"People already own the game but we want to make them happy"
There was once a time when all I needed was a copy of Half-Life, access to FilePlanet, and an Internet connection to be happy. Action Half-Life, Front Line Force, Day of Defeat, The Opera, Counter-Strike, and the list goes on.
Teenagers barely older than me were coding my favorite games and letting me play for free. I never forgot how that felt and what it meant to me. Neither has Steve Piggot, President of Torn Banner and lead designer of Chivalry: Medieval Warfare.
From putting out one of the early mod hits of Steamworks to giving away 1.6GB of content for free in Chivalry, his first commercial release, Piggot continues to expand his fan base by paying respect to the one that once inspired him.
Chivalry is a game composed of the type of idiosyncrasies that get stomped out during the design process in mass-produced, big budget titles. Somewhere in a boardroom, a man in a suit may ask, "Why is there a button dedicated to senselessly shouting?" or "Why are there five different buttons for attacks?"
Before Piggot's passion project drew comparisons to War of the Roses and Mount & Blade, Source mod Pirates, Vikings and Knights II was his fiercest competition. Piggot joined the team of a 2007 medieval-themed combat mod called Age of Chivalry -- an idea uncommon at the time but still established through Pirates and other mods. Age of Chivalry was lost in a sea of other free offerings, but eventually found an audience when it was one of the first five mods brought to Steamworks by Valve.
Over the next couple of years, Piggot lead the team, as key members left, and Team Chivalry became Torn Banner. When Unreal Development Kit was released for free in 2009, Torn Banner adopted the new engine and continued to make a commercial sequel to Age of Chivalry. It's a position that many modders have filled in recent years, but none has done it with the faith in community and, well, chivalry that Piggot has.
On making the difficult transformation from mod team to studio, one which many have failed (here's looking at you Homefront):
"We’re doing pretty good. We were really up front about it. We weren’t pretending to do what we weren't. We said, 'This is what we are doing. Take it seriously.' -- and some chose not to; and that's up to them. We had to pickup some more guys along the way that helped us finish. Any time in business where you can be honest with people ... trust is everything. If you can say 'this is what we are doing' to your fans, consumers will become your fans.
On War of the Roses, Mount & Blade, and players jumping ship for Chivalry:
"I don’t know exactly when, but War of the Roses was announced after a year of working on [Chivalry]. We figured they’d be a 2013 title. There was a lot of confusion between both of us. I don’t think we knew what was going to happen. We were just like, 'Ok. Oh well. I guess we are going head-to-head. Did not expect that.'
"I don’t think anyone expected us to do as well as we did. That was pretty surprising for everyone, including us. We were friendly with these guys. We met at trade shows and talked through email. It was just very friendly.
"I think our strategy is marketing via gameplay. I don’t want to speak to their strategy, but it's not that. I’d never say we have more awesome customization then them; it's not true. We have awesome gameplay, and that's why we have more players."
On free weekend play, a free expansion pack, and keeping the snowball of Steam sales rolling:
"I would not change our release date. You probably won't hear many indies say that about the fall, but Steam is so snowball-ey; if you can get on the top and roll down the hill with sale events, you can hit at the right time.
On Dead Space 3's microtransactions and exploiting players:
"You can choose the way you do that. Different groups are emerging right now. People love all this kind of nickle-and-dime DLC, and everyone finds something that works for their business -- that's fine. I just think for us it’s more important that people are happy than they are constantly paying for this subscription model. We are still planning to do expansion packs that cost money, but we’ll always have free stuff for the community. You need to balance that stuff out. If you day one DLC people, they feel lied to and mistreated. We want people to be pumped up … we worked four months to do [our free expansion], that would have made more money if we charged for it, but we are investing in the long term by investing in our fans.
On the future of Chivalry and Torn Banner:
"I can’t make a solid commitment on the Mac version, but we are definitely doing the SDK. We are doing some polishing and stuff, but the SDK is definitely coming. I can’t say what our [250,000 and 500,000 Kickstarter stretch goals] were, because we might still do them. Our community patch and SDK is coming, then content update two. More free content and community content is coming, once we get the SDK tools out. We see a foundation. We have awesome gameplay, but we have so much we can do better and add on to the experience.
"There are quite a few community issues. Stuff like server browser, stuff that our community has been focused on. Half the people were upset at the recent content pack, others were just complaining. People already own the game but we want to make them happy. We are trying to make the game as best as we can.