynands, thank you for your time.