The MOBA that lets you in on the ground floor is also changing up the free to play model.
League of Legends makes a lot of dough despite being free, and tons of companies are now convinced the free to play business model is the future of MMOs and MOBAs. The studio behind Tribes, Hi-Rez Studios, has been testing its own MOBA but it has a twist in that you play your avatar in first or third person instead of the typical top-down isometric view. Oh, and you play as gods pulled from real-world mythology in SMITE, like Poseidon and Kali. You can buy gods to play piecemeal for $3 to $7, but Hi-Rez announced last week you could throw down $30 to purchase a starting pack of all the gods the team will release - 40 is the planned number with 32 available right now.
"Anyone can start it out being not on a balanced field or being milked out of too much time or money it's kind of removed those excuses if they like the game it's an easy way to get in," said Todd Harris, Chief Operating Officer of Hi-Rez Studios.
Even though SMITE is in open beta still, the game has been selling gods and gaining steam through professional competitive play since last year. "It's definitely the fastest growing game for us to date and Tribes grew pretty darn fast so that's good," Harris said. "Even more important, people are sticking with the game and tell their friends [about it]. The numbers are continuing to go up and most of that's happening organically so we're very pleased with how it's doing."
Perhaps some of the excitement is trickling down from the professional players. At PAX East, Hi-Rez ran a $10,000 tournament that drew teams from some of the top professional gaming organizations out there. "There's actually pro teams from very recognizable sponsors. Curse won yesterday and advanced into the winners bracket. SK has a team. Root Gaming has a team. Competition already forming this early in Beta is good."
Harris is making sure the game is able to support that kind of play with well-designed spectator options in SMITE. "The camera provides a lot of different views so you can see the game in third person, which of course it shows off why SMITE's different from those other MOBA games but you can also see it from an isometric point of view if you're spectating," he said. "You can also do slow motion which is pretty cool with the action games, you can follow projectiles in the air, make some really nice post video production stuff."
Of course, he's also worried about keeping the competition fair. "It's got a three minute delay to prevent cheating," Harris promised.
SMITE brings a lot of different game types instead of just the normal 1 or 3 lane battles. "We introduced Arena which is like a Roman Coliseum, and behaves more like a deathmatch. Then domination is like a control point game, with three control points," Harris said. "We have another map that we've been working on that the art set looks really, really good in and probably in the next month we'll put a game mode on top of that."
The team has been releasing all kinds of deities over the last year including recognizable gods like Thor and Zeus, but also some you may not have heard of such as Neith, the Egyptian Goddess of Fate and He Bo, the Chinese Protector of the Yangtze River. I was intrigued enough to learn more about these gods and Harris said I'm not alone. "It does have that educational aspect and we try to stay true to the archetype of what people think about or are familiar with the god," Harris said. "It's nice too because people get exposure to other cultures. My son plays the hell out of Smite and he's more interested learning about mythology from these different areas because he sees them in the game. We put lore in so they get a little taste and we try to be very accurate with that. They get a page of it and then some people are inspired to learn more."
Even though it might make sense to team up with a fantasy novelist for an unending supply of gods - The Forgotten Realms seems perfect for such exploitation - but Harris said he's going to concentrate on real world mythology for the reasons he outlined above. Also, myths in the public domain are free. So there's that.
I'm just excited to download the latest addition to SMITE - the Greek god Apollo. He kills you with music from his lyre. What more information do you need?