Ubisoft’s online third-person team-based shooter Ghost Recon Phantoms has come a long way from its alpha state back in 2011, to the point where producer Corey Facteau and the Ubisoft Singapore team justified a title change from its old moniker, Ghost Recon Online. He told e27 that apart from additional maps and a Modmaster customizable weapons system, the team has improved the game’s biggest weakness: matchmaking.
The system had been reworked so that it will take into account both player skill and equipment performance. This reduces the chance for an unbalanced team-fighting scenario. “[All these changes will] allow everyone to have fun – whether they’re a paying user or not. The fundamental fact of an online game is that it is constantly evolving. Our game has changed a lot [since the 2011 build] and it will continue to improve in the future,” Facteau said.
Facteau said that there are three things that makes Ghost Recon Phantoms stand out from other free-to-play shooters like Warframe and Loadout. “Ghost Recon Phantoms is not a run and gun type of shooter. Playing like a lone wolf will get you nowhere. You have to cooperate with your team, use your unique abilities to save your squad mates from tricky situations. Interestingly, the majority of our players also play MOBA games and what they like in Ghost Recon: Phantoms is specifically these team-based tactics, as well as our unique cover system.”
The second is that the game depicts the battlefields of tomorrow in a realistic manner. “Our staff has been following closely the prototypes developed by the US army,” Facteau said, adding, “adapted them and put them in our game. Nearly every device that you use in Ghost Recon Phantoms currently exists in a very early form. We also have been closely analyzing the nature of modern warfare and we believe that our back story reflects the world we live in.”
The third is that it takes feedback from the community seriously. “For instance, the maps are made accessible to the community before we launch them. We recently organised two large scale playtests to gather feedback about two features we are working on; tactical insertions and smoke grenades.” Other examples include the aforementioned fix to the matchmaking dilemma.
To maintain brand consistency, Ghost Recon Phantom is channelling the series’ DNA from the series tactical grouping and futuristic military trappings. “Ghost Recon Phantoms is a 100 per cent online multiplayer shooter game,” said Facteau. “This means that the rhythm of the gameplay is much more intense than the first Ghost Recon games. The feeling of playing Ghost Recon Phantoms is similar to playing a team sport. Coordination, collaboration and communication are essential for victory.”
F2P is a different market than retail, as Facteau compared F2P and retail games as TV and film respectively. “You rarely have two chances to make people like your game. If they don’t like it, they leave. Making a game that provides a good experience to new users is paramount. If you want to make people stay in the long term, you really need to focus on your community. You need to learn to listen and to deliver the content that will make your users happy. It means regular and popular updates.”
Like all businesses using the model, the livelihood of an online service is dependent on monetary contributions. However, Facteau assured that fairness is mandatory in Ghost Recon Phantoms. “Everything you can buy for real money in the game can be acquired also with in-game money, and your equipment level is taken into consideration when we create a match. Punishing people who do not pay is the worst strategy, because these people populate the game and make it enjoyable for everyone.” He added that the game offers a subscription system for players who want to invest more time and climb the game’s ranks higher. Both the in-game shop and subscription give more options for players to contribute towards Ghost Recon Phantoms’ well-being if they so choose to.
Even with all of these plans and its Early Access appearance, has Ghost Recon Phantoms done well for itself before its title change? It seems like it, considering that the game is played by 5 million people worldwide. “The game is very popular in Germany and Poland,” said Facteau, “but many of our best clans come from Singapore and the Philippines.”
Despite the brand name, the Western market has resentment towards the free-to-play model, though that feeling is fading over time. “Western countries have started to embrace the F2P model later than Asia. Even so, the most played games in the West are free-to-play. Take DOTA2, League of Legends, or World of Tanks for example. These games are huge in the West.”
Facteau also believes that both the retail games space and F2P model titles can exist in the same space without being exclusive. “People are still very fond of retail titles on PC or consoles. These two worlds can c-oexist, because gamers play several games at the same time.” Conversely, players are smart enough to desert a title if they come across anything that abuses the model. “F2P is very punishing for publishers. If your users don’t like what you are doing, they leave. “
He believes that the company’s approach to the F2P model with this game and action RPG Mighty Quest For Epic Loot is in the right path. “We took the time to learn about this specific market instead of just jumping on the bandwagon.” Ubisoft said so itself back in 2012 that Ghost Recon Phantoms was an experiment in the free-to-play sphere. “We need to learn [how to make the model succeed on both PC and consoles],” said creative director Jean-Marc Geoffrey to Eurogamer back then. “We don’t know how the future will pan out, the business is changing. It’s business design research.”
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It’s hard to gauge on whether the 2-year long public-level research has paid off in full. However, with the aforementioned 5 million players possibly rising, Ubisoft Singapore is hitting the right notes among tactical shooter connoisseurs. Players can experience these changes when the game launches on April 10 for PC (via Steam).
As for the Wii U version of the game, which is so far the only console to maybe feature the online shooter? “We are fully focused on releasing on Steam the best tactical shooter on the market,” said Facteau. “The Wii U version is not our priority right now.”