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The best bits from Cliff Bleszinski's Reddit chat
The best bits from Cliff Bleszinski's Reddit chat
July 9, 2014 | By Christian Nutt

Yesterday, Gears of War designer Cliff Bleszinski announced a new studio, Boss Key Productions, and its first game, BlueStreak. Bleszinski plans to team up with Nexon -- an Asian company best known for its MMOs, in particular MapleStory -- to deliver the game, a free-to-play first person shooter on PC.

Today, Bleszinski took to Reddit for an "ask me anything" session, and candidly fielded questions from its users. The veteran designer shared his perspective on the industry and the thinking behind his plans. To help you digest it, we've extracted and contextualized his comments below.

Free-to-play? Why? How's that going to work?

The "number one question" Bleszinski gets, he says, is about free-to-play -- and his monetization plans.

"I'm DETERMINED to not do Pay To Win," Bleszinski wrote.

He also admitted he is "not sure" on how to best implement monetization, and that's part of the reason he chose Nexon as a publisher (for more on Nexon, see the next section.) According to Bleszinski, "they can provide server structures and a global peek into gamers of all types and guide us into a game that's more 'Shut up and take my money' as opposed to 'shaking you down for your hard earned cash.'"

Why Nexon, and not a traditional publisher?

It's a bit of a surprise to see Bleszinski go with Nexon. He did consider traditional triple-A publishers, he says, and they were definitely interested in him.

But the choice was obvious, he says. Besides the company's free-to-play experience as detailed above, he respects the company's management -- "I met Min Kim, president of Nexon US. And then Owen Mahoney, who runs all of Nexon. And I saw the direction they were going. (For a clue as to why Bleszinski was impressed with Mahoney, see this story.)

Bleszinski was also counseled to avoid "every" big publisher, he says. "Knowing developers who've worked with the traditional publishers I'd take them out, feed them a beer, and they'd do the 'look around to see if anyone's going to hear this' look and tell me 'Run away. These guys aren't the best to work with, and they'll try to design your game and just get involved where they shouldn't be.'"

He also spoke to Zynga -- but company founder and former CEO Mark Pincus "came into my meeting 45 minutes late," Bleszinski writes.

Bleszinski points to Nexon's recent deals with Brian Reynolds, Robotoki, and Splash Damage, and his conversations with developers at these studios, as key factors in his decision to partner with Nexon. "They all had glowing things to say about working with Nexon. They said they just let you build the game you want to build and when the time comes to see if you can monetize they'll help."

Elsewhere, Bleszinski also expressed a desire to stay away from the pressures of triple-A -- huge productions, annual sequels. His attitude? "I'm like, forget that, let's go about this from a grass roots way."

The influence of League of Legends

There is no doubt that Riot Games' success with League of Legends is having a major influence on the game space right now -- from Gearbox bringing MOBA elements into its next shooter to Bleszinski's apparent hope to do for the shooter genre on PC what League did for the MOBA.

While he didn't answer this question directly, another Reddit user theorized that this was the case, writing "he is chasing to review the Arena FPS as we know to the seamless skill ranked matchmaking system suit like LoL present us." Bleszinski's response? A simple "This :)"

Of course, eSports

Another hot topic right now, and an obvious one for a competitive shooter developer like Bleszinski: Interested in eSports?

His reply: "Of course, but you can't just make an Esport. It's like trying to force a meme, it doesn't work that way. You make an AIRTIGHT game first with a ROCK SOLID community and maybe, just maybe, you can make that leap."

His goal, he wrote, is to make a "skill based game" that allows players of high skill levels to shine: "I want to craft a game that has weapons and moves that are easy to learn but to really make them sing takes thousands of hours of play just like a professional athlete would."

The Rise of the YouTuber

According to Bleszinski, the rise of YouTube culture has fundamentally changed the way he looks at games. Says Bleszinski, "The YouTubers have taken over, folks!"

All those Gears of War cutscenes? No more. Watching YouTubers "made me almost bitter about scripted games, honestly. All the time and effort that goes into yielding only one Youtube video," Bleszinski wrote.

In fact, he goes so far as to say that a game's ability to generate YouTube videos is a sign of its quality: "That's why I now believe there's a direct correlation between how good your game is and how many unique Youtube Videos it can yield. Maybe amazing competitive matches, or fantastic things the users have built themselves, or even a crazy physics bug that was caught on a live stream."

It's not just about Let's Plays; Bleszinski also plans to go direct to his audience, unsurprisingly. "We also want to make live action shorts quarterly to help tell more about the universe outside of the game. If you're doing a Sci Fi IP you need as much of the fiction to come through in other mediums (and with lore) so people care about Plasma Rifle 3 or Player X."

Finding an audience, sharing with them, and being influenced by them

The PC is Bleszinski's platform of choice, because of the huge audience potential: "PC First, and then we'll see. PC is where the comments generally are, the community gathers, and it's got that big global audience."

Bleszinski also plans to open up game development to the public, so potential players can see the game as it takes shape. His goal is to build a community while his team builds BlueStreak.

"Got new concept art? Post it. Get playable builds out as early as possible. It's the new era of transparent development, honestly, there's no real reason to hide what you're doing. Get the community involved and have them see how the 'sausage' is made. Weekly podcasts."

Staying true to that, Bleszinski tweeted out the first piece of BlueStreak concept art after finishing his IAmA.

He also hopes for his community to shape the direction the game is going, citing a specific example: "A while back I saw American McGee posting concept art for a female character for one of his games on Facebook. The girl had high heels on, and it was an action game. A fan pointed out to him that that makes no sense, and the heels were lost. That's the sort of magic I'm gunning for here."

Bleszinski shared an important lesson from developing Gears of War: "Give them what they want." He wrote that the team poured tons of effort in trying to balance weapons its community didn't care about, instead of focusing on what they liked best. Stating this implies that player reactions will help shape the direction he takes BlueSteak's design.

Bleszinski also said that BlueStreak must support user-made maps in the game "at a minimum," noting that many of the best classic Unreal maps were user-created.

What about the development team?

Bleszinski described Boss Key as a "lean startup" with 15 to 20 people in its first year of inception and a goal to "FIND THE FUN FIRST."

The team will "ramp to 60-70, ideally tops" once BlueStreak is fun, with "TONS of outsourcing" for content production. "I don't want to work at a studio where I don't know everyone's name, and preferably their spouse's, again," he wrote.

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Heng Yoeung
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I wonder how big the PC gaming community is for something like this game, which I take is going to involve quite a bit of horse, as compared to the console base. I mean, PC games of this type, assuming horse, is a terribly expensive way to game. I was stupid and bought an Alienware PC awhile ago and that set me back like $2,000. Yeah, stupid isn't a strong enough adjective. Psychological issues might be better. Oh well. Never again.

Christian Nutt
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Actually, one quote I didn't include acknowledges that to reach a truly global audience of PC gamers, the game has to work on really low-end PCs:

"In order to hit that global audience your game needs to look fantastic on the high end rigs but also run on a potato."

John Paduch
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Back in the serious days of competitive FPS (Quakecon tourneys, etc.) on PC, people would turn all of the graphical settings down to give the highest possible framerate, which in turn allows the finest possible twitch-control for accuracy and response.

While I'm sure they'll make it look spectacular on higher-end hardware, it'd be counter-intuitive to make it REQUIRE such hardware.

Usman Cheema
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Are you guys unaware of the audience MOBA's have ???
For you buying a 2K rig might be stupid...but I would love to have to have one if I had the money.

Arjen Meijer
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Nice article, shows that Bleszinski got his head on straight and is up to date with all the trends. Let's hope he can make the leap to a new generation of shooters and get the market to follow.

I'm mostly worried about the community casting for shooters as the genre has never lend itself well for spectating and engaging non players.

Wendelin Reich
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"A while back I saw American McGee posting concept art for a female character for one of his games on Facebook. The girl had high heels on, and it was an action game. A fan pointed out to him that that makes no sense, and the heels were lost. That's the sort of magic [sic] I'm gunning for [sic] here."


Christian Nutt
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Hey, there are magical guns. Surely.

John Paduch
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I don't get it, what is there to facepalm? It's just an example of admitting you made a silly mistake and listening to the criticism for it.

Robert Green
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"He also spoke to Zynga -- but company founder and former CEO Mark Pincus "came into my meeting 45 minutes late," Bleszinski writes."

There are so many jokes one could make about being forced to wait for Zynga, I don't even know where to start.

Ben Sly
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No problem. Share this story with enough Facebook friends and you won't need to make the jokes yourself.

Christian Nutt
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ZING, you guys. ZING.

Benjy Davo
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This has the potential to turn into a bit of a farce. I'm not one of those guys who hates Cliff but he does have the tendency to put his foot in his mouth a lot. If he's constantly being opaque about the development process there is the chance that he's going to say a bunch of stuff he regrets later.

One solid piece of advice that my dad has given me and has made sense over the years is, "never do your work in front of the customer." As we are seeing with the early access model this is so true with many shoddy pieces of work on display. Part of the problem is that the average gamer does not understand that even someone with talent is going to make tons of mistakes and have at least several iterations of their work whilst in development.

On top of which whilst they are not all arena shooters there are a lot of multi player sci fi shooters on the market and many more coming out including from his old company Epic. It almost felt like he decided to announce because he knew Gearbox were announcing something. The difference is they actually have a trailer and are further into the development process. He is still hiring members of the core team.

David Serrano
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One Trick Pony would have been a more appropriate name for his studio.