August 11th, 2012

Planetside 2

Planetside 2 - What is it and why do I want to play it?

My goal of this blog post is to explain PS2 from my own perspective and to give some insight as to how we at SOE view the game and what it's like compared to other shooters and MMOs. I also want to explain what we think the heart of the gameplay is.. and just as importantly what it isn't. I'm also going to talk about our plans for the future. We have games that have run for over 13 years, so when we're making Planetside 2 we aren't looking at what it's like in 2012. We're thinking about a game we plan to have running in 2025. Yeah. Really. I plan on doing a lot of direct comparisons to other games. When I'm doing that in no way do I want any of this to be viewed as me slamming other games. I've played the heck out of Battlefield 2 and 3 as well as BFBC2. I've also played a ton of MW2 and MW3 as well as TF2. I am primarily a PC gamer. I've also played on teams extensively. All of the above games are amazing and are made by people with tremendous talent and passion that I have the utmost respect for. We're making Planetside 2 to be a game we at SOE want to play. We've gotten a lot of inspiration from elements of the above games as well as many other games.. including our own and especially from the original Planetside which we released back in 2003. Well ahead of it's time. This isn't meant to be a super comprehensive FAQ on Planetside 2 - just some things I wanted to get out there after reading a lot of questions and comments. Also - it's late.. I'm not spending a ton of time formatting this too well, so sorry for the wall of text in many spots.

So what is it?

Planetside 2 Is a massively multiplayer first person shooter game made by Sony Online Entertainment. The game is played in on gigantic open world continents with up to 2000 other players on a single continent. When we say it's massively multiplayer we're not talking about a bunch of instances like other games. All 2000 people are literally playing together and fighting in massive battles that aren't forced into tiny little arenas like other FPS games. Each player chooses to play on one of 3 empires… the New Conglomerate, The Terran Republic and the Vanu Sovereignty. It takes place in the distant future and each empire has a unique playstyle. Probably the closest comparison in terms of the empires would be a game like Starcraft II by Blizzard where each of the different races has a very unique playstyle and feel to it. 

How does it compare to other FPS games and to other MMO games?

As I said before it is truly a massively multiplayer game and you can actually be playing with 2000 other people on the same continent. But there are a lot of other differences that are very core to the experience when compared to other FPS games and other MMOs. As an FPS our goal has been to give it the graphical fidelity of a modern shooter in the same quality level as a Modern Warfare 3 or a Battlefield 3. Between those two games it is probably closer in play style to Battlefield 3 because it takes place on very large maps (although a continent in Planetside 2 is roughly 16 times the size of the largest BF3 map) and it has vehicle based gameplay. At present we have infantry, land vehicles and air vehicles all playing in the same environment. Down the line we plan on adding water based vehicles. The game is fast paced and is skill based, but unlike many shooters we offer character progression beyond just the standard unlocks found in other games or simple rank progression. Yes that stuff is very cool and works well in other shooters. The persistence in Planetside 2 is in many dimensions. Here's what I think makes us different:

1) We also have a very deep certification system. This system is something you advance through by gaining certification points (cert points) by playing (you will also be able to earn those points offline so you can keep up with your friends, although at a reduced rate). You spend those cert points on abilities in-game that can enhance your weapons, your vehicles and your character's class abilities and many other things. 
This certification system is far deeper than traditional unlocks in normal FPS games. It allows your character to truly be very different from other characters.. even ones that have played the same amount of time as you have. Our goal is to provide very deep and meaningful progression and attachment to your character. We made the decision to make this a time investment based system to give you the ability to customize your play style in ways that matter to you. It's not a simple unlock system. This system is a combination of the deep skills in a game like Eve Online combined with runes and masteries in League of Legends combined with unlocks in more traditional FPS games. The simple goal here was to make Planetside 2 insanely deep. We want people that play with different play styles to really be able to go crazy with their character's depth. We want literally years worth of certifications. I do want to make clear though that this is still a skill based game. A person with years of certs trained can still be shot down quickly by a noob that's a better shot. It's about being able to play the way you want to play.

2) Planetside 2 has the deepest team based gameplay of any FPS. We allow groups of 12 to form a squad. We allow 4 squads to form a platoon. Players can make an outfit (think Clan or Guild) with 300 people in it and all of you can play at once.. together. We have built Planetside 2 from the ground up to be about organized groups of players. We have a lot of leadership certifications that give leaders special abilities. In fact being a leader doesn't even mean you're the best player. A person who wants to specialize in leadership could spend a year leveling up a bunch of certs that give him the ability to level up his squad or platoon mates and give them a buff. Or the ability to drop a squad spawn beacon. Or the ability to promote people within his outfit.. or allow special chat abilities or voice abilities.. or having special chat channels that are set up by rank. We designed Planetside 2 to have the largest scale organized operations of any FPS ever made. You can literally go to war together and live and die together in a way that you just can't in any other FPS ever. Does this mean that you can't be a lone wolf in the game? No. You most certainly can be a lone wolf. We think that a big part of what makes Planetside 2 special is this amazing experience of large scale gameplay that you just can't get in any other FPS. If you want to compare it to anything, it's probably fair to say this particular aspect it's like an FPS version of Eve Online. We had a lot of this back in the original Planetside in 2003, but we've amped it up and made it more awesome with modern technology. We've put a lot of emphasis into high quality voice features (you literally could be addressing your entire 500 person outfit via voice).

3) Immersive world - Planetside 2 is very unique in the vast scale of our continents. It also has a complete day/night cycle. That changes everything gameplay wise. When you're fighting over a base that fight could literally take place over a day in-game that slowly turns to night. It's amazing to see that happen and it really changes how you play. It makes stealth matter in a big way, and it also means night vision equipment matters. Stealth really changes at night too. One of our biggest long term goals is to add weather to the planet that materially impacts gameplay. Imagine a sandstorm that grounds aircraft or blinds infantry or sweeps over the desert plain making visibility really bad. Our large scale also changes something really fundamental - there are no separate levels like normal FPS games. There are tons of bases and locations in many different parts of the map that are completely different from one another. We have huge sprawling bases that take combined forces to attack as well as a massive biodome where only infantry can get inside. Also territory matter in a material way. High ground matters. You can sit in a tank and literally shell the heck out of a base in the canyon beneath you. There has never been a game that has this kind of scale. 

4) The game doesn't have an end - This is a massive difference between Planetside 2 and every FPS out there. It isn't round based. There isn't a winner and a loser. It truly never ends. you could log out at night after the NC have taken over an entire continent and log back in the next morning and the Vanu have fought back and beaten the NC back to their warp gate. I have been asked an awful lot about this one point - some people see this as a bad thing. People say "what's the point?". Please think carefully about that. What is the point of playing a round of BF3 or MW3? There is a winning team and a losing team. Then it starts all over. That gives people the satisfaction of knowing they accomplished something. Planetside 2 has that exact same thing.. just on an enormous scale. You can fight over a base for 3 hours… and succeed in taking it over. People from the original Planetside still talk about taking over certain bases and the amazing feeling of accomplishing an organized strike that took 2 days to take over a base. We have leader boards.. and stat advancement just like those other games. Planetside 2 is different in that the world is persistent. That doesn't mean it's static. It changes based on player actions. It changes based on YOUR actions. What you and your team does matters in Planetside 2. You do get that same feeling of accomplishment over "winning" a match. in this case it's just taking over one small part of the map. This never ending thing really confuses some people that have only ever played round based FPS games. I understand why, but once they play for a while it's the kind of thing you quickly realize adds an amazing dimension to an FPS. In Planetside 2 you're fighting for your Empire and you're fighting for your outfit.. or your squad. And when you log out for dinner and then log back in, that same fight you were a part of could still be raging. 

5) Community - Other FPS games have great communities. What makes Planetside 2 different is the size of the server community you are playing on. I've always loved playing on the same servers for long periods of time in BF2 and BF3. I like seeing the same people every night. you get to know people and that's a big part of why I play online games. Planetside 2 has the same thing on a much larger scale.

6) Resource based gameplay and territorial control - One very key aspect of Planetside 2 is that on each continent we have the concept of territorial control. If you look on the map you'll see hexes that each side owns. Owning territory in Planetside 2 gives your empire physical resources. Those resources have a material impact on the game. If your empire doesn't own very many Polymers and Polymers are a major component of grenades or Galaxies.. your empire may not be able to spawn those things. This gives you a major reason to fight.. and to fight over particular territory. Our goal with this is to make a scarcity model that helps to frame the battle and the front lines. It's to your strategic advantage to take certain territory to allow you to do things in game your opponents can't. We also have big plans for why this is going to matter in the future which I'll explain below. 

7) Familiar gameplay - Planetside 2 plays like other shooters in it's moment to moment gameplay  - it uses the same basic controls as just about every shooter out there… we're probably most similar to BF3 because like that game we have vehicles and we've chosen controls that are standard across most FPS games. So you'll feel right at home immediately.

What about the business model? 

Planetside 2 is a Free to Play game. We have deliberately made the game so that a person never has to spend a dime. We don't charge for maps. We don't charge for basic equipment. There is no Pay to Win in Planetside 2. We allow you to purchase guns with either Station Cash (our microtransaction currency) or in-game resources. We are charging for what we call "sidegrades". What does that mean? It means a gun you get when you start the game is just as powerful as a gun you can buy. We're charging for different play styles. We may give the default Gauss rifle a damage value of 10 per second and a range of 5 meters. We may have another Gauss Rifle on the market that does 8 damage but has a range of 7 meters. Our goal is to provide a broad range of weapons that allow you to customize your play style the way you want. Very importantly we made the decision to also allow you to purchase weapons with in-game currency called Auraxium. You can literally buy the exact same guns without ever spending a dime if you put the time investment in. We aren't going crazy with making you spend a month to buy a gun. In some cases it may be as low as 3-4 hours to buy the cheaper guns and for the expensive stuff it might be 10-15 hours. We're still working all that out so those numbers are just examples. We want to make money but we want players to feel like they can play without paying. Our theory is simple - people that don't pay are still providing content for the people that do. The game I would say we are closest to with our business model is League of Legends. We are doing our very best to build a huge player community. We don't want to alienate players with a business model that people feel bad about. We have to pay the bills and our goal with this game is obviously to make an awesome game but we also have to make a profit. We also plan on having extensive customization options which we will likely only be letting players pay with Station Cash for. We'll also have convenience items that will speed up experience gain for a short time and other things like that. What we won't be doing is pay to win. We play this game too. We're not fans of that. Frankly I won't personally play games that do that and I plan on playing the hell out of PS2. Why are we going F2P instead of normal subscription or a box with no sub? Simple - we want to have a massive number of players and not charging anything up front or forcing a sub on people will give us a much bigger number. Our theory is over time enough people will spend that we'll be very successful. We also don't want to charge for things like new continents or new planets (in the future). We don't want to split the player base up. My opinion is this is bad for games like MW3 and BF3. It splits the player base up. That hurts in a game like Planetside 2 and we don't want it.

What are your plans for the future?

First off, we have a 3 year plan. That's really big. We plan on putting that out to the users at some point in the near future. This isn't some "vision" we plan on imparting on our players. It's our thoughts on what we think would be cool. We will listen to our users feedback and make changes based on that feedback. We think we have some killer ideas but our players have pretty good ones too! I want to be super clear here - these are just some of the ideas. The team has a ton.

Here are just a few cornerstone ideas we are considering. I want to be crystal clear and say that these are NOT promises these are ideas.. some of which may be canned. That thinking can change. It can even change fast. I just want you to understand we are looking to support this game for a very long time and add a lot of features to it.

1) Player Owned bases - we plan on releasing continents that are empty or partially empty where players can build their own bases. These are open world bases so others will be able to attack them. We're also planning on having these continents heavily resource based with new resource types that will be very rare..and lots of cool new stuff that can be built out of these new resources.

2) Harvestable resources - imagine SC II style resource harvesting with physical vehicles doing the mining or the harvesting.

3) Water between continents - seamlessly - this is really hard tech, but our goal is to make the whole planet seamless and allow water based vehicles.

4) Lots more vehicles and weapons - just what it sounds like. Many of these will take very rare resources to make.

5) NPC enemies - I don't want to call this PVE. That's not exactly what we have in mind. More like a global invasion that goes after everybody. This isn't a bunch of quest givers saying "go kill 10 rats" - this is bad ass aliens that want to gut you.

6) NPC armies - imagine as the commander of a base sending an NPC army towards another base MOBA style except it's in the middle of the Planetside 2. This isn't another game mode. It's all part of the same game.

7) Esports support - we plan on doing this pretty soon after launch. We plan on making this a big big thing and putting a lot of our resources behind it.

8) Weather

9) Mac version (soon after launch).

Like I said - some of these are just ideas.. some are already planned for the near term. Expect us to lay this out clearly and expect this soon.

Thanks and I hope this gives you some things to think about