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Posted 1:13pm

Interview: Naughty Dog on going free-to-play with UNCHARTED 3 multiplayer

U3

Naughty Dog, purveyors of fine action-adventure games including the upcoming survival action game The Last of Us, made a bold move yesterday. They decided to make the core multiplayer component of their most recent game, the globetrotting epic UNCHARTED 3: Drake’s Deception free.

In a world of microtransactions and freemium stigmas, gamers naturally had questions about this decision. Why free-to-play? How will this affect the game’s community? We caught up with UNCHARTED 3 Game Director Justin Richmond, who gave us an inside look at the company’s thought process behind giving away the core multiplayer mode of one of Naughty Dog’s most popular games.

Why free-to-play? What new opportunities does this model present?

“Free-to-play takes away a huge barrier that exists for many players.”

Justin Richmond, Uncharted 3 Game Director: One of the biggest issues with multiplayer games, particularly multiplayer games that are part of a larger package (such as in the Uncharted Series) is barrier to entry. The free-to-play model takes away a huge barrier that exists for many players. With this model, people can check out the game without having to pay a dime, and in fact play it in perpetuity without ever paying a cent. This just isn’t something we can support in the traditional releases.

We have a thriving player base, with nearly a half a million unique ID’s logging on to play Uncharted 3 every month. This model will hopefully add to that community and show players that never took the chance how active and fun that community is.

F2P has a certain stigma to it – lots of “freemium” games are built around coaxing the player to spend money in order to make the game easier, or gives them an unfair advantage. How will U3′s foray into free-to-play avoid these frustrations?

“Players are getting the full Uncharted experience”

JR: We wanted to give the players the ability to pay for the specific parts of the game they are interested in playing. If you want to only play the core competitive multiplayer, you can just pay for that. If you just want co-op, you can pay only for that part.

We feel that the a la carte model gives our users the most flexibility and choice when it comes to playing Uncharted 3. If a player downloads the free-to-play experience and really gets into it, Naughty Dog recommends that you go ahead and purchase the Digital Game of the Year edition of Uncharted 3, simply because this is by far the most bang for your buck. You are basically getting the entire single player campaign for free with this purchase.

We are steadfast against the idea of pay to win, and we worked hard to maintain the balance of the game. This new player group is also getting to experience the full player base. The free-to-play version puts players in the same matchmaking as the full retail game. This means that players are getting the full Uncharted experience, not some watered down version.

How do you create a high-quality free-to-play multiplayer console experience? Did you look at any other developers for inspiration?

JR: We looked at what other people had done with their free-to-play models, and decided to strike out on our own in many ways. The a la carte model is something that has never really been done on the PS3. We spent a long time evaluating and making sure that it was our best choice. At the end of the day, we feel it gives our players more options than any other game when it comes to this model.

What kind of transition can current players expect?

“We will be giving out a few surprises for players that have been playing before free-to-play”

JR: The current players will experience no difference in their gameplay at all, other than an influx of new players in the system.

As a thank you for supporting the game, we will also be giving out a few surprises for players that have been playing the full retail disc before the free-to-play version was released. The only real transition is that we will be resetting the leaderboards in the interest of starting fresh with the new player base.

PSB: What kind of success has UNCHARTED 3 multiplayer seen in comparison to that of UNCHARTED 2, and how do you think F2P will influence that?

JR: Uncharted 3 has had great success compared to Uncharted 2, and we hope that the free-to-play version will keep that going. We aren’t just sending this version out to die, either. We have long term plans in terms of content releases and support as we move forward.

Are you battening down the hatches, so to speak, server-side? What kind of technical commitment is required for something of this magnitude?

JR: We did spend time shoring up our tech, and figuring out if a la carte options were even going to possible. Fortunately, our programmers are awesome and they managed to get everything sectioned out and running in a way we were all happy with. It was definitely not something that we took lightly, and we are really pleased with the results we have achieved.

Naughty Dog has mentioned that The Last of Us will also feature a multiplayer mode of some sort – is free-to-play something you’d consider down the road for it, too?

JR: I can’t really comment on The Last of Us right now, as we are still actively working on it. But I will say that if this endeavor goes well, it is something we will certainly be looking at for future products.

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Is this going to be added as an icon on the XMB like other ‘free’ content?

ShadowDoGGG 27 February, 2013 @ 7:09 pm   2

I guess the multiplayer wasn’t successful, just like all MMOs which are struggling goes the free to play route (FACT).

Why must all games have multiplayer in it?

JediFish_2012 27 February, 2013 @ 7:12 pm   3

Naughty Dog are probably the most talented studio in the world!

I had a lot of fun playing multiplayer Uncharted 2. I played only single player of U3 so for sure I will give it a shot :)

VitalogyPJ 27 February, 2013 @ 7:43 pm   5

The expression free-to-play should be within quotes because, either that or put the word “limited” before because it’s exactly what this is, a limited free-to-play with not mucg to do. Yes you can go up to level 15 but remember, you’ll only be able to do so in one single MP mode which can be boring after a couple of matches.

In order to get to play the rest of the modes you’ll have to pay for every single one of them and having them all and if you sum all Co-Op Arena €7,99 + Co-Op Adventure €8,99 + Co-Op without Level Limits €14,99 you’ll have to pay a total of €31,97, that for ONLY the multiplayer.

I can get Uncharted 3 full copy on videogamesplus.ca for CND$19,99 = €14,88 hmm I wonder which one’s worth to get.

In resume, the idea was good if it was actually 100% free-to-play WITHOUT limitations. Unfortunately there will be plenty of distracted people lazy enough to use google just to find out they can get the full copy (SP+MP) for half the price.

Another milking cow on the ps store…

residentSteve 27 February, 2013 @ 7:45 pm   6

@2 killzone 3′s mp was released on its own to, I always enjoyed U2′s mp over 3 but that’s just me.

VitalogyPJ 27 February, 2013 @ 7:46 pm   7

And to be clear I have the a disc copy bought on day 1, just felt I should leave my 2 cents about this “free-to-play” thing that has been going on lately.

Tranquil-Fury 27 February, 2013 @ 8:20 pm   8

“Free to play takes away a huge barrier that exists for many players”

The only barrier stopping people playing the mp section of that game is the online pass. This release makes me think that maybe the plethora of DLC you released hasn’t met your sales expectations and maybe the game isnt as populated online as it might have been. Both of which tie into each other

People who borrow a copy/ buy used are unwilling to fork out to play an unknown entity like multiplayer so the population of the multiplayer has fewer new members and as older players move on to other games there is less inclination to buy DLC for a game that is dying faster than it would without the online pass.

I do hope you revise this strategy for TLOU but i doubt you will …..because greed.

why would it cost money in the first place?

would gaming companies also like to charge us for taking a (CENSORED)?

another_gamer195 27 February, 2013 @ 10:26 pm   11

@ Tranquil-Fury
You just got me thinking a lot about the so called argument for online passes, i am now looking at how much harm IS being done due to them, yeah i swallowed the publishers tales of it’s only fair to keep/maintain the online servers, and just believed that the no games found messages i get in some games are ‘just’ cos people are playing other stuff… But No, at one time MP lobbies would exist everywhere, no matter… All this time i just shrugged the online pass off, cos i buy new anyway so it doesn’t affect me.. Unreal.. Of course it’s affecting me, No-one is replacing the players who also bought game new, but grew bored/didn’t like it, so sold/traded it on, Equelling I am being made to suffer as not enough ppl will buy a online pass,, sum up.. Why need monies to maintain EMPTY online servers.. as not every MP is a cod/uncharted type… man i been asleep to this real issue.. so, can this be seen as not delivering a product as described ?.. infringement of MY ownership or use/enjoyment of said product.. Cos it Clearly Must be.

Purehealthy 27 February, 2013 @ 10:33 pm   12

Lets be frank here, this is not a free to play game, not really. This is more of an unlimited demo. Anything worth playing has been ripped out of the mulitplayer, split into chunks and then resold at a higher price than it would cost to buy the WHOLE game for new on disc.

If you want a true Free to Play experience on PS3 then Dust 514 or DC Universe online is the way to go. No level restrictions, no Nonsense.

Keitaro004 27 February, 2013 @ 11:28 pm   13

I hope for Crash Bandicoot homage in your new project, “The Last of Us”, as Uncharted had the relics from Jak & Daxter. Whatever it is, a crate, a wumpa fruit or AkuAku, I will be happy.

Carnivius_Prime 27 February, 2013 @ 11:40 pm   14

I have to say I’m a little irked that transitioning to a digital version of Uncharted 3′s multiplayer I now have to pay to unlock the Co-Op modes which were free on my disc but hey if that’s what I need to do to avoid using the disc (I feel like mine is getting worn spending so much time in that noisy blu ray drive) and when I think about the insanely high amount of hours I’ve spent on U3′s superb multiplayer and had a great time doing so it’s been more than worth many, many times what I’ve spent on it. Ain’t like there’s all that much in the gaming market I feel like spending money on these days anyway. Quite tired of most of it.

MASPALOMAZ 27 February, 2013 @ 11:41 pm   15

I like this, because I wont be buying the UC3 game as its just not for me.. And the Multiplayer of many games just is not very good , so here you can test it free and if you like it just unlock the stuff or buy the full game :)

Its better than just being able to test a game 1 hour. I mean I am not downloading games of 20 hours to be able to play them only 1 hour! Lol. Maybe when we have GBIT Internet ;-)

I agree with Tranquil-Fury….Pure utter GREED. You want to put “Free-to-play on The Last Of Us….thats fine I want nowt to do with it.

MASPALOMAZ 27 February, 2013 @ 11:42 pm   17

*I am not downloading games of 20 GB to be able to play them only 1 hour! Lol. Maybe when we have GBIT Internet :)

So here you can really see if you will like the MP or not , its a good offer :)

This would have been a good offer if you wern’t typically over charging for DLC. Label it what it is its a demo. Treating your
customers like morons is not the way to go Sony although some will fall for it most won’t. The next Gen of consoles will be releasing in the near future with every con delay and lie that spews from Sony you make my next Gen choice of console easier to decide.

warguild93 28 February, 2013 @ 3:58 pm   19

I hope this fails, this is nothing but a con. just buy goty addition.

Turbine_inc 28 February, 2013 @ 7:30 pm   20

yay we care so much about the community we will give the game for free, but we dont care enough to respond to the communities concerns……sweet……

so i have the disk version, does this mean that if i want to play co-op that i now have to pay extra?

i hate all these companies trying to cash in on something they cant sell, basically treating consumers like mindless drones who they expect to jump through hoops because you call something free, i didnt buy the dlc before and im not going to buy it now

i dont agree with paid dlc in the first place, i agree with paid dlc even less for a supposed free game

naughtydog, i dont care how much money you want to make, or how much you think you can make from me……..its not going to happen, get some self respect and concentrate on creating good products instead of concentrating on how you can get as much money out of as many people as possible

halfaworldaway 1 March, 2013 @ 3:10 pm   21

I Agree with a lot of the comments on here regarding this supposed free to play game, its all a con.

When i first bought Uncharted Drakes Fortune it was because of the free demo on PSN, i had to go out to buy it, it was a great game and a great single player experience, Uncharted 2 followed this but it had the tagged on multiplayer mode, Uncharted 3 was also a great single player experience, but i had frankly no interest in multiplayer.

I have tried multiplayer on both 2 & 3 and it wasn’t for me, If naughty dog were to come out with some great single players expansions for these games then i may be interested but multiplayer on this type of shooter does not work.