Independent studio Splash Damage, best known for its work on Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, Brink and the forthcoming Batman: Arkham Origins' multiplayer mode, had plans to self-publish its free-to-play shooter, Extraction, before it signed up with Nexon America.
Speaking to Polygon, Splash Damage CEO Paul Wedgwood said that when the studio first start concepting the game in 2010, it wanted to make a spiritual successor to Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory that it would give away for free. The game was completely self-funded by the studio and was later renamed Dirty Bomb before recently switching back to Extraction. Wedgwood said the studio didn't think that anyone would want to publish it.
"We were going to operate it ourselves. That was the plan," he said. "We would have just grown it organically. If you look at independent developers who try to do it, they have good games, but these games only find little markets, which is a shame. I don't think [Extraction] wouldn't have had the potential to grow exponentially, but it would have taken a lot longer to do everything."
Wedgwood told Polygon that had the studio continued working on its own, its closed alpha may have only been able to accommodate a few hundred people. In beta, the studio would have been restricted to running servers that could only support a few thousands. And then in open beta, the studio may have been able to grow this number of tens of thousands.
"We would have had to be quite careful, and that means it would have taken longer to get to the point where the game was in great shape and we were really happy with it."
The studio also risked losing money if the game didn't make back the money required to fund the servers and on-going development support. Wedgwood said partnering with Nexon was the right thing for Splash Damage because the company has the infrastructure to support the game, but it also giving the studio the freedom to make the game it wants to make at its own pace.
"Nexon already has the huge infrastructure, so we can use their servers, their hosting and their football field of awesome technology," he said. "They're the world's biggest free-to-play publisher — it's like being a company that wants to do something in the app space and partnering with Google. In the game space, that's partnering with Nexon."
Nexon America's CEO, Min Kim told Polygon that the reason he pursued Splash Damage and Extraction was because they were making the kind of game that he wanted to play.
"I've been trying to do it for years — it just took me a really long time to find a developer I can align with and share the same philosophies," Kim said. "If Splash Damage had self-published Extraction, I think it would have turned out great. When I first met them, I was really impressed not just with the game development side, but they'd also thought out all these sides of publishing.
"From a resource perspective, I said we can probably speed it up together. What we allow publishers to do is focus on the game, and then we handle everything else."
The free-to-play shooter takes place in London after an exodus from the city caused by a cluster of nuclear explosives. Players can choose from one of 20 characters, each of whom specializes in different abilities, and all of whom can work together to effectively complete missions.
"If we're being honest about free-to-play, there's a lot of stigma about it being pay-to win."
According to Wedgwood, Splash Damage wanted to make a game that anyone could play and do well in — not just very fast players who can pull off mid-air head-shots. The variation in roles means that even inexperienced players can contribute to the team effort. One of the characters we played during a hands-on demo specialized in land mines, so instead of spending our time running and gunning, we could also strategically place land mines near the mission objective to catch enemies by surprise.
The developers have not determined the game's monetization strategy yet. Kim said he's aware that free-to-play games have a stigma in the West, so both developer and publisher are treading carefully.
"If we're being honest about free-to-play, there's a lot of stigma about it being pay-to win. So it's like, free-to-play is good, pay-to-win is bad, free-to-play is good, free-to-win sounds great.
"That's kind of the philosophy we're taking. We want to create a high-integrity product that's really authentic that we want to play."