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MadOnion 04-14-2003 11:18 PM

Elite Force Under the Microscope
 
This lengthy excerpt from Gamasutra's latest feature article (registration required) offers a comparison between the success of Star Trek's Elite Force series and Star Wars' Jedi Knight series.

</font><blockquote><font class="small">In reply to:</font><hr />
Of Intersecting Sets and Elite Forces

A second-tier game will sell its most copies in the first few weeks when the early adopters who have kept on top of all the previews will buy the game. During this time period the online reviews are written up. To my surprise it appears that strong reviews cannot sell a game either. The most excellent Elite Force (not anywhere close to being a second-tier game) developed by Raven received the most stellar press reviews one could ask for, including game of the year from most publications. Built on the Quake engine and developed by a top developer, it had lavish press coverage generating plenty of awareness before the release of the title. The title was reasonably on time and reasonably bug-free. The team behind the game was so into the game, they produced a free expansion pack. Elite Force was firmly expected to be a major hit inside of Activision. I do not know the actual numbers on the internal return-on-investment worksheets, but I have heard they were expecting 700,000 to 1,000,000 units in the first year worldwide. Elite Force went on to do about one-third of those numbers. Why? Why did Elite Force not succeed when not a single person at Raven, Activision, or the press could have set the game up better for success? Is it bad luck? Is the gaming public so fickle?

I have a theory why Elite Force failed to meet Activision's expectations. First of all, the game did sell well at approximately 300,000 units generating a gross revenue of $15 million. That is enough money to make a living for all involved and keep at it. However, I think it is the expectations that were at fault; I don't think the game could ever hope to sell more units than it did. Sure a truly immense advertising campaign with television commercials played 20 times a day on all channels and appearances of the game on all of the late-night talk shows would have sold maybe 100,000 to 200,000 more copies, but Activision would have had to pay for each copy they were selling. My theory is that when you are experimenting with genre crossing and blending, be sure you are creating a union between the two or more sets of players you are marketing to, and not creating the intersection between these markets.

RAY MUZYKA SPEAKS: This certainly is an art form, but I think it can be done; it's just difficult. Creating the correct impression on the fans of both genres and making the parts that don't appeal to the other genre's fans at all times accessible is probably the hardest thing to implement, but this is critical to achieving mainstream success through selling to a few hard-core genres in a cross-genre game.

The two markets for Elite Force were the Star Trek gamers and the first-person shooter gamers. Activision has been working hard for years trying to find a breakaway hit for the Star Trek license they paid so dearly for, and teaming up with world class developer Raven and using the fabulous Quake engine should produce a lavish 3D-game with production values far and above any that a Star Trek gamer has seen before. And for the first-person shooters who are tired of blowing monsters up in worlds freshly created with little or no backstory, Elite Force offered the Star Trek universe, which consumers have had exposure to for over 25 years. Sounds wonderful, so why did this game not sell a million copies or more? Warcraft II was just a sequel to a game of orcs and humans gathering rocks and trees and banging on each other. That sold millions of copies; why shouldn't Elite Force sell a million? The reason is in the key design elements themselves; the very strategy used to make a hit-a cross between Star Trek and first-person shooters-is what held Elite Force back.

Let us first take a look at Elite Force from the perspective of a Star Trek gamer. Star Trek is about a starship named Enterprise exploring the galaxy on romantic adventures that are solved through cleverness, diplomacy, or the gunboat diplomacy that the Enterprise can deliver with photons and phasers. The Star Trek gamer is looking to live the experience depicted in the television episodes and movies. These episodes feature fantastic science, starship combat, and exploring various social themes in a futuristic context. Star Trek does feature combat between individuals in the form of the hand-held phaser, a device that you just point and shoot to disable or to disintegrate. This weapon reveals an utter disdain for prowess of personal martial skill; this hand phaser is almost a nerd fantasy where they can get back at every childhood bully by just pointing their garage door opener-and bzzt!-no more enemies. The Star Trek gamer is not looking for a first-person shooter; there is nothing in the Star Trek universe backstory that leaves the player wanting to explore a shooter. The most successful Star Trek games have been the adventure games 25th Anniversary and Judgment Rites, as well as the starship games of Starfleet Command, Starfleet Academy, and Armada.

From the first-person shooter perspective, an FPS player traditionally looked for the technically impressive and challenging games such as the Quake and Unreal series. However, after the release of the story-rich Half-Life, the industry realized that the FPS crowd would love to have a good reason to exercise their martial prowess. The creepy world of Half-Life is a good reason, the pulse-pounding excitement of World War II through Day of Defeat is a great reason, and hunting terrorists with a submachine is always great fun. But again the Star Trek universe lacks any compelling imagery of personal combat. Sure, Kirk would slug it out with the occasional alien, and Spock could put someone to sleep by pinching them; either way, Star Trek lacks that visceral appeal.

Star Wars, on the other hand, has a glorious tradition of martial combat on the personal scale through the use of light sabers. This style of combat was indeed a strong success with the Jedi Knight series from LucasArts. Finally, let me repeat, Elite Force was not an unsuccessful game; it was a great game, very well produced. And missing the expectations set for it is not a reflection on the execution of Elite Force, but rather a reflection on the key design concepts of the game.

About the Author: Eric Bethke is the CEO of Taldren, where he holds the position of executive producer and lead designer on Taldren's Starfleet Command series published by Interplay and Activision, as well as the upcoming title Black9 published by Majesco. Bethke has held a variety of positions in the game industry including senior group producer at Interplay. He has a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering and has worked in the Space Sciences division at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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zak 04-15-2003 01:30 AM

Re: Elite Force Under the Microscope
 
I can't say anything about the accuracy of the article, but supposing that it were true, Elite Force was probably still the first really successful Star Trek game and did perhaps also break the accepted mold of Star Trek games of the past. I would think that Elite Force 2 would stand more on its own and might attract not only those who enjoyed EF1, but might much more easily attract a crossover non-Trek group as well. And this, just because EF was different and was successful to the degree it was and still is and because its exposure has already brought players to it (for whatever reasons whether they liked Trek or not) whose interest in EF came later not initially.

Mitrani 04-15-2003 05:36 AM

Re: Elite Force Under the Microscope
 
I agree, and that is what Activision is praying for; others gamers might like it, not only the trekkies.

Thilo 04-15-2003 08:54 AM

Re: Elite Force Under the Microscope
 
very nice article. i must say, this eric has gotten quite some point, although he has not carefully researched the topic ... for example the expansion pack was far from free, also the story didnt evolve around enterprise but voyager [img]/forums/images/icons/wink.gif[/img]
Also a pity he missed out the curious fact that ef sold as much in germany as in usa although there are much more us citicens than germans [img]/forums/images/icons/wink.gif[/img]

Superrobster 04-15-2003 09:00 AM

Re: Elite Force Under the Microscope
 
Sadly for the fans who like a real Star Trek experience, making games for the wider market results in huge boss monsters and simple plots. I hop EF2 will not fail us though.

Assim 04-15-2003 01:26 PM

Re: Elite Force Under the Microscope
 
They've already said EF2 will give a more emmersive Star Trek experience. Who knows, maybe people will say more than 'Yes, Ensign?' or 'I'm busy right now' when you try and talk to them [img]/forums/images/icons/tongue.gif[/img]

Mitrani 04-15-2003 02:01 PM

Re: Elite Force Under the Microscope
 
Mabye theyll say "welcome to the Enterprise, Munro"

Assim 04-15-2003 02:05 PM

Re: Elite Force Under the Microscope
 
What is this Neterprise? I've never heard of that ship [img]/forums/images/icons/tongue.gif[/img]

badman 04-15-2003 06:32 PM

Re: Elite Force Under the Microscope
 
</font><blockquote><font class="small">In reply to:</font><hr />
for example the expansion pack was far from free

[/ QUOTE ]
Err, he says that Raven developed it for free, and not that it was given away to gamers for free.

MadOnion 04-15-2003 06:46 PM

Re: Elite Force Under the Microscope
 
He also says Star Trek in general is about a starship named Enterprise, not Elite Force specifically.

300k units sold is the only figure available, it may not include worldwide sales of all editions and the expansion pack.

neural link 04-15-2003 07:04 PM

Re: Elite Force Under the Microscope
 
but what other game can you say has such a worldwide appeal?

about 35% of EF players are from Germany, about 15% UK , about 15% other and the rest USA (those are just guesstimates [img]/forums/images/icons/tongue.gif[/img] )

I dont know of any other game that has that kind of pull from overseas

of course the German dialouges and translation helped it become like that

He made some good points, but the short Virtual Voyager was pretty true to startrek

badman 04-15-2003 07:10 PM

Re: Elite Force Under the Microscope
 
Pretty much every game is localized for Germany, so I doubt that's the main factor for it being so popular there.

It is true though that EF did exceptionally well in Germany. Maybe it's because other games at the time had blood &amp; gore and thus were put on Germany's infamous Index. ;D

Marc_Atvi 04-15-2003 09:32 PM

Re: Elite Force Under the Microscope
 
Hi All,

The article is certainly well written. No disrespect intended to the author, but the article has some inaccuracies. Among them, would you be surprised to know that Elite Force sold more than double (worldwide) what the author claims it sold, and in fact sold better than Armada and other titles mentioned in the article as being more "on-target to Star Trek" than Elite Force was?

Try reading the article again with this information in mind [img]/forums/images/icons/smile.gif[/img], and draw your own conclusions.

Marc

UniKorn 04-16-2003 04:01 AM

Re: Elite Force Under the Microscope
 
I'm probably gonna get some flames, but I'm gonna say it anyway. I don't like star trek at all. I think it's boring, lacks action and the people are dressed silly. Apart from that I do think that 7 o nine is an ugly woman, and I really can't understand why everyone is so "ooh" and "aaah" about her. When I played the game, and the tv was on and star trek was on, I would be like, hey, this guy is in the game. I don't know the star trek characters at all apart from a few. I'm not saying this to piss you all off, I'm just giving you my opinion on it. At some point the demo of ST:EF was released, and just at that time I organized a lan at my home (20 people). After two days of Quake3 we tried out the EF demo, and it was lots of fun. I would never have tried it cause it said Star Trek on it, it just happened to be on someone's harddrive who liked star trek. So I decided to buy the game, and at time I moved to another city with broadband, and I joined the online community. Since I was getting bored of Quake 3 I decided to try Elite Force online. I played EF online for 2 years, and EF only. Every day, 3 hours a day during the week, 8/9 hours a day during the weekend. For me personally it is the best multiplayer shooter around, although after 2 years I did get bored of it. The first time you win clanbase your sweating like a pig from the tension, the third time it becomes "usual". There wasn't a challenge anymore so I left the gaming community. For me Elite Force is number 1 on my list, before soldier of fortune2, quake3, doom, whatever ... I'm not a trekkie at all, I can't see the difference between voyager and enterprise, I know nothing of all that. But the game Elite Force, that's imho an example of how it should be done.

oIce_BreakeRo 04-16-2003 04:30 AM

Re: Elite Force Under the Microscope
 
^Hopefully, there will be plenty of people like you saying the same thing about Elite Force 2.

Thilo 04-16-2003 05:27 AM

Re: Elite Force Under the Microscope
 
I'm probably gonna get some flames, but I'm gonna say it anyway.

No. I hope to respond somewhat decently [img]/forums/images/icons/wink.gif[/img]

I don't like star trek at all. I think it's boring, lacks action and the people are dressed silly

Because not every 2 minutes something blows into the air and there is space for non-action elements?

Apart from that I do think that 7 o nine is an ugly woman, and I really can't understand why everyone is so "ooh" and "aaah" about her.

I agree FULLY with you on that topic

I'm just giving you my opinion on it

so then, let me give you my opinion on star wars for example:
Nice movies, entertaining, but what pisses me off there is that they draw everything BLACK and WHITE ... evil and good, the dark side and the good side ... even a 4 years old can understand that. Same goes to enough other scifi series..
My opinion is, that for ME startrek is THE universe where they manage to make plots that are deep enough to be interesting and that are not predictable to the end. Yes, granted, there are many episodes out there that are not really the burner, but that's always what it is bound to be.

Every day, 3 hours a day during the week, 8/9 hours a day during the weekend.

*no comment* [img]/forums/images/icons/laugh.gif[/img]

But the game Elite Force, that's imho an example of how it should be done.

Yes, I agree there with you ... yet trying to be neutral the question comes to my mind, if ef was made so well, why does the majority not play this game but stick with lame CS?

Thilo 04-16-2003 05:54 AM

Re: Elite Force Under the Microscope
 
by the way, @BADMAN

they produced a free expansion pack

I read "they produced a free expansion pack" and not "they produced an expansion pack for free".

Madonion:

Let us first take a look at Elite Force from the perspective of a Star Trek gamer.

This was said BEFORE he talked largely of what Enterprise is about. In fact, Eliteforce is about a spin-off series that is playing on voyager. why he still talks on about enterprise is a riddle to me.

KevinUK 04-16-2003 06:21 AM

Re: Elite Force Under the Microscope
 
Did you play the sp part of the game Unikorn? I found it fun walking to engineering and stuff cos you get to look at the corridors and the rest of the sets, or would this be not as fun for someone who doesnt like trek? [img]/forums/images/icons/ooo.gif[/img]

Corridale 04-16-2003 06:34 AM

Re: Elite Force Under the Microscope
 
I enjoyed single player and multiplayer, but it does not seem as much as some people

badman 04-16-2003 12:15 PM

Re: Elite Force Under the Microscope
 
</font><blockquote><font class="small">In reply to:</font><hr />
I read "they produced a free expansion pack" and not "they produced an expansion pack for free".


[/ QUOTE ]
You need to keep in mind that GamaSutra is a site primarily for game developers. Articles are written from the developer's perspective, so if he says they did a free expansion pack, he means the development team didn't get funding for it from Activision.

MadOnion 04-16-2003 12:15 PM

Re: Elite Force Under the Microscope
 
The author descibes the Trek franchise and the typical gaming expectation of a Trek fan:

"The Star Trek gamer is not looking for a first-person shooter; there is nothing in the Star Trek universe backstory that leaves the player wanting to explore a shooter."

Assim 04-16-2003 12:44 PM

Re: Elite Force Under the Microscope
 
What about gunning down a borg or coming face to face with a klingon?

MadOnion 04-16-2003 12:58 PM

Re: Elite Force Under the Microscope
 
I think the author meant Trek fans were expecting more depth. EFII will deliver that with branching conversations, challenging puzzles and immersive environments.

Assim 04-16-2003 01:25 PM

Re: Elite Force Under the Microscope
 
...we hope. Details so far have been a tad sketchy.

BrushBaron 04-16-2003 06:18 PM

Re: Elite Force Under the Microscope
 
I won't give details, but when I visited Ritual earlier in the month I got to play EFII and it is an awesome game. There were action scenes in the beginning that made me jump out of my seat in surprise, just like DOOM did. The tri-corder puzzles are REALLY cool when you first figure them out. It's like a "EUREKA!" feeling when you understand what you are trying to do.

Conversations are LOT more in depth. I was surprised to hear conversations that didn't even involve me go on for more than a few sentences. I even had to walk away because I was running out of time to play the rest of the game.

EFII is a solid, in depth story-driven FPS. It doesn't even need the Star Trek Universe behind it to make it a good game.You could change the character skins and environement names and it still has fun gameplay.


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