When a group of people working on some of the biggest games in the first-person shooting genre gathered for a roundtable hosted by our own Evan Lahti at GDC, the subject of rookie retention came up. The most popular shooters today are competitive—with extraction shooters and battles of the royale variety maintaining their dominance—so is it an issue that the first experience many players have is getting demolished by veterans?
David Fifield, general manager for the Hunt franchise at Crytek, called this "the brick of getting in", making it sound appropriately like a heavy blunt object just waiting to fall on the heads of fresh meat playing their first games of Hunt: Showdown.
"We have an achievement in Hunt called Debut," Fifield said. "It's 'kill your first enemy Hunter', 40% of our players never get it. We're a PvP game where you come in, you do some things, and 40% of the people trying Hunt have never killed another player."
Hunt: Showdown is a PvPvE game in which haunted gunslingers dodge dying horses while crouch-walking across the weird west, hoping to take down monstrous bosses for their bounties then escape with the loot. Standing between them and safe extraction are other actual players who would quite like to shoot them and steal their stuff. It's a tense game where you might go an entire match without bumping into another human, and then be dropped by a headshot from an enemy you didn't see in the next.
"Balance is tricky," Fifield admitted. "In chess, somebody has to move first and so chasing that perfectly fair, perfectly balanced thing? The most skilled person will always win and it actually isn't that interesting to watch now. Not to disparage the chess world, I love chess." Fifield, however, prefers it when there's a chance for the underdog to come out on top, which makes a better story.
"When you watch an unbeatable player go on for decades, 'Will anyone ever beat them?' is not a thing that a whole bunch of people are flocking to sign up and try, versus the amazing story of the lowly mid three-star who, with an axe, caught a six-star napping somewhere—or third-partied them after the six-star killed five other people. [If] you're the one that took him down with the axe at the end, that's an amazing story and amazing feeling."
Gunfighting with other players is the most thrilling part of Hunt, which suggests that a chunk of that 40% are players who bounced off of the game before they got a handle on PvP, perhaps during one of Hunt's multiple free weekends on Steam. That's why Fifield would like it if more Hunt players had the chance to score a kill, and says one of his aims for Hunt is "being able to put more experiences in where that number goes down and more people get to play at least some part of the fun part, or find that mastery before they churn out having never got that achievement."
Hunt's a game where the "E" in PvPvE is significant, where there are enough giant spiders and poisonous beehive zombies to contend with before you graduate to hunting other Hunters; where collecting a bounty then making it to the extraction point without being seen might feel like as much of a victory as taking out an opposing team. Players who aren't racking up a healthy K/D ratio aren't necessarily having a miserable time, but Fifeld still sees that 40% statistic as something worth dealing with. "We're working on it," he said. "Challenge accepted."
Our FPS roundtable also included Evan Nikolich, senior design director on Apex Legends at Respawn, Alan Wilson, CEO of Tripwire Interactive, and Brian Etheridge, publishing director Tripwire Presents. We'll be uploading the conversation so you can listen to it yourself soon.