In February, US studio Hi-Rez announced that it has finally decided to cross the pond to open a brand new office in Brighton, and appointed Vronique Lallier to run it.
The developer also announced that of its beloved Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) title Smite will be coming to PS4. In addition, the game has been shortlisted as one of six nominations for the AMD eSports Audience Award at this year's BAFTAs.
MOBA is definitely a big market and I would say that it's growing a lot: at the end of 2015 we had doubled our Smite player base, from seven million to 14 million unique users. I think it's definitely a very healthy market,” Vronique Lallier enthuses.
The former Warner Bros' VP of digital publishing has been working in the games industry for 17 years, for companies such as Ubisoft, Take-Two and NCSoft Europe. But joining Hi-Rez was not a difficult choice to make: Hi-Rez shapes its games around the community, around what players like, and makes sure its products revolve around that. So that's why I really wanted to join them,” she explains.
Lallier adds: I had an amazing conversation with these guys and I really fell in love with their vision. I'm really excited to be a part of it now and really excited with the opportunity the European market offers, because that was a very important move. The team in the US is very keen to develop our focus towards the European users, and having me in place now - and I will have a few people joining me in the next few months - will definitely help us to achieve that and to serve better our European user base. Hopefully, it will also attract more players into our game. It's an exciting prospect.”
After entering the Asian market a few years ago with a studio in China, Hi-Rez is now eager to grow in Europe. So what's the developer's first priority here? Finding an office space,” Vronique Lallier laughs.
Something which is very close to our heart is communicating with our fans with videos, so part of the requirement for this office is having a green screen room where we can broadcast and create content, but also do some shoutcasting. That is something that is very important for us,” she explains.
But more importantly, in order to connect with its community in Europe, Hi-Rez is working on Smite's localisation.
At the moment, it is localised in multiple European languages but all our websites and tools are not fully localised,” says Lallier.
So that's something I really want to make sure is done in the near future, because I think it's the best way for us to make sure our users are aware of our latest news. I want to make sure everyone in Europe can understand what we are talking about, what are our next moves, what are the changes we are bringing into the game based on their feedback... This is really my focus: making sure we develop to serve the European communities better.” The new VP of European publishing insists Hi-Rez's messages need to be properly addressed.”
We want to make sure we have a presence locally, like setting up local tournaments and events, meeting with our players but also hearing from them, what they would like to see change, what is their feedback on the game,” Lallier explains.
Smite's community in Europe is already well established, as the European team won the 2016 Smite World Championship. That was great for us because the way the team has played was actually quite different from what you could see the other teams doing, by picking up different gods, doing different mixes between skills, and I think that's how they won this, by surprising the opponents,” Lallier says.
That's something Europeans do well: doing things slightly differently. They are trying to optimise the gameplay and the skills of the gods by using very unusual mixes.
But Hi-Rez's ambitions don't stop there. After its huge success on PC, Smite has begun its transition to consoles.
The launch on Xbox One last year really drove some of the big increases in our player base,” Lallier comments. It's definitely a great market. But our vision is more about making games for our community and it's kind of ‘platform agnostic' I would say, because we are not only making PC titles, we are making fun and free-to-play games. In mid-January we launched our first mobile game, Jetpack Fighter. So for us the matter is more to know where our community is and how we can serve them better, and not really the platform.
We are also working on our new IP Paladins right now. It is going to launch first on PC, as we did start the beta phase, but we will also launch it on consoles.”
She continues: I am also very excited about the launch of Smite on PlayStation 4. I can't wait until March 22nd when it goes into open beta, allowing everyone to jump in and start playing. Releasing on PS4 shows Hi-Rez's dedication in bringing the same fun and accessible game experience to our fans on all platforms.”
We are not afraid to do crazy changes so basically we are testing a lot during these phases and, for example, we've changed a lot of things in Paladins since we launched the game in this beta phase, because we really want to make sure the game is optimised to the way our consumers are playing.”
And when asked what are her aims for the year to come, Lallier's answer remains pretty simple: We just want to keep on providing great content for our fans, continue to be present and create great eSports seasons for our professionals, and just continue to have fun.”