Massively Exclusive: Red 5 talks pay-to-win and Firefall's open beta

Firefall Interview
If you haven't yet noticed, Red 5's open-world, MMOFPS, action-adventure, jet-boot-featuring Firefall is now in open beta. The sci-fi shooter saw an extended closed beta period marked by major overhauls to core systems and a slow-but-steady trickle of new content, and last week's open beta launch is the next big step in pushing Firefall toward its eventual release.

We posed a few questions to Red 5 about the nature of beta testing, the complications brought on by monetizing a game in progress, and the future of Firefall.

Firefall Concept Art
Massively: Can you explain to our readers what precisely makes this open beta soft launch different from closed beta?

Red 5: In some ways, Firefall's open beta process will be the same as closed beta. We'll still be rolling out major features and content, and we'll still be gathering and using player feedback. But the focus of testing and development will change. During closed beta, the majority of our work was on the "core experience": building the initial open world, refining the progression system and abilities, optimizing the servers, client, and engine, etc. Now that the core experience is established (our third version of it), we can focus more on growing the game with new content and features like open-world PvP and the ongoing world-story rollout. At this stage in development, we believe that Firefall is ready for a broad range of players -- not just the hardcore testers. Moving forward, we want to give everyone an opportunity to participate in the beta process and make Firefall his or her game.

How does Red 5 feel about monetizing a game that isn't quite finished? Does the community support this decision?

An MMO is never truly "finished." Throughout our beta and even after launch, we'll be adding new content and features. So we think that it makes sense to treat Firefall as a "service." Players can join that service for free, but they also have the option of supporting it with in-game purchases. Not only does that help us with development, but we can use the data to adjust items and pricing early on.

Firefall Battleframe Design
The community supports this decision because spending real money is completely optional. They don't have to purchase access to the game, and they get all of our content for free. If a player chooses to purchase a beta pack or in-game items, that's great -- he's supporting development. But if he chooses to play the game without spending a dime, he still gets the complete experience.

We've also promised our community members that there will be no character wipes. Any investment in their character is there to stay, whether it's time or money. As we've made adjustments to areas like pricing and in-game resources, we've refunded players any difference.

How are you handling the now-standard "pay-to-win" concerns? What items in the cash shop are doing particularly well or poorly?

From the beginning we've been committed to avoiding "pay-to-win." With a skill-based shooter, it just breaks the game, and we want to offer an equal experience to non-paying players because they still make Firefall more fun for everyone.

Firefall Concept
So we'll never "sell power", and we'll never restrict access to areas or content. Players will find only convenience items and cosmetic items in our cash shop, things like war paint, experience boosters, helmets, goggles, etc. We believe that's a fair model, and those items sell very well. We also recently introduced our new Battleframe progression system. Players can unlock advanced Battleframes through gameplay with a system that runs in parallel to their normal progression. Or they can purchase the new Battleframes for instant access. This system and our progression overhaul in general have been very popular with closed beta testers.

What's the plan for endgame and squad content? Should we expect more Baneclaw-like encounters?

We have big plans for endgame and squad content. Baneclaw and our first story-based episode, Blackwater Anomaly, were just the beginning. Players can look forward to Army progression and missions, new squad-based instances, and events, and of course, we've yet to reveal any of our Titans (think of Baneclaw as a miniboss). You'll see a lot more of this throughout the stages of open beta.


Do you feel that Firefall's squad experience is where it needs to be? Are any changes to grouping or communication incoming?

Firefall is still in the beta stage, and our development process is highly iterative, so we feel that every experience has room for improvement. But our squad experience has come a long way, and it gets better with every patch. For example, just recently we added voice chat, we improved squad waypoints, and we changed how squads share resources and item drops. We'll continue to make these types of improvements throughout open beta.

What is the Firefall team's number one priority during the open beta period?

With a huge MMO like Firefall, there are too many important parts to give one area "priority" over another. Even when we're working on completely new features, we make sure that we're constantly reevaluating the game to find areas of improvement.

Firefall Exterior Art
But I'm personally looking forward to rolling out the world-story. It's something that both the team and our community have been waiting for, and it's definitely a major priority. We have this amazing sci-fi universe that we've crafted, and it's finally coming to the forefront -- that's exciting.

Soft launches come with a certain risk -- Neverwinter suffered a crushing exploit that resulted in rollbacks and a wave of player complaints not long after its soft launch. Has the Firefall team taken any lessons from other open betas and soft launched titles?

We don't believe that Firefall's open beta is comparable to any other MMO on the market today. We're not rolling out a near-final product; Firefall will have a multi-staged open beta where we plan to make massive changes and improvements. This will be a true beta test; players testing the game will see their feedback implemented throughout each open beta stage. We expect bugs and exploits because that's common in a true beta. As long as players understand where we're at in development, we can overcome those issues.

One lesson we've taken from other open beta launches is to thoroughly prepare and test the servers. While it's almost impossible to predict the increase in server-load, there are a lot of things that we can do to mitigate risk. For example, we've steadily scaled up our playerbase using a controlled invite system, and we ran multiple public stress-test weekends to reveal early issues. Also, Firefall is one of the first (only?) MMOs to use Amazon's AWS cloud platform, which gives us great scalability.

Thanks so much for your time!

When readers want the scoop on a launch or a patch (or even a brewing fiasco), Massively goes right to the source to interview the developers themselves. Be they John Smedley or Chris Roberts or anyone in between, we ask the devs the hard questions. Of course, whether they tell us the truth or not is up to them!
This article was originally published on Massively.