Has Dust 514 Missed Its Golden Opportunity?
The PC ecosystem is different from the console space. Depending on the audience, expectations are far different. For instance, the PC audience may expect higher graphical fidelity, access to a wider library of games (via services like Steam) and games with a far longer tail, like MMOs. Console gamers, on the other hand, are used to more instant gratification. While betas for games like Minecraft went on seemingly forever on PC, “betas” on consoles more often than not mean glorified online demos.
And this is precisely where questions swirling around CCP’s free-to-play PlayStation 3 shooter Dust 514 come in.
This is about the long haul.
CCP is treating its Dust 514 beta like a real, bona fide PC beta, but frankly, it hasn’t done an amazing job of communicating that to the PlayStation 3’s audience. When Dust 514 was officially revealed on PS3 in 2011, anticipation for the game on IGN was enormous, but we’ve since tracked its steady decline in our own traffic as the game seems to be caught in what can only be described as a perpetual beta. It seems like Dust 514 may have missed its opportune window to actually launch – especially now that PlayStation 4 is near on the horizon — and when I recently sat down with several members from the CCP team, this is something we talked a great deal about.
Indeed, I asked flat out: is CCP concerned that people’s interest seems to be waning?
“I suppose the way we think about this, and again, this might be a little different than most first-time console publishers, [but] from our perspective, this is not about the opening weekend,” CCP’s Thor Gunnarsson told me. “This is about the long haul. This is about building a community step by step, building a player base that stays with us over an extended period of time.”
Dust 514 entered closed beta in June of 2012, and opened its public beta in January of 2013. That means that the game has been in some state of beta on a console for nearly a year, which is no doubt a record in the history of console gaming. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with that, per se. It’s simply that CCP is bringing with it its PC mentality when console gamers have wildly different expectations.
“We’re aware that what we’re doing on PlayStation 3 feels different to consumers,” Gunnarsson admitted, and he talked about how communication with their players (would-be or actual) is key to fixing the perceived problem. But for a game like Dust 514, one that connects intimately to the happenings of a decade-old PC game called EVE Online, “doing this extended beta in live operations is critical,” Gunnarsson said. “We want to be sure that the core experience we’re delivering is prioritized correctly… For us, it’s not a sprint to the box office. It’s a marathon. It’s a very different way of thinking about it.”
We’re aware that what we’re doing on PlayStation 3 feels different to consumers.
There’s no doubt about that. CCP is renowned for its outrageously thorough, deep and complex approach to game development, as EVE Online proves, and it should be readily commended for undertaking such an ambitious project, which Dust 514 absolutely is. But there’s a catch: CCP is now staring down the PlayStation 4, and since PS4 isn’t backwards compatible even with digital games such as this, time is of the essence. Console gamers, like PC gamers, have their roots in previous generations, but they also have their eyes on the next big thing. The next big thing – at least right now – will not play Dust 514, and that next big thing happens to be perhaps six months away.
And Dust 514 still hasn’t launched.
“Of course we’re thinking about [PlayStation 4’s imminent release],” Gunnarsson said, but to CCP, it’s a matter of perspective. “If you think about how we’re conceiving Dust, we expect Dust to last at least as long as EVE. We’re planning for 10 years of operation. You would expect that, of course, we will follow our players, follow the market, to the platforms that matter to them.” But when asked specifically if Dust 514 will migrate to PS4, or even to other consoles, the company remained non-committal.
“We’re not really talking about the migration to specific platforms at this time. What we’re saying is, PS3 for us today, and for this year and next year, is incredibly important. We look at the installed base on the PS3 now as a first-time console publisher and developer. We see that there may be some unexpected upside on PS3. As people begin to save up their cash to buy that PS4, a free-to-play shooter on PS3 that they can just invest time into, and not that much cash, sounds like a pretty good proposition.”
We’re planning for 10 years of operation.
What’s clear is that CCP is attempting to forge a new path on consoles, something they did on PC with EVE Online, which has grown every single year since its release in 2003. The question still remains, however, if console gamers are willing to buy into and sustain the prolonged beta period Dust 514 has so far existed in for nearly a full calendar year. This is especially pertinent when interest in the game and its ambitious nature appears to be on the wane with the hardcore PlayStation audience the company will rely upon for the success of its first foray into the console space.
Colin Moriarty is an IGN PlayStation editor. You can follow him on Twitter and IGN and learn just how sad the life of a New York Islanders and New York Jets fan can be.