Smite Invades Console: An Interview with Todd Harris

Smite, the new MOBA from the people at Hi-Rez studios is slowly becoming a game to be reckoned with. The more action oriented focus of the game is gaining a strong fan following, becoming a profitable esports machine and is now moving to the Xbox One while still keeping its free-to-play roots. We were lucky enough to catch up with Todd Harris one of the co-founders of Hi-Rez Studios and talk about what is going on with Smite, what the fans should expect and what is in store for the future of the franchise.

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Comics Gaming Magazine: Could you tell us a bit about yourself and Hi-Rez Studios?

Todd Harris: First our background as a developer is really from an online action game standpoint. We did Tribes Ascend, before that we did Local Agenda and they were all multi-player action games so Smite originally started as a prototype in our game studio of a new game mode for local agenda. So we have all these science fiction assets for this class based shooter and the team was trying out adding towers and minions and it turned out to be really fun and so we decided it would make a really good game on its own. It’s basically a battleground of the gods and it has some modes that are very MOBA-like but it has other modes that are more death match.

With Smite it’s really taken off I think because many of the large MOBAs have good sports scenes so people are used to that but because Smite has this different camera angle and plays like an action game, from a player’s standpoint we think there’s an appetite for a different type of MOBA. So we started when we were in beta running tournaments every weekend and we saw a lot of participation, it just built and built and built. Our first real professional season after the game launched for PC we had a league format and that culminated in a world championship in Atlanta with a prize pool of actually 2.6 million dollars. So in our first year it became the third largest esports event of all time which is pretty phenomenal.

Smite World Championship
Smite World Championship

I think that’s because the gameplay is different but also because we have something within the game called the odyssey which allowed people to buy items for their characters and a portion of that money went to fund the prize pool. It worked really well. The prize started at 600,000, the community raised over two million from buying these things and that’s what let us put on a great event. So we had teams from around the world, eight of the best teams coming from as far away as Latin America, Europe, and China, to compete against North Americans so it’s been a big part of the growth of the game.

CGM: Why the choice to go Xbox One?

TH: Two comments. The first was going from PC to console, which, because you directly control your character and you directly move it with WASD it kind of is a very natural fit to be able to use it with your controller. We had a lot of our players actually taking their Xbox controllers, the Windows version, and plugging it in and starting to play it. So we saw there was a demand out there.

Then when looking at the consoles, Microsoft just has been very supportive of the title and I think they’re looking for additional high quality free to play games and so we started conversations and it’s a great fit.

Combat is different and also a lot of people just enjoy the theme because it’s mythology and a lot of mythology fans out there like the fact that they get to play these gods and goddesses that they’re fans of.
smiteinsert4CGM: How will the free play model work on Xbox One compared to PC?

TH: It’ll be as consistent as we can make it. That means the game is free to download it means you have five starter Gods that are free always, consistently. And it also means that another five will be free on rotation.

CGM: Similar to League of Legends?

TH: Very similar. And then you can unlock them by play time if you want and never really have to pay for anything. The way that we’re different and we offer this on the PC also is that you can buy the ultimate god pack which is a one-time purchase which is less than the price of a retail console game and it gives you every god in the game and every new god that we release. So for people who are skeptical or for people who for whatever reason maybe don’t want to play a free to play game, they can buy it that way and basically get all the playable units at one time for one price.

CGM: And it will also be customizable?

TH: That’s right. Its cosmetics which really is a kind of primary revenue source of the game. Which basically are skins, costumes that your god wears. And we also have voice packs. There’s voice commands in the game that let you call out anything from jokes, to taunts to emote to tactical commands like “Hey the enemy’s leaving my lane,” and they’re spoken in the voice of the god or goddess.

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CGM: Are those going to be going out to the people that earn them and also given out at tournaments?

TH: We find a lot of ways for people to earn them. Some of them like colour change skins you can just unlock with game time. We work with partners from time to time. There’s a convention skin we’re giving out here at PAX which is the only way you can get that particular one. They’re nice collectibles for players.

CGM: Will people be able to jump from PC to Xbox comfortably? Will it have the same feel?

TH: The keys are making sure it’s very accessible to first time players, particularly for people who are not used to a MOBA but also having all the depth there so it’s not really smite-like it’s  full Smite just on the Xbox. So the major work has been around the user interface elements. Some of the screens like the in-game item store where you make your god stronger by using in-game gold can be a little intimidating. Players in Smite don’t need to ever go into that menu honestly, because when they first start off the system will buy items for them that are recommended. And then later when they turn it on they’ll see an interface that’s designed for Xbox one and is easier to navigate so a lot of work on UI, obviously want to make sure performance is good and then a lot of work on the controls just to make sure that they feel really comfortable or good.
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CGM: For someone who’s been highly invested in the PC version, and they really want it for Xbox One, is there any transition there or do they have to start all fresh?

TH: There is. We thought a lot about that and so what we’re going to do after we get a little further in the beta is offer a one-time account copy feature so players can opt in and basically wherever they are in the PC as far as unlocks and things they bought, will transfer over. Now after they do that copy, they’ll be separate accounts and if they decide to keep playing on both but they’re not starting from scratch they’ll start from the point that they earned or bought on PC.

CGM: Are you planning anything special for the Xbox One version?

TH: Well we wanted to stay very consistent I’d say as far as the core content, so game modes and gods and goddesses, the only place where we might do something a little different is on the cosmetics. It’s very possible because we work with different partners, different IPs that maybe we’ll do something like a voice pack or costume that’s unique to Xbox.

CGM: For esports Will there be different leagues for Xbox and PC?

TH: There is no cross play either online or in LAN, there are two different communities and obviously the PC esports thing has been going for a while now, we’ll run some tests for Xbox one to see what kind of appetite there is. We think there will be one so we would expect that in the future there will be competitions for both communities but separate events.

Smite World Championship
Smite World Championship

CGM: Will it ever go beyond Xbox One?

TH: Right now it’s Xbox One and PC so that’s our focus for now.

CGM: Greek vs. Roman Gods?

TH: We started with Greek and our CEO and chief designer at the time really wanted Cupid. And he didn’t want Eros he wanted Cupid and we were like “Well that’s Roman you know?” and that actually opened the door to Roman Gods. In most cases it’s a little arbitrary, like Hercules is more well-known than Heracles, so that was kind of an obvious choice. There are a few, but not many, like Janus, the god of Portals, he is actually unique to Roman. There’s not to my knowledge a Greek equivalent so there are a few that are specific… In all those cases we won’t include the counterpart.

To make a new character it takes within our own studio, 15 different people from the concept artists all the way through. We have pretty much one concept artist that keeps the theme consistent, but we have a lot of nice diversity.

CGM: What else do you have planned for the Franchise?

TH: We’re working with the Smite folks at Dark Horse who over the course of a year will release a Smite comic book so there’ll be about four promotional issues that will tell the back story of Smite. It’ll be focusing on select gods in order to expose players to the universe in general. Because there’s 63 [gods], we can’t cover everyone, but it’ll be the perspective of a few different gods to help explain the back story about why the gods from all these backgrounds are fighting one another.