Epic Games has launched the free open beta for its new third-person perspective PC and PlayStation 4 multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game, Paragon. While the game has no official release date, it’s the first big step towards building a large player base and community for the 5v5 MOBA. If successful, that will essentially lay the potential eSports groundwork for this cross-platform action strategy game.
“We’re making a very competitive game,” said Steve Superville, creative director on Paragon at Epic Games. “We’ve seen a lot of companies come out and say, ‘Hey guys, here’s the next great eSport.’ And the community is like, ‘Hang on a second. We’ll tell you when it’s a good enough game.’ So our focus from the beginning has been making a highly competitive game, engaging with our community because they’re going to tell us what works and what doesn’t, and eventually—if they ever bring us to eSports status—we’ll be thrilled to support them.”
The community has already begun running Paragon tournaments without Epic’s help. “We’ve seen a couple of tournaments that run for the EU and North America,” Superville said. “Germany just ran their first tournament a few weeks ago and Russia has run a couple since then. The community is really enjoying it, but [they’re] also being very communicative and vocal about where we’re falling short, and we are working really hard to fix those things.”
One area where having a dedicated and vocal Paragon community has helped Epic is hero balance. The internal team does a lot of quality assurance gameplay testing, but that pales in comparison to gamers getting their hands on all of the game’s heroes.
“The community will find a broken thing and let us know about it and we try to fix it within the next week or two as we go through our patch cycles,” Superville said. “We patch every week, and the community is often playing about three or four days past what the developers are playing. So they’re right on our heels, and that gives us the most actionable and real-time feedback.”
Epic Games has also designed Paragon for a broader gaming audience. MOBAs are known for being a bit harder for a television audience to follow compared to Call of Duty or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
“One of our goals was to make the game feel physical,” Superville said. “In a lot of other games, there are a lot of particle effects that explain what’s going on, and unless you know exactly what’s happening you are lost. For Paragon, we wanted to allow people to just look at the game and enjoy it. My wife is not a gamer and she can see one of our characters, Rampage—who rips a giant rock out of the ground and throws it across the level to hit somebody—and she doesn’t have to know about cooldowns and mana costs and positioning. She just knows that getting hit in the face with a rock hurts and that makes it much more approachable. All of our characters are built with this idea of being physical rather than just purely energy- and magic-based.”
Superville said that in keeping with the entry level theme, Paragon will have far fewer heroes to choose from than other MOBAs. The game has 18 heroes and a new one will be added every three weeks. “It’s a lot more inviting because people aren’t immediately overwhelmed by heroes,” Superville said. “And again, the card system allows players to come in, be given a deck of cards that are applicable and relevant to the character that they pick, and then they learn the game. And as they play, they get card packs and their burden of knowledge grows with their experience of the game.”
From a business model perspective, Epic Games is following the free-to-play route. All of the game’s heroes are free all the time. Superville said the studio made that commitment early on because they wanted the game to be competitive.
“Nothing that provides advantage in gameplay is purchasable with real money,” Superville said. “Cards and stuff like that all come from the time currency, which we call reputation. You play the game, you get card packs and you get more powerful options. Then we sell the cosmetic things. We sell skins and boosts and traditional things. We also have some more new cosmetic things that are coming out that we’ll be sharing in the future.”
Epic Games is also reaching a much larger audience with its MOBA by tapping into the 40 million PlayStation 4 consoles in homes, as well as billions of PCs, and Paragon allows for cross-platform play.