Interviews

Interviews
Exclusive Interview: Empire of Sports

Dana Massey | 8 Aug 2007 17:54
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Empire of Sports is an MMORPG that allows players to experience life as a professional athlete. Like most RPGs, you start as a rookie and move towards the top tier, but instead of bashing monsters, people play actual sports. The initial incarnation of the game promises basketball, tennis and skiing.



WarCry Q&A: Empire of Sports
Answers by Christian Mueller, Managing Director of Empire of Sports Ltd.
Questions by Joe Blancato

Skiing
Skiing

WarCry: First off, who are we talking to? What's your role at the company? What do you do on a daily basis?

Christian Mueller: Hi, my name is Christian Müller. I'm the Managing Director of Empire of Sports Ltd., the company that is producing and operating 'Empire of Sports'. On a day-to-day basis I have overall responsibility for the production, distribution and operation of the gaming platform. I've been with the project from the very beginning, seeing it grow, develop and progress and as we approach beta testing and launch, our days are more than a little busy but also extremely exciting.

WarCry: Has Infront worked on games before? The press release we received describes Infront as a marketing group.

Christian Mueller: Empire of Sport Ltd. is a joint venture company controlled by Infront Sports & Media. It has been formed with F4, a leading video game development company known for its expertise for online worlds and state-of-the-art graphics, to bring this exciting new gaming product 'Empire of Sports' to consumers.

Infront is based in Zug, Switzerland, and is one of the most experienced international sports marketing companies with an exceptional track record on major events. The group is targeting sport at the core of the rapidly diversifying entertainment industry. It is recognized for its innovative marketing skills and the provision of specialist services to sport.

Infront is contributing its deep understanding of sports and its long-term relationships with top sports federations, clubs and athletes to the endeavour, while F4 is developing the platform leveraging its expertise in online gaming and the creation of persistent virtual worlds.

'Empire of Sports' is exciting proposition creating new sports experiences for fans worldwide - everyone. The ultimate objective behind 'Empire of Sports', is about letting gamers experience what it is to be a sports star, to bring sports closer to gamers.

WarCry: What has F4, your game development partner, worked on in the past? Who within their company will be heading up designing the game?

Christian Mueller: F4 is sharing Infront's vision of innovative sports gaming. F4 is a French game developer based in Paris, and one of the leading independent developers in Europe working on MMOs and virtual worlds. F4 has been very secretive about its previous activity because its clients have demanded the utmost confidentiality about their projects.

What sets them apart is that they're not just a bunch of tremendously talented programmers, but also scientists and engineers. When we envisioned the game this base of talent was an absolute requirement, to overcome the technical problems involved in an online sports game, most importantly with lag issues. One of the things we all want to do is go beyond the current sports concepts in gaming. As for heading up the designing of the game it's something that we're both heavily involved in with, F4 bringing their extensive technical expertise, with Infront contributing its deep understanding of sports, and together focusing on a new gaming experience with 'Empire of Sports'.

WarCry: Tell us a bit about Empire of Sports. How does it work? How do people congregate? Can people interact off the field? Does a player represent a team or just an individual player?

Christian Mueller: Empire of Sports is the world's first massive multi-player online role-playing game platform (MMORPG) built entirely around sport. It is designed to allow millions of players around the world to simultaneously exist in an online universe, where their alter egos socially interact, train, compete, attend events and buy the goods and services they need to build a parallel sporting existence. The player is free to participate in various sports disciplines and develop his or her avatar's skills and abilities. Not just in the sense of improving at an individual sport but taking control of the avatar's fitness and health as well.

Tennis
Tennis

You start as a talented rookie setting out on a journey to become an exceptional athlete and eventual sports star. So your avatar's development and progression is a key aspect in 'Empire of Sports'. For that purpose, we have developed an avatar model featuring a near-realistic body and metabolism system. In the classic RPG sense we have an important twist since we don't feature classes. But don't you worry: Even without, let's say a warrior class you can develop a corresponding physique and slightly more aggressive play style - if the referees and your team mates tolerate it.

In team play you have another key element of the game, and something that I think gamers have been waiting for a long time. You're not controlling the whole team, only your avatar. For this to work requires first, organization in the team, but secondly a rich and thriving social environment to find appropriate team mates and ultimately friends. This supports the important social and MMO element. Combining both you'll get a kind of MMORPG with 'Empire of Sports', but instead of grinding your way through changing landscapes killing all kinds of mobs, you'll be facing real opponents in sports games and develop and sharpen your skills and abilities in hundreds of training missions.

WarCry: Is the game more of a lobby system, where players go off to games (a la battle.net), or more of a virtual world where people occasionally go to play sports?

Christian Mueller: We will have a lobby kind of interface, just because they work best for finding appropriate events and competitions. But more importantly, we have developed a series of virtual city-like community centers for 'Empire of Sports' representing real world locations. In these cities people can live and access all the services needed for a successful sporting life. This includes shops, auction houses and administration centers, but also club houses and training facilities. It's a virtual world, but focused on sports. Personally, I don't believe pure virtual worlds currently provide long term joy and fun to gamers. We all crave purpose and objectives, and in our world that's excelling at sports.

WarCry: The first three sports people will be able to play are basketball, tennis and skiing. Why did you choose these three? Wouldn't soccer have a wider appeal?

Christian Mueller: The reasons for choosing these sports is based on their distinct styles of game play. Most notably, that basketball is a team sport, while singles tennis is you against an opponent and skiing is all about your skills against the environment.

For Basketball the game play is inherently, exciting, fast paced and good co-operation is essential if you want to win. With different team sizes, players won't be restricted to the traditional 5 v 5 game, but you've always got to find a team and opponents. I personally really like this, since tactics and play will constantly evolve as players learn to play as a team, either by practicing together regularly or, by contrast, working quickly with new team-mates for one off games.

Then we have the single player sports. For me they represent a perfect balance. In tennis and skiing, you're on your own. Sure, when it comes to preparation and training, working with other people will be helpful, but in the decisive moment, you're alone on the court or slope - and every decision counts.

Will there be other sports?

'Empire of Sports' is a modular platform that allows us to easily add new sports. We will be shortly announcing additional sports, including 'smaller' sports (i.e. sports that can't be translated into larger games), but also major sports that are currently in development. Today, I can only tell you that we're very much aware of soccer's appeal as a game, so stay tuned and watch the news. I promise WarCry readers will be among the very first to know.

WarCry: Have any professional athletes expressed interest in participating in the game?

Christian Mueller: As we mentioned at the start there are two companies that make up Empire of Sports Ltd., Infront Sports & Media and F4. Where F4 have provided the skills to make the vision a reality and allowing us to push the technical limits and Infront is contributing its deep understanding of sports and its long-term relationships with top sports federations, clubs and athletes

This has affected the game in different ways. In the development stages the input of professional athletes has been invaluable in the design of the games, helping us to include just the right levels of challenge and realism. For example, looking at ski runs in ways that a programmer never could or ensuring that team sports work with the right kind of dynamic. From individual athletes, the other element we have received lots of positive feedback on is that they feel that not only their sports but also the personal effort and sacrifices need to get to the top are very well translated into the virtual world and just as importantly that it brings them closer to their fans. With this in mind we've concentrated on those athletes who share our vision and passion for sport and for the game. The stars rather than playing on your team will be your coaches and buddies, teaching you tricks and giving tips for the next match. Obviously, they're not doing it personally, but their NPCs are waiting for you in the respective sports districts.

With the leagues, clubs and associations their role would be very similar to real life, as organizers of events and competitions. On top of that, they're advising us on many technical aspects of the various sports, recognizing the fact that we love their sports as much as they do.

I know you're probably expecting or would like me to start dropping names right now, but there will be announcements closer to release.

The world
The world

WarCry: How will the system handle so many players? Obviously, in real-life sports, certain people are inherently better than others at sports. Since Empire of Sports has an RPG element, conceivably anyone with a lot of time on his hands can be good at a particular sport. Is that something Infront is comfortable with?

Christian Mueller: There's an important difference to be made between your character's ability to compete and your actual performance. The first is an expression of your inherent capabilities represented by your avatar's level in a given sport. You can affect your level without participating in a single competition (although this gets very difficult). The latter is reflected in your ranking which is a result of your performance in competitions against other players.

The game is skill-based rather than stat-based, in other words you can put all the gym time you like but if you don't press the right key at the right moment nothing will happen. The idea is to see the game creating true champions and some people will simply be 'better' at it than others. 'Empire of Sports' is about giving everybody - independent of his predisposition in real life - the chance to experience what it means to be a real athlete.

WarCry: Will there be different leagues for players of different skill levels? Any plans to make a top circuit something akin to a professional league, where players can earn sponsorship from real-world companies in the game, or compete for prizes?

Christian Mueller: This sort of element is absolutely fundamental. We are already introducing various 'leagues' or ranks for players, each with dedicated events and competitions.

Sport of any kind is built on close competition and rivalries. Yes, people enjoy it when their team wins and destroys another team, but we have to give the players the chance to compete against other comparable players, otherwise one side is going to walk away disappointed. With time and increasing proficiency in a sport, you'll rise through the ranks and indeed could become a sports star in your own right. For these top players, we'll have special events and competitions. Who knows, over time they might get even sponsored by real companies if they manage to build the required attention and stardom.

WarCry: What's your business model? Will Empire of Sports be subscription-based or use the micopayment model?

Christian Mueller: I can't be too specific about the business model yet. The reason for this is that we're carefully watching the environment to see in which direction it is going and which model fits the game the best. We have noted the rise of micro-payment based models, and potentially it could work very well for 'Empire of Sports'. On the other hand, we know about how sensitive gamers can be and our ultimate goal it to provide unmatched value, which should be a combination of a fantastic new game with an attractive overall price.

WarCry: What's your user projection? How many users do you think the game can sustain? How many do you need to be profitable?

Christian Mueller: We have been very careful regarding user projections. We have received a lot of extremely positive feedback predicting a strong pick-up by gamers. With this in mind, we are ready to sustain a very high number of users, especially as our hosting structure is state-of-the-art and highly scalable.

At the moment, the key for us is to take the game to the gamers and show them that it's for real and actually happening. For this reason, we will be at the Leipzig Games Convention August 23-26. We're inviting everybody to join us for a tennis match, a ski race or a virtual stroll in one of our cities. We'll also feature the event on our webpage (www.empireofsports.com), along with more and more news and media about the game.

I hope to see you soon in the 'Empire of Sports'.



For more information on this game, check out their official website.

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