How can Titanfall mech Asia's day?
How can EA’s latest sci-fi shooter establish yearly online gaming dominance? Three factors: stable online, cybercafes and F2PBy Jonathan Toyad 18 Mar, 2014
PC used: Custom-built via Versus City
Motherboard: Intel Core i5 2500k,
Graphics Card: nVidia 560ti
RAM: 8GB RAM
You’ve probably heard lots of praises for Titanfall, a PC-based first-person shooter (also out for Xbox One, but not in Asia). Personally, the shooter looks promising: it takes the frenetic pacing of past games like Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament 2004 and places it into a body of a military first-person shooter. It does a great job at balancing hardcore elements like map control, and casual elements like killable bots and generous respawning.
The inclusion of mechs called Titans that you can pilot and set it to follow and protect you adds another layer of strategy in team-based conflicts. Modes like Attrition and Last Titan Standing echo like past shooter modes from other titles, but the devs have added enough to make them feel fresh to replay.
It’s a fun and engrossing shooter that adds fresh mechanics to the mix, but will it gel in a market like Asia that’s overpopulated with free-to-play fares and online distractions? We take a look at three factors that publisher EA and developer Respawn need to improve and work on if it wishes to gain long-term status in Asia following titles like Team Fortress 2, DOTA 2 and Counter-Strike.
We are living in a digital age where we can stay online 24/7 if we so choose, be it for browsing, chatting, and consuming all sorts of media like films and games. Online-only entertainment is a staple that’s going to persist whether you like it or not.
Having said that, server errors and glitches in mainframes and systems will happen; no online experience is ever perfect. It’s the way that companies handle damage control and respond to the crisis that matters.
Titanfall had its slew of connectivity issues like Error 503 and timeouts. Audio glitches crop up in-between matches, and frame rates stutter despite having a connection ping of less than 50. These matters, which we personally experienced, were resolved in an hour or so.
Even with EA’s bad track record with games launching online (see the SimCity and Battlefield 4 first-week releases for proof of that), at least it’s learning from its mistakes and setting things right like its life is depending on it. Because anyone who has browsed through community sites like Reddit or NeoGaf will know that word of mouth about unstable servers can travel incredibly fast.
Granted, it’s only been less than a week and the devs/publishers are doggedly fixing any surprise errors that pop up. The next few months is crucial for Titanfall’s long-term success worldwide, because it all hinges on consistent online stability if it’s built that way. Public awareness of companies’ efforts in fixes and updates need to be constant and quick for the fickle gaming market. After much noise about the lack of an Australian Titanfall online server, EA finally launched one for the Australian market. At the very least, they’re on the right track.
In Asia, most gamers either don’t have time to invest in consoles or cannot afford one. Enter cybercafes. For a small hourly fee, gamers can congregate together to play currently hot group-based online fares like Team Fortress 2, Counter-Strike, and whatever hot multiplayer online battle arena they can get their ganks on.
Gone are the days when cybercafes can just buy a copy a game, install it onto multiple computers and just use LAN connections to keep online matches within the store’s confines. Thanks to digital distribution services like EA’s Origin and Valve’s Steam, all games purchased by one customer would be locked to a single account. You can’t buy one game and have it distributed among different accounts; you have to buy the game multiple times per account you come up with.
Today’s online gaming is tailored for consoles exclude LAN and local connections. All matches and sessions have to be played on worldwide servers, even if you’re next to one another.
Unless the EA regional team makes an initiative with cybercafes all over Asia to showcase the game in the next month or so, no one will care. If Titanfall isn’t accessible easily in cybercafes thanks to the “one game, one account” rule and its retail roots, people will just go back to their Left 4 Deads and Counterstrikes as if the mech-involved shooter is an afterthought.
It’s easy to think why this is a big deal. Titanfall succeeds in balancing hardcore mechanics like fast movement and map control tactics, as well as casual shooter designs like generous respawns and killable bots. This carefully-crafted juggling act can attract all sorts of cybercafe-goers to the game, whether they play team-based shooters religiously or they touch shooters on a rare basis. People are wary on putting down US$60 for a new untested game despite reviews, so having a new IP like Titanfall for the masses on cybercafes can push them to get their own copy.
So far, EA’s regional team has yet to get back to us on their cybercafe initiative, or whether it has one in the first place. The next few months or so is crucial for EA to start pushing Titanfall to Asian audiences, since a huge number of them get their game fixes in cybercafes. If not, that’s basically a huge chunk of would-be Titanfall and mecha fans gone.
Free To Play (but not completely)
There was a time when Blizzard offered a free version of StarCraft II. Dubbed the Starter Edition, players get to play the first five missions and only need to sign up for a Battle.net account free of charge. In addition, Blizzard announced that the StarCraft II Arcade feature was made free. Essentially the Arcade mode is an option that features custom maps and game types using the StarCraft II engine and map editor. It doesn’t overshadow and cannibalise the main product, and also helps attract more newcomers to potentially buy the real deal.
EA and Respawn should adopt this method in getting more people into Titanfall, but in a manner that wouldn’t undercut the retail value of Titanfall. For instance, why not restrict the free-to-play version to just one stage that’s randomly changed per week, the game’s default pilot and Titan loadouts, and take leveling up out of the equation? This can mimic the freemium version of the Killer Instinct reboot for the Xbox One.
Players who wish to unlock the full intricacies of the shooter will need to fork out money. Gamers who cannot afford it can at least get some mileage out of the demo-of-sorts before figuring out if this is a game to fully commit religiously to. Of course, this needs to be restricted to Asian countries, as the free-to-play model is popular here. Having this version available in US markets might create mixed messages to a culture that’s brought up traditionally by retail-priced games and scorns free-to-play as nothing more than cash-grab schemes.
In the next few months, both companies should at least consider and perform methods in giving out Titanfall for free in a constrained manner. It doesn’t have to be now or the next week or so, but it should at least be considered in their business plans. From a profit-driven point of view, it makes a lot of sense to tempt potential customers with small parts of a great game so that they can shell out the most money for it to enjoy it forever.
Tying it all together
Titanfall is a well-created shooter that breathes new life in a genre filled with military shooters. After all, what kind of sci-fi nut does not love summoning giant robots from the sky and piloting them for added battlefield carnage? Of course, it will be for naught if it doesn’t get a sizeable following worldwide, especially since the game is marketed as an “Xbox One exclusive” through and through.
The game will sell decently for quality and polish alone, but if it wishes to transcend and stay among the ranks populated by Counter-Strike and Team Fortress 2, it needs to get its online act together and work together with cybercafe outlets across Asia. What good is a game if there’s no loyal and devoted community that’s built on trust and stability to back it up?