By: Adam Thomas
Courtesy of The Gamer Studio
Crafting a narrative of multiplayer play has been rather interesting these days. In the past we had nothing more than sheets of paper and word of mouth. These days, there are a multitude of systems that we tend to take for granted. It’s easy to check people at their word based on a gamer score. The metrics are out there for all to see. Even so, a lot of these systems seem pretty sterile.
That is what makes FIGHT! interesting. The multiplayer metrics system, developed by Playhem and Destructoid, combines a multigame matchup system with a community that is already known for its hardcore love of videogames.
In this exclusive interview, The Gamer Studio sat down with Yanier “Niero” Gonzalez, CEO of Destructoid, to learn a little bit more about the product and why our excitement is well placed.
FIGHT! seems to be a really ambitious project. What started Destructoid down this path to make this service, and service gamers who would want to partake?
Niero: It really is, and not the first time we attempted this. Last year we launched an internal project called Meetup+Play which allowed PC gamers to find deathmatch battles on Quake, Call of Duty, and wacky mismatched PvP battles on Team Fortress 2.
What were some of the lessons that Meetup+Play gave you to implement into FIGHT?
Niero: Meetup+Play was an ambitious project. We were hoping to bring the in-game lobby experience of matchmaking, pairing, and chat directly onto the browser, then make the game launchable via command line through a browser plug-in. When we started talking to people about that it ended up being too much of a time, money, api issue, so we scaled it back to a private messaging system paired with a chat lobby, and then tested it with games that were already doing interesting things online like Quake.
What we learned there is that most people just want to play blockbuster games — and they don’t want to sign up for new ones if they are free. We eventually hit a wall though: we couldn’t figure out how to integrate with consoles. I nearly gave up on the idea until we found Playhem.
This is something I believe our FIGHT implementation gets right — we’re only focusing on a small number of popular titles, most which support automatic leaderboard scoring. We also learned that just because people read our site it doesn’t mean they’ll want to use a system like FIGHT, but it instead invites new people into our community that are competitive and will really enjoy it.
The partnership with Playhem seems to be a huge step with this. What brought you two companies together to get this project together? Were they aware of Meetup+Play?
Niero: When I told them about how we tried to do it ourselves it was good comedy. They ran into similar problems early on, but their solution is leaps and bounds more advances than our first try. Playhem focuses on big games, and their technology has a really elegant setup system.
When you sign up to FIGHT, the first thing you do is add your games, setup your gamertags, then associate them to an email proxy/relay. This means the system does all the work for you. In games that we can’t capture the results the loser is asked to forfeit, and that does the trick.
The tech guys behind it love gaming, and I think it really comes through. We met through a mutual friend in New York, and they just moved down to San Francisco where I live. We’re a good fit — they have an amazing technology, and we have a big community and sponsors throwing free crap at us all day. It lets our community managers do more with prizing, and I love giving out stuff to the readers for nothing. I wish this kind of thing was around before I got all old and busy! I would have lived on this all day picking fights!
With the PSN going down, it seems like now would be the right time to do this, but it would have some certain security issues tagged along with it. Has the service going down changed anything within your internal workflow?
Niero: We’re just rolling with the punches but security and cheating is always going to be an issue. Last year we ran into some cheating, and the best, honest guys always won everything, so we’ve partnered with Playhem to get it right this time. Our system now has auto-matching on most of our games directly from the PS3 and Xbox 360 leaderboards.
When they came to you, why did you figure Destructoid to be the right vehicle for fight to land on? What were some of your thoughts thinking about this sort of system?
Niero: On a personal level, this is the sort of thing I would really have liked to have been a part of growing up. I was a very competitive Street Fighter 2 player in my day! Now we have partnerships that let us create prizing for players and we’re interested in also promoting the pro and semi-pro gaming community.
We also want to extend a community for sports gamers that may feel alienated by all the mainstream stuff we cover on a day to day. They can fire up FIFA now and play with us. Overall, this makes us a more well-rounded site. It’s a fun experiment so far.
What partnerships can gamers expect to see from FIGHT?
Niero: Weekly prizes! More games! More trash talk! We announce a new event every Friday, and the site runs 24/7. There’s always people in the lobby to play with.
What is the process of getting these games into the system? How does it track achievements?
Niero:If there are public leaderboards we can probably find a way to support it. We just add games by popularity and as our community grows. We’re cautious not to get into the “empty night club” effect, so we monitor game activity. It tracks with a secret sauce combination of web scraping and email monitoring.
That is one facet that has been somewhat ignored from “mainstream gamers”. Sports games seem to be heavy in the causal world but hardly represented by those who claim they are hardcore gamers… What brought FIGHT into that arena?
Niero: The founders are big on sports games, so there’s passion there. The fighting game side of it comes from Destructoid — that’s our passion. So we complement each other in that way.
A branch… why do you think fighting has been accepted so much, but sports games have been regulated to a “casual” atmosphere?
Niero: That’s one of the great mysteries. Both sports games and fighting games have huge sales and audiences but its the fighting games the mainstream media talks about the most. I think that’s probably it — it’s the media’s fault. In my personal experience guys that like to write about video games aren’t exactly the most sporty. Hell, I have a tough time finding people to write about that stuff.
I feel like it has less to do with the gamers. Both are definitely hardcore to the teeth. FIFA is a religion in some places. You don’t see that as much in the U.S., but I’d say everywhere else that game is a way of life. I know companies that shut down early on Fridays to have tournaments and they are really, really serious about it. It makes me happy for the state of gaming.
I’m happy to have a partner that gets that, and now we can support those players with prizes for what they’re already doing. They may as well play with us, too.
What goes into the vetting process on deciding the big games which fight will support? Is it chosen from pregame hype, sales, or a mixture of these and other factors?
Niero: It totally depends on whether or not the game publishes match outcomes to the web. Most EA games do, for example.
How deep do you see this integration going?
Niero: Full inception. We hope to expand our coverage of sports games and further integrate. I think it would be fun to get into our own achievements, badges, that sort of thing. We’ve joked around about some pretty ridiculous ones, so we’re going to have some fun with this.
Is this a system that you could see being sourced out to other communities in the future, or does this stay inside the walls of Destructoid?
Niero: I really can’t speak for Playhem, but I’m sure they would. I also don’t want to take any undue credit for their engineer’s work — Fight is an editorial and prize-supported program that is deeply integrated to Destructoid accounts through their technology. We’re helping them grow their company and they’re helping us bring something to our community that we didn’t have before. We’re both scrappy start-ups, so its a really great partnership all around.
Any ideas on the future of FIGHT?
Niero: I’m pretty excited about the next generation of consoles — everything is coming online these days, so the more deeply connected the games are the more interesting things we can do to integrate with them and our readers. In the short term we hope to announce more supported games and do bigger prizes this year. We’re off to a good start but we’re just getting started!