Coming from out of nowhere, Robocraft is a game that is getting a lot of attention from players all over the world. The mix of MineCraft building and World of Tanks warfare is proving to be a very original and, thanks to the talent of the small indie team, extremely effective and playable. FreeMMOStation.com spoke with Mark Simmons, the Game Director of Robocraft and CEO of Freejam to learn more about this innovative game.
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Can you please introduce yourself and give us a general introduction to Freejam?
I’m Mark Simmons, the Game Director of Robocraft and CEO of Freejam. After many years working on AAA console games for major publishers such as Sony, Konami and Square, myself and four buddies decided enough was enough and quit our secure jobs to step into the unknown and create the game we had always wanted to make: Robocraft.
We named ourselves Freejam (finally free to jam on our own game ideas) and started working day and night to turn our dream into reality. After three short months we launched a rough and ready first version of the game online with some trepidation. We needn’t have worried – fans swarmed to the game immediately!
Today, just 12 months after Freejam was founded, Robocraft has 300,000 regular players and is growing like wildfire but the game is still only an early Alpha version. It really has been an incredible rollercoaster ride so far.
How did you come up with the concept for Robocraft?
For years now we have been putting together many different concepts and demos focused around UGC and physics. We had tried lots of different ways of cutting it but it suddenly all fell into place when we made the decision to focus the building on creating fighting machines that you could take online and fight PVP. The focused objective ‘to create a fighting machine’ and the social interaction you get online so you could ‘see the creations others had made’ worked perfectly together and are what gel the concept.
When did you begin developing this game?
We formed Freejam and released a very early demo in April 2013. That first demo wasn’t online, and didn’t even have enemies. All you could do was drive around and pick up little green crystals, but people played it for hours.
Didn’t this concept of Minecraft meets World of Tanks initially sounded too complex to develop, especially for a 5-man team? Or were you absolutely confident you could do it from the get-go?
Actually, it simplified things. We knew we wanted to do cube building with physics, and we knew we wanted to take it online so users could see each others creations. There are several MMO models out there, World of Tanks is probably the simplest, i.e. an arena based round based eSport. One of our development philosophies is to Jam, i.e. to try new ideas as quickly as possible with the users. So, for us the WOT thing answered the question ‘what is the quickest way we could try MMO multiplayer fighting with our Robots?’
Do you plan on adding a fully-fledged singleplayer mode somewhere down the line or will Robocraft remain as a true multiplayer game?
We have a lot of grand visions for Robocraft’’s future. The great thing about the concept is that there really are no limits. Single Player campaign, why not? EVE-style space exploration including mining for minerals, why not? Racing vehicles, why not? Since you gather the cubes and they are stored in the cloud like a virtual Lego box, why wouldn’t we allow you to use the cubes in many other game variants in the future. Hey! Why can’t Robocraft even be as big as Lego in the virtual world eventually? But, right now the team is just five devs, so we need to keep our feet on the ground as the current WOT experience is still rough round the edges in many places and we want to get that right first.
Robocraft is a free-to-play game, or as you said somewhere, Free-to-Win. What kind of monetization options do you have (subscriptions, items…) and what will that mean to players who never spend a single dollar?
Users can get to the end game without ever paying a cent. There are many users at the very highest echelons of the game who have never spent money. Users can pay to purchase premium membership subscription to accelerate their route through the game but this is not essential. Users can also buy cubes with real money, but must have unlocked those cubes using Tech Points first which must be earned in combat so limiting how quickly you can accelerate your progress with money. Users can also buy extra Garage slots beyond the three they start the game with so they can store more Robots in Robocloud. Also the game features a number of cosmetic cubes that do not provide any competitive advantage but are only available for real money. One of those is a ‘Dev supporter’ badge just to put on your Robot to show your support for the game which many users have opted for. Our golden rule is that it must be realistic that a user can get to the end game without ever paying a cent. It will be tough, but totally possible without being a ninja, and in a reasonable amount of time.
Balancing such a freeform game sounds like a true nightmare – players will eventually discover a more effective kind of vehicle and suddenly the battlefield may become filled with clones, forsaking creativity. Have you already stumbled upon something like this and what is your opinion about it?
It is a nightmare to balance. The users are amazing. They find exploits and creative physics combos that constantly surprise us and keep us on our toes. So far we have never seen two Robots that are the same on the battlefield – aside from a Robot shaped like Sonic the Hedgehog alongside Shadow, both with laser cannons in their hands It is true that a Robot commonly seen in game is the ‘Gunbed’; Named by the more hardcore users as it is a style of Robot often adopted by new users, i.e. a box with wheels, plastered with lots of guns all over it. They are quite effective and a quick way to get into the game so appear a lot, but most users who have played for a few hours soon learn how to take down a gunbed. What’s great is that the Robots CPU limits what they can put on the Robot, as every time we add a new component it forces users to make more choices, i.e. should I add this ‘Shield’ or one extra gun, or should I add a ‘Radar Jammer’. So, as we add more components the variation between Robots gets greater, almost exponentially.
You’re getting quite a lot of feedback from players who already love the game. Were you expecting such a warm reception and did you manage to implement any of the players’ suggestions so far?
We started the whole development with a tiny demo and a forum. Our philosophy has always been to Jam with the fans. Some have been giving us feedback for the entire year now so we have made them ‘Honorary Jammers’. They are part of the dev team. They have truly helped shape Robocraft as it is today and we’ll always work that way. They are passionate though. If we do something they aren’t happy with they really let us know. We have loved this aspect of being an indie more than anything else. It’s so rewarding to release a new feature and get feedback that users are enjoying it within hours. You just don’t get that on 2 year console dev cycles.
Do you already have plans to expand on the game, such as adding new terrains and components?
Oh yes! We are constantly expanding the game. We’re also expanding the team a little now adding two extra Code Jammers and one extra Art Jammer this week. We want to bring a lot more content and features to the users as quick as humanly possible. We will never stop.
Anything else you would like to say to our readers concerning Robocraft?
Just thanks. Thanks for all the support so far. You really don’t know what it means to us to see users playing and enjoying Robocraft.
If you haven’t played it, come and try it now at robocraftgame.com
Thank you for your time!