Competitive online games are a rapidly growing industry, driven by the explosive popularity of eSports. Titles like League of Legends, Dota 2, Call of Duty and Overwatch dominate the professional gaming scene, and studios across the globe are implementing competitive modes in their games. Robot Entertainment, the studio behind the tower defense series Orcs Must Die, is no different.
"I can't tell you everything, obviously, but we're always working on some maybe head-to-head competitive style gameplay with this," Orcs Must Die Unchained designer Jerome Jones says. "We have to figure out the right way to do it. ... We'll have to figure out our little niche, but we are definitely working on those types of things."
For Robot, the "right way" means keeping the series' lighthearted tone alive while adding eSports elements to the core game.
"One of the things that's important to me is to maintain our humor and our feel," Jones says. "It's a very different game. Back when Orcs Must Die came out, we sort of created the genre, a third-person tower defense game. So now we want to stay special, if you will."
Orcs Must Die has been a quiet staple of the video game industry since 2011, when it debuted on Xbox Live Arcade and Steam. Back then, it was the new game from a handful of Halo Wars veterans who had found themselves out of a job when Microsoft suddenly shut down Ensemble Studios a few years prior.
These seasoned developers gathered under a new banner, Robot Entertainment, and they started building a new kind of tower defense experience. Orcs Must Die pioneered the idea of a new player perspective for tower defense games -- third person rather than top down -- and it was a hit.
Robot Entertainment has been chugging away ever since. Its portfolio includes Hero Academyand Echo Prime plus three Orcs Must Die games. The most recent one, Unchained, is currently in open beta on Steam. Today Robot employs about 100 people in Plano, Texas.
The Orcs Must Die games are Robot's bread and butter, and they've evolved over the years to keep up with advances in console technology and online connectivity. The original 2011 game was a traditionally priced single-player experience; the sequel added a two-player cooperative mode; and Unchained is a free-to-play, online, three-player orc-killing festival.
There is a hole in the eSports market that Unchained might be able to fill: There are no tower defense games on the mainstream circuit. Robot has the opportunity to be a pioneer once again.
The studio isn't sharing any concrete plans about a potential foray into eSports, but the conversation is happening, according to Jones:
"You gotta figure out the right way to play this game competitively. We gotta figure out the right thing to do. We've got ideas and we're definitely talking about it."
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