Jean-Charles Gaudechon has a vision.
A few weeks ago, CCP Games hired Gaudechon to serve as the executive producer for Dust 514, the developer's free-to-play PlayStation 3 first-person shooter.
Part of that hiring decision was based on Gaudechon's resume. Before joining CCP, he worked on Electronic Arts' free-to-play titles Battlefield: Play4free, Battlefield Heroes and Need for Speed World. The other part of that decision is his understanding of gaming's still-evolving free ecosystem — and that's where his plan comes in.
"Taking on the role of executive producer for Dust 514, to me, means driving or setting a very strong vision for the game and making sure that everyone fights or works or pushes in the same direction," Gaudechon told Polygon in a recent interview. "That's, to me, probably the single most difficult thing to do in any product, and especially in games, to make sure that you do achieve that vision."
"To really focus on that kind of visceral gameplay — that intense first few hours, first few days of playing the game."
He's quick to point out that, although he may be the new guy with the vision, he's "lucky enough" to have a team of developers who've already shipped a game and can help him achieve his goals.
"I'm just coming here to grow that already awesome product that Dust 514 is," he said.
Dust 514 has always been an ambitious project. It takes place within and alongside of CCP's long-running massively multiplayer online space sim Eve Online. Incorporating more of Eve Online's 10-year fiction is an important component for the future of the game, he said. The first phase in Gaudechon's multi-part plan is about focusing on gameplay, which he thinks should compliment the universe CCP created.
"If I would want to push the game somewhere right now," he said, "it would be to really focus on that kind of visceral gameplay — that intense first few hours, first few days of playing the game — and making sure that we can engage more people into that world, into that fiction, and show you ... how deep and rich that universe is."
Players' first experience with Dust 514 is a particular area of focus for Gaudechon, who acknowledged that some found the game "a little bit too complex to grasp at the beginning." That's something that CCP already began to address with recent title update for Dust 514 designed to better guide players through the beginning of the FPS. It's an important focus for Gaudechon not just to ease the transition but because the story of Dust 514 is designed to be tailored to each individual player, just like Eve Online. One of his goals is to strengthen players' emotional connection to their characters, the game and the universe as a whole.
"It's 'Once upon a time, me in the universe of Dust and Eve,'" he said. "That's something that I think Eve Online does really well. When you play that game, very quickly it's the story of me into that huge sandbox design. One big thing that related to Dust 514 is that to me is very important is the player-driven economy, and that is also something that we want to push extremely hard on because I think it is a very engaging part of the game."
"You don't stop the movie to get a dollar from someone."
Dust 514's free-to-play model is also something that he hopes to use to help the game succeed. He acknowledged that the model isn't widely accepted in Europe and North America — and is sometimes derided as a "play-to-win" scheme — Gaudechon believes he understands how to employ the business model in a way that doesn't harm the gameplay experience.
"You don't stop the movie to get a dollar from someone," he said. "It's not a good experience."
Doing so, he said, would wrench the players out of the emotional investment in the game world and the story that he hopes to help create. Just because CCP has lowered the barrier to entry to the game doesn't mean that it has to be harm players' experience.
"When you see some of the successful games — because there are very successful games out based on that [free-to-play] model — the business model [itself] is not in any way disrupting the experience or how good that experience can be. And I think that's what's really important. No matter what the business, we remain the guardian of that user experience."
In the coming months, CCP will strengthen the "meaningful link" to Eve Online, including resources that flow more readily between the two games, which he hinted could be made clearer at CCP's upcoming Eve Vegas 2013 community event. He also plans to experiment while listening to the community and "course correct" when necessary, as he said CCP is already planning to do with changes to the store and in-game economy.
Jean-Charles Gaudechon will soon be moving to Shanghai to work more closely with Dust 514's development team. He's there to direct the future of the game, based on his experience with the free-to-play mode. But like his plans for the community, the man inside CCP Games with a vision for Dust 514 is also there to work with and listen to the team that created the game.
"I do not see myself as a savior," he said. "I see myself as more of a catalyzer of all that brain juice that's in the team right now."