A few weeks ago we saw one very interesting indie game finally surface after a brief slumber: SNOW. One of the few games in recent memory to attempt a realistic depiction of skiing and snowboarding within the setting of a video game, SNOW instantly rose to the top of gamers most anticipated lists yet there was a lot we didn’t know about the game and what developer Poppermost Productions had in store for us.
After Poppermost Productions Game Director Alexander Bergendahl gave us some incredible insight on the gameplay element of SNOW in part 1 of the Inside The Game feature, we’ll now get a better idea at what else SNOW has brewing for us. Other than the goal to deliver a game that accurately depicts the sport of skiing/snowboarding, SNOW has some interesting tricks up its sleeve, particularly the fact that it’s now a free-to-play title.
Read on for the full details about what SNOW has to offer such as the involvement of prominent athletes in the development process and whether or not we’ll ever see SNOW on any other platforms.
Ian Fisher: The tagline of SNOW has always been “for riders, by riders” and that of course originates in how the Poppermost staff are actual skiers/snowboarders, thus they know what a true snow sports game should be like. But now things have been taken up a notch by the arrival of professional skiers lending their knowledge to the dev team. So can you talk a bit about which notable names are helping the team at Poppermost to take SNOW to the next level?
Alexander Bergendahl: SNOW was definitely born out of a genuine love for winter sports. As soon as I could walk, I was put on skis and sent down the mountain and to this day I make a point of making it to the Alps each season for some off-piste skiing and snowboarding. The team at Poppermost shares my love for the sport, which I think drew us together in the first place and keeps us motivated each day. That being said, when it comes to the finer points of competitive skiing, I understand my limitations (both on skis and as Game Director) and I knew from the start that bringing on the best winter sports talent would be necessary to make SNOW as realistic as possible. Our professional athletes provide us with unrivaled insight into their sport and ensure that our vision and authenticity are always spot on.
Perfecting gameplay on skis is our first focus, so we have partnered with some amazing freeskiers thus far: Tom Wallisch, Tanner Hall and Russ Henshaw. Each of these athletes are gold medalists in their various disciplines (slopestyle, big air, superpipe) and bring unique and valuable perspectives to SNOW. Tom, Tanner and Russ each have different training, styles, backgrounds and nationalities – Russ is Australian! – which in turn makes SNOW more complete. When we get to the point of implementing snowboarding, we look forward to expanding our roster to include professional snowboarders as well. We can’t wait!
Ian: Having key athletes lend their knowledge will no doubt help raise the awareness of SNOW amongst gamers and fans of skiing/snowboarding, but it also ought to further provide a deeper experience on the gameplay side. So how integral have the pro athletes been in helping Poppermost tweak the game?
Alexander: Working with professionals who have dedicated their entire life to skiing offers us unparalleled insight into what it’s actually like to ride around a mountain and perform the amazing tricks that these top athletes execute in competition. It’s one thing to understand and itemize the elements that go into complex tricks, but it’s another thing to have experienced the feeling first hand. We want SNOW to provide the first hand adrenaline rush that these athletes know so well.
So far, our focus has been on refining the core gameplay, and input from our athletes has already been valuable. Once we have a more advanced playable version, we will set up some proper playtest sessions for our athletes and work with each of them on unique content so they leave their mark in the world of SNOW.
Even though we love our athletes, the Poppermost team is always making sure that our gameplay is balanced by rewarding and fun game mechanics. At the end of the day, we have final say since we have to make sure the final product is enjoyable for all players. It’s a delicate balance between staying true to the art of freeskiing and snowboarding and also the reality of making a game.
Ian: What has it been like to get some added credibility to SNOW by having the professional athletes agreeing to help the dev team out and put their stamp of approval on the project? And all together was it hard to get people onboard the project or was it easy given the concept and direction of SNOW?
Alexander: Having these athletes onboard definitely helps legitimize the game in the freeskiing and snowboarding world. Skiers of all ages and levels of ability look up to these guys and value their endorsement. Once we got in contact with the athletes’ management, figuring out the partnership came pretty naturally. Our vision and what we’ve built so far is unlike what anyone else has attempted or accomplished, and these guys saw that right away.
However, having the ski community on board through these athletes only represents half of our target audience. We never forget that we are also making a game for regular gamers who don’t necessarily yearn to be up on the mountain. We know that they are a tough audience and we’ll have to win them over with solid gameplay and amazing graphics.
Ian: SNOW may have some star power helping things out behind the scenes, but gamers will still have the ability to create their own avatar to ride down the various slopes. Can you talk a bit about how deep the customization options will be and what new features, if any, have been added since you first started working on the game?
Alexander: Even though we have great athletes signed on, we have decided not to offer them as playable characters in the game, as other games have done in the past. We decided that it would be important for players to identify with their character and dress them as they would (or do) on the slopes. Having a unique identity on the mountain is so important in the freeskiing and snowboarding world, and we want players to mimic that in SNOW.
Since we started development, we have built the basic functionality required for players to select unique clothing and gear. Our end goal is to have absolutely everything be customizable. Players will be able to select clothing and equipment from a massive catalogue of items (we are in conversations with more than a dozen brands already), and will also be able to change their character’s facial features and hairstyle. On top of that, we also want to give players the opportunity to customize their skis, snowboard and helmet with unique (and maybe even self-designed) stickers.
Ian: The customization options of SNOW will obviously play heavily in the game, not just for gamers to add a sense of personality to their avatar but because SNOW is going the free-to-play route. What made you and the rest of the team decide to go the free-to-play route and was it a tough decision to come to, especially considering this is a new IP coming from an indie studio?
Alexander: When we started conceptualizing SNOW, free-to-play model hadn’t really made the leap into core games, so we actually designed SNOW as a traditional full-priced game. As we began early development, the free-to-play model caught our eye as it started to gain popularity. It soon became clear that this model offered unique benefits and we decided to fully migrate and make the switch to free-to-play.
With the free-to-play model, we have gained freedom in our development process since we are not restricted to delivering a complete game up front. It’s really a win-win on both ends: players who recognize the early value in SNOW can come into the game early and try out the experience without putting down any money, while we have the chance to get our product out there sooner and have our users contribute to our process.
SNOW is particularly well suited to the free-to-play model since it’s a world that is ever growing and changing. We can constantly add content and stay up to date with what’s going on in the winter sports world.
Ian: Now just how deep will the F2P elements and structure of SNOW be? Can gamers expect the usual monetization of things such as clothing or will other aspects of the game feature a small fee?
Alexander: So far, we have decided that two areas of SNOW will be open to monetization: character customization and content. Customization is pretty straightforward and includes all changes to clothing, gear, equipment and character appearance as already discussed in this interview. Monetization in terms of content will be in the form of events and competitions.
We will not be asking players to purchase new mountains because we always want the core experience of skiing around and exploring our world to be free. Instead, we are selling special events and competitions that will take place all around the mountain. Those who are serious about improving their skills in SNOW and being on leaderboards will likely be interested in buying events and setting some top scores.
Because the whole free-to-play model is relatively new, especially in the area of sports games, we are going to pay close attention to how the community reacts to the monetization structure we create and listen carefully to feedback to eventually create the best experience possible. Once again, we see this as a chance to get to know our users better and create the winter sports title they’ve always wanted.
Ian: Previously there was talk amongst gamers and the industry about whether or not things should go the digital route completely, thus killing off physical media. Now that debate still exists, but now it seems like the status of free-to-play games are beginning to rise given the changing tone in the market place, both amongst gamers with limited wallets and developers who want to stay open and not shutter. So what are your feelings on the status of the free-to-play market and where it could go in the next few years, both on the PC and in the console space?
Alexander: With their next generation of consoles coming out, it’s up to Microsoft and Sony to determine the relationship between consoles and free-to-play games. In their announcement of the PS4, Sony acknowledged the free-to-play model, which is hopefully a good sign. Meanwhile, the transition to free-to-play on PC seems to be a very natural one, and I believe that we will be seeing some big free-to-play franchises over the next few years.
In my mind, it’s important for developers to approach this new model with caution. Right now, there’s a big buzz around free-to-play and some developers are trying to adapt existing games to fit the model, or use it when the fit with the model isn’t right. This ends up hurting developers in the long run and can potentially scare gamers away from the business model for good. Gamers need time to get used to the new model, come to terms with why games are going in this new direction and figure out how their payment structure will be different.
Ian: Right now gamers are becoming more used to free-to-play games thanks to titles such as Battlefield, Ghost Recon, and Hawken going that route on the PC. Yet amongst all those games, there at times seems to be a perception about what a F2P game is, either in respect to quality or every integral component having a price attached to it, thus it’s not “free” if you want the true experience. So is it perhaps worrying of having to break the mold per say in order for people to give SNOW a shot?
Alexander: Every model and every game has its pros and cons. While I love the free-to-play model for what it offers SNOW, I don’t think it’s inherently perfect for every game out there. With games that offer virtually nothing for free, players feel shafted and many small purchases can feel more draining than one big purchase that gamers are used to making with traditional titles.
In the world of SNOW, I have full confidence that users will see that the free-to-play model fits. Even though we think our player customization and competitive events are unique and really fun, it is our core experience and open world that is at the heart of what SNOW offers gamers. This core experience will be free and there will be no pay-walls or limiting factors requiring our users to spend money to keep playing. We want to make the best experience possible, and will work closely with our community to ensure the game gives players value while allowing us to stay in business and keep creating new content.
Ian: Given the F2P nature of SNOW, how will that play into how future developments are handled? Things may still be early on within the game, but are plans being laid for major DLC at the moment or will SNOW be a fairly complete package from Day 1?
Alexander: One of the reasons we went free-to-play is so we could scale and guide development based on the size and interests of our player base. The first release of SNOW will just be a taste of what is possible and a chance for early users to get to know our world. We of course have a plan for everything we eventually want to include in SNOW.
We have conceptualized new mountains, features and lots of content. But we won’t be creating all of this in a vacuum – we will be depending on community feedback to guide our work. Our users are the ones who will be spending their time and money in our game, and in time they will know the world of SNOW as well as we do. We don’t see why they shouldn’t have a voice in SNOW’s development.
Ian: SNOW has been tailored for PC gaming since the start but has there been any talk about seeing if the game can appear on other platforms? Obviously there’s some wiggle room in a sense due to the accessibility of CryEngine 3 on the HD consoles, but has talk arisen about taking SNOW in a different direction, perhaps powered with a different engine (such as Unity) so as to release it on a platform such as OUYA or even iOS devices?
Alexander: Building SNOW in CryENGINE 3 was a no-brainer for us. No other engine provided the same opportunity to build the breathtaking visuals and massive environments that make SNOW unique. Because CryENGINE 3 ships with really great tools, we have made considerable progress in a very short time.
We think SNOW would make an excellent console/tv experience, but unfortunately Microsoft and Sony are very restrictive when it comes to their platforms. Hopefully, this next generation of HD consoles will bring more openness. Micro-consoles like OUYA and Gamestick look great, and we would love to have SNOW available as widely as possible. However, we won’t be willing to compromise our unique selling points and change engine just to get the game on these platforms. The same goes for iOS – the experience just wouldn’t be the same. We will see what the future holds and in the meantime work with the amazing tools CryENGINE offers to make SNOW great.
I want to extend my thanks once again to Alexander for taking the time out of his schedule to chat about SNOW. So far it seems like the team at Poppermost Productions is doing all the right things in regard to their approach of the F2P business model as well as their aspirations for the actual gameplay.