Hi-Rez: ‘Tribes: Ascend is Profitable, but Not a Growth Vehicle’
Tribes: Ascend is dead! Long live… Tribes: Ascend!
Responding to a Tribes: Ascend forum post on July 11 asking about the next Tribes update (no new content has been added since March), Hi-Rez studio boss Todd Harris confirmed that the Atlanta-based developer has no plans to update Tribes for the foreseeable future. Though servers are still online and competitive events are still on (including next month at QuakeCon and shortly after at Gamescom ), the news was enough for many to label Tribes: Ascend officially dead.
Not so, says Harris, who was candid and open in a recent phone interview.
“We all still love Tribes,” he told me. “We understand gamers have concerns, but we feel good around what we’ve delivered and the value people have gotten and will get if they decide to jump into Tribes tomorrow.”
So why stop with new content now? Is Tribes no longer profitable? It is profitable, Harris said, and while server populations are way down from their launch peak, the stats are now stable, with more than 100,000 people playing it each month and thousands trying it for the first time every day. However, Tribes is not a “growth vehicle” for Hi-Rez, Harris said. Basically, it now brings in enough revenue for Hi-Rez to keep the servers running, host competitive eSports tournaments, and turn a small profit. Smite, the studio’s third-person MOBA, on the other hand, is surging, and the demands of the rapidly growing MOBA meant the roughly 70-person studio had to shift staff accordingly.
Harris admitted that, with 29 new maps, 46 new weapons, new modes, and dozens of skins released in the 12 months following Tribes’ April 2012 launch (a volume Harris likened to three-year’s worth of new content in other F2P games), Hi-Rez was shipping updates at an unsustainable pace, one that likely created unrealistic expectations. However, he stood by the product, describing Tribes: Ascend as “content-rich,” “balanced,” and “complete.”
“We are committed to Tribes long term,” Harris continued. “But for the next six months, we wanted to be transparent about what we plan to do. We still believe long-term in the strength of the Tribes brand and the franchise.”
Saying it is one thing – particularly after you’ve announced no one is currently working on Tribes or will be for the next six months, minimum. What will Hi-Rez actually do to help ensure Tribes’ long-term future? Something jet-pack-wearing Tribes veterans have been asking for all along: a way to create their own new content.
“Really, the main community request we’re hearing, which was always a part of Tribes, is for some way for the community to create their own maps,” Harris said. “So, over the next six months, as far as what’s next for Tribes, that’s really the area we’re going to be exploring. We don’t really have any details on that, but that’s what we’re hearing mainly from the community. They’d like a way, independent of our own map schedule, which is obviously slowing down, to be able to update their own maps. We’re going to be exploring that.”
Pressed for details (full mod tools, a map editor, both?) Harris said,“It is a pretty big deal. It will take us some time to iron out the details. We’re looking to give users more flexibility rather than less. We’re just in the scoping process now. I don’t have any other specifics I can give other than the intent we’re going to support it.”
And what about those new maps Harris mentioned in his forum post, the ones Hi-Rez was working on when it decided to pull the dev team and shift its focus to Smite? Officially, there are four new maps in various stages of development, Harris said, and they will be released at some point, but there is no timeline.
By the time we do see them, hopefully the community will be creating maps of its own for us to ski, jet pack, and shoot our way across. Shazbot!
“The Tribes veteran community is very demanding,” Harris said in closing. “Their involvement made the game better and overall, we’re pleased we were able to release a game that scored well upon release and delivered roughly three-years worth of content in 12 months. It’s in a complete state and now we feel confident in handing it off to the community in terms new content.”
Mike Sharkey is a former GameSpy (RIP!) editor. He’s currently contributing to IGN and Game Front while working on his Wiffle Ball home run trot. Follow @mjsharkey on Twitter.