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PlanetSide 2 Interview – It’s Back and Here to Stay

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PlanetSide is really quite a unique franchise. It's the only real Massively Multiplayer Online First Person Shooter (MMOFPS) out there, featuring huge combined arms battles of thousands of players at the same time, and it has always had a very passionate fanbase since its inception.

Rogue Planet Games, the studio within Daybreak that's currently taking care of the franchise, has now gone back to work on PlanetSide 2 after the Arena spin-off didn't pan out. In fact, the Escalation update released in March for PlanetSide 2 prompted a massive surge in the player count for the (almost) eight-year-old game and even led to a new Guinness World Record, as the game beat its own 2015 record of 1,158 concurrent players on a continent with 1,283 users registered on Esamir this past March 28th.

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With the MMOFPS back among Steam's most popular free to play games, we had the chance to interview Andrew Sites, Executive Producer at Rogue Planet Games, to discuss the developer's plans for the game going forward. PlanetSide 2 is here to stay, it seems, and that includes the PlayStation version as well.

Packing a massive punch with its primary cannon, the Colossus currently seats 5 players: 1 to drive and operate the cannon, 4 more to provide support from each of its customizable turrets. The main cannon can be charged to fire vehicle-piercing shells capable of targeting Bastion weak points, filling a unique anti-air role among your combined ground forces. The Colossus will go live with the next update planned for early June.

The last time we spoke you were about to launch PlanetSide Arena, but then you've decided to refocus on PlanetSide 2 right. How did that happen?

The original plan for PlanetSide Arena was fairly modest when we had started to work on it a couple of years back, and then it started to really scale up. Our vision for the game was to essentially create a PlanetSide experience that casual players might encounter not just every few hours or days, but in every single match. We wanted to create these arena based modes that would allow you to essentially create the experience that you can only get in PlanetSide 2 in every 30 to 40 minute match. The plan for the launch of the game was to roll out a series of different arena modes, many of them inspired by the type of gameplay in PlanetSide 2, but we ended up rolling out a Battle Royale version to start early access so we could do preliminary testing and such while we continued working on the additional modes. Frankly, looking back, it was really the wrong decision because at the time there were already many Battle Royale games. Even though our goal for the game was to have a very large variety of modes for players, even though it was early access, the only option players had was a Battle Royale game.

We did a lot of technical improvements and introduced a lot of unique gameplay, but in the end, it really was put into early access and released to players before it was ready. Looking back, you know, just like all the PlanetSide games, we'd like to innovate and we'd like to do things that are not normal for typical shooters. We don't have any regrets for what we did, but it helped us really understand that our focus needed to be on the core PlanetSide game, which at this point is PlanetSide 2. That's why, rather than drag on trying to improve PlanetSide Arena, we felt that it was in our best interest to go back and focus just on PlanetSide 2 moving forward.

How do you and the team feel about going back to work on PlanetSide 2? Are you excited?

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Yeah. For the last three and a half years, the PlanetSide 2 team has been relatively small, we've had about six people working on the game. For various reasons we ended up pulling people off onto other projects within Daybreak, we started working on PlanetSide Arena. But in the end, the team that we've got working on PlanetSide 2 is the team that has been working on it off and on for years. Personally we're all excited to go back to it, because it's the game that we've been working on and we've been loving before we got pulled off onto these other projects. The team now is about three times the size of what it was this time last year. What we wanted to do was really show all of our players that PlanetSide 2 is our highest priority and we are excited about it, so we put together a pretty extensive and aggressive roadmap for 2020. We wanted to kind of start off with a bang with this Escalation update, which we rolled out the middle of last month and so far it's been incredible in terms of the player response.

That's right, it looks like you broke your own concurrent online player record.

We were excited about what the Escalation update was going to bring to PlanetSide 2. But to be honest, we had no idea that it was going to be as well received as it's been. The goal was to keep the players that were already playing, continuing to play and remain excited about the game. But we really wanted to give a lot of the old Outfits and old players that maybe hadn't been in the game for quite some time a reason to want to come back and, you know, we could always talk about how much we want to do, but we wanted to really show the community with an update that we're serious about PlanetSide 2 continuing on at least another seven, eight years as we approach our eight-year anniversary right now.

That's interesting because, after the game launched back in 2012, there was a statement where you mentioned plans to support PlanetSide 2 until 2020. Now we're finally here and it looks like you feel like there's a lot of opportunities still going forward.

We've put together this plan for 2020 that, in terms of reviving PlanetSide 2 and bringing players back and continuing to grow, was aggressive. And we're already hitting that goal, we've had so many new players join the game, which we could we typically have with large updates, but the number of new players in March was double the previous month and our daily active player accounts (the number of unique players logging in every day) has tripled since last year. The number of players that we have playing the game concurrently is the highest today it has been since March of 2013. We've basically brought the game back to the same levels that it was at within a year of its original launch. Like I said, we were excited about the update, we had some pretty high expectations but we had no idea it was gonna go this well. And really, this is just the beginning of what our roadmap is for 2020. So our goal was to get to where we are now towards the end of the year, and we've already reached that point. The team is not only excited to be working on PlanetSide 2, but we're more excited than ever to continue growing the game and proving that it's here to stay.

One of the big features of the Escalation update was the addition of Outfit Wars. How did that come about?

When we were trying to figure out the content pipeline we had a bunch of different new features and content that we wanted to include in the update. But part of that is deciding what is going to be the most played or engaged with by the majority of the players and Outfits. That's kind of the glue for the game. What we've seen with new players is that if you're playing PlanetSide 2 for the first time, if you get in and you join an Outfit within the first day of playing, the likelihood of you continuing to play for weeks or months is exponentially higher than if you just get in and play by yourself because the Outfit is a social bond, it's that camaraderie. Also, frankly, PlanetSide 2 is a complicated game, so being able to join an Outfit early on, you have Outfit members whose best interest is to help you learn how to play and join them, so they can eventually have a more powerful and more successful Outfit.

We looked at the number of players and Outfits and almost three-quarters of our active players are in Outfits right now, so we wanted to do something that was specifically geared towards Outfit play. We wanted to give kind of a throwback to the early days of PlanetSide 2 where we had these rivalries between Outfits. At the time it was a very community driven process where one Outfit would talk trash to another. We wanted to do something that was going to be more integrated into the game. Also looking at community groups like PlanetSide Battles, who have been putting on the community smash and lane smash events for years now, which again is all a very community driven process, we give them the necessary tools and they just run it. We were inspired by all that and we wanted to have it incorporated into the game and the Outfit Wars system right now is really just kind of the foundational implementation. We're going to be expanding it quite a bit as the year goes on. We had the first Outfit Wars event across all the regions a few weeks ago and we really enjoyed what we saw. We got a lot of really positive feedback.

Do you have something specific you'd like to share with the community?

The most immediate feedback we got was that...We have gold, silver and bronze matches for each region. Each one of those tiers has three Outfits competing with one another. The way we had scheduled it for the first event was that they would all happen at the same time in each region. We're going to be staggering those so everyone can watch each of the tiers, rather than having to jump between them that the broadcasters that were streaming each region's events were having to jump back and forth to show the action. Rather than doing a one hour block for each region to show all three gold, silver and bronze tiers, per event per region, we're going to be scheduling those out so they won't happen one after another, so you can watch each event when it does happen.

This massive interplanetary fleet carrier features mannable turrets, ship-mounted artillery cannons, an interceptor launch platform, and mobile vehicle respawn points.

Alright. Time for some community questions now. Someone is interested in knowing if there is a secret developer Outfit or if you are even allowed to have developer Outfits, because, for instance, EVE Online doesn't allow that officially.

We not only allow developers to be part about this, we encourage it because, frankly, this is a game that's very community driven. If we're not in the game playing and understanding what's going on, then we're not going to make the best decisions for the game. One thing we do is we try to keep anonymity because we like to make sure that when we are playing, people don't know that we're developers. We also have a really strict flagging process where only certain developers can actually have the ability to run certain commands online, just so we don't run into any problems like you're pointing out with Eve where they want to make sure that they don't have developers doing anything that might disrupt gameplay, but ours also a relatively small team. When the team was much larger in the early days, and I've been on projects that had 80-90-100 people, it becomes very difficult to manage everyone's playtime. But this is a small, tight-knit team, everyone talks, nobody is trying anything shady online, or trying to do anything that's gonna, you know, give them an upper hand. So I'm not super concerned about that.

Okay. Optimization is always a hot topic - are you planning something along the lines of a new 'Operation Make Faster Game'?

Let's go back to last year actually. When we developed PlanetSide Arena, we did a major engine overhaul. Again, even though PlanetSide arena overall didn't pan out and didn't end up actually moving forward after early access, what we've been able to do is integrate a lot of the engine improvements that we had made for PlanetSide Arena back into PlanetSide 2. But going forward, we're always working on both server and client optimizations. Because as we add more assets, as we increase player accounts, we're always continuing to need to optimize the game. Server improvements have been or server optimizations as has been our focus recently, just because again, we haven't reached these player levels in years. So it was a good problem to have in terms of the number of people online, but we also were starting to run into server performance problems early on after the Escalation update. We've done a lot of server improvements recently. We're going to continue doing them and it's really going forward a balancing act of working on new features and content while also making sure that the game is stable and is performing well. So we're always balancing what the team is working on, as time goes on.

I know PlanetSide 2 got updated to DirectX 11 last year. Are there any plans to support DirectX 12 eventually?

Yeah, that was one of the benefits that we carried over from PlanetSide Arena, moving to DirectX 11 in April of last year. We're evaluating what the next steps are going to be. But I can't say that, at least in the next couple of months, we'd be updating to DirectX 12. But we are looking into how we want to continue advancing and improving our game engine.

I wanted to ask about the PlayStation 4 version as well because PlanetSide 2 has also been available on Sony's console for almost five years now. Do you have any idea on when the Escalation update could arrive on the platform? And generally, are you still going to support the PS4 version of the game?

Yes, we're definitely planning on continuing to support the console version of the game. What we're doing right now is evaluating the work that's needed to actually port everything over. One of the challenges that we've had between PC and PlayStation 4 is just hardware limitations and some technical limitations that the console has while the PC doesn't. For the last several years, they've essentially been identical with the exception of the Construction system, which is something that we introduced on the PC a few years back. And because of these technical issues, we haven't been able to port it over to the PlayStation 4 yet. We're doing an evaluation of what needs to be done in order to get the Escalation update moved over, which is not just the war asset system, it's Outfit Wars, which includes construction. It's one of those things where, if we want to bring everything over, we have to really bite the bullet and get all of the Construction system in and everything that the technical issues have prevented so far. Or at least possibly evaluating doing a subset of the update initially, so we can get a portion of it out while we continue working on some of the technical challenges that we have ahead of us.

As you mentioned, the PlayStation 4 is rather old now having been released in 2013. However, Sony has the PlayStation 5 coming out this year. Do you think the far more powerful hardware would allow you to make a better version of PlanetSide 2?

Yeah, yeah, definitely. I mean, the newer hardware is always gonna benefit us. But we're not ready to announce any PlayStation 5 development at this time, though.

Fair enough. What about the new continent, Oshur? Is that still in the cards?

I can say that it's not dead. That was a continent that had been discussed over the last year and a half. And I think in one of the last dev streams that we had, we indicated that it's been on hold. I can say that while I don't have any additional details to share, it's not dead.

Some players are wondering if they can expect vehicle buffs, especially for land vehicles.

I don't mean to be evasive. But yes, but nothing that we're ready to share right now. You know, we rolled out in the newest vehicle with the Escalation update, the Bastion Fleet Carrier. And we've actually got another vehicle that we're working on that we're planning to discuss a bit more in the coming weeks. They'll be learning about more vehicle changes relatively soon.

Any plans to do base revamps or new base models?

Yes, and we're planning - I'm trying to walk the fine line of going into too much detail about our roadmap and not but yes, I can say that, that this year we'll be making some pretty significant and exciting changes to not just bases but the world overall.

That does sound intriguing. As you mentioned Construction earlier, are you going to improve that particular part of PlanetSide 2 to make it more useful and in-depth?

When we rolled that out, it was what would be considered probably after Escalation the second largest update we've done to the game since launch. And there's definitely a list of just usability issues, we'd like to improve just how viable it is and how integrated it is into the game. When we launched it back in 2016 it was used pretty heavily, and then it kind of got pushed to the side. Part of our goals for this year is making it more viable, making it easier to use and less cumbersome. And then also continuing to have it integrated more into the Outfit Wars, matches and events.

Could population caps per continent be increased?

Actually, we broke the old Guinness World Record when a streamer, The Spiffing Brit, decided to surprise us and get as many of his followers as possible to jump into PlanetSide 2. We ended up disabling population caps for that event and I think we had 1283 players at one point in his stream. We can definitely remove the population caps. It is a fine balance between allowing more players in and ensuring that that game experience is going to be good, because at a certain point when you cram enough people into a single continent, and if they're all going to be going to the same area it can become not very fun depending on what's going on. So again, it's kind of a balance between technical limitations and ensuring that the game is still a lot of fun to play when there are that many people in.

What about introducing something like a 1v1 training room in the Sanctuary social hub for new players?

Part of our roadmap goals for this year is finally introducing and incorporating a real new user experience. We have a basic tutorial that's been in the game for years, but we've actually disabled it just because it's not very useful. We look at how long players that go through it stick around and if they go through it or they don't go through it, there really is no difference. We're going to be focusing a lot more on the new player experience in the game because like I said earlier, PlanetSide 2 is an amazing experience, it's a lot of fun, there's nothing else like it. But it can be pretty overwhelming for a new player that's coming in, which is why being able to join an Outfit and really having other players support you guarantees that new players stick around a lot longer. But not everyone has that benefit, so we want to improve what the experience is like for a new player getting into the game so they don't get in and either feel overwhelmed or get thrown into a battle and just get destroyed. Sometime this year, we're going to be rolling out more improvements for new players.

Sounds good. A fun last question: what's your favorite class in PlanetSide 2?

Honestly, my favorite Class is the Light Assault just because of the jetpacks. Going back to PlanetSide Arena, that was one of the reasons why we ended up giving every class type in the game jetpacks, because not only is infantry great, but being able to jetpack around makes the game so much fun, the verticality in the gameplay that you can experience by having the jetpacks is so amazing. And for me, I'm awful at flying aircraft, I get in and I'm the guy that ends up getting in the pilot seat and flipping it over immediately and blowing up. I'm a decent land vehicle driver. But in terms of infantry, it's Light Assault with a jetpack so I can just go basically wherever I want to, and then when I need to go a long way, I hop in an aircraft that has a much more experienced pilot in it to get me there.

Same here! Thank you for your time.

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