Total War: ARENA is a collaboration between two of the greatest names in simulated warfare. Combining the deep and long-proven mechanics of the Total War series with the immense free-to-play experience of World of Tanks.
Now entering its open beta test (OBT), the game's potential is gigantic. So we talk to Tim Heaton, studio director at Creative Assembly and EVP studios at SEGA, and Jerry Prochazka, head of Wargaming Alliance, about their partnership and this key step for the game.
Total War: Arena originally launched on Steam back in 2015 and then was later pulled back into development. Why was the decision made to pull the game off Steam, continue development and partner with Wargaming for publishing?
Heaton: We’ve always seen great potential in ARENA and since the initial launch on Steam we’ve learnt a lot from our players on features and gameplay design. SEGA and Creative Assembly are committed to making an authentic Total War multiplayer experience, so we made the decision to dedicate all development resources to that goal, and that meant taking the game offline to give it that focus. At around the same time we started talking with Wargaming. The synergy between our games and communities was obvious and partnering up on ARENA made a lot of sense. Since then we’ve worked on specific game changes and on integrating the Wargaming platform into the game, all with a focus on creating a high-quality experience for our players.
Prochazka: Partnering with Creative Assembly and SEGA for Total War: ARENA was a no-brainer for Wargaming. We were already looking for ways to diversify our portfolio, but still wanted to stay true to our core audience who appreciates historical accuracy, a truly Free-to-Play experience and strategic PvP combat. We’ve been able to combine our years of F2P publishing and operations expertise with a hungry and talented development team.
The TWA that we see today has many changes from the original that we saw launch back on Steam in 2015. From each of your points of view, what do you see being the most significant changes?
Heaton: Both Wargaming and Creative Assembly are committed to enhancing the player experience. We’ve added a lot of new content to the game including a whole new faction: Carthage (the one most requested by the community), the new Commanders Boudica, Sulla, Hannibal and Hasdrubal, new unit types including War Dogs and Elephants, and 3 new battlefields. Alongside the growth in content we’ve also added new features including custom battles, replays and spectator options (which we are going to be expanding on), as well as refining the matchmaking and doing a huge amount of game balancing.
Prochazka: Completely agree with Tim here. We’re laser focused on the player experience and we’ve been able to support the refinement of game balance, premium economy and UX through the data and insights provided in our various Alpha and CBT tests. Those results can now be seen in the Open Beta and we’ll be listening closely to the community to understand and act on their feedback.
For those that followed SEGA and Wargaming closely, they would know that there were leadership changes across Creative Assembly and Wargaming over the last year. Could you share more details behind that? Have they impacted TWA at a day-to-day level at all?
Heaton: I’m deeply involved in our project roadmap and the culture and values that make CA a great place to be, and that hasn’t changed. In addition, I now spend some of my time at our other SEGA studios - in Paris with Amplitude, Vancouver with Relic and in London with Sports Interactive - catching up face-to-face with our development teams. Hopefully the benefits of my new role are in the sharing of knowledge across teams, and in helping set out SEGA-wide development strategies.
ARENA and the relationship with Wargaming are a very high priority for CA and for SEGA. We have a great team at CA able to support the game day-to-day and week-to-week. This not only includes our team in Horsham, but also our studio in Sofia, Bulgaria, who are helping us create ARENA maps.
We have a strong relationship with the senior staff at Wargaming, and Jerry has been a key part of that. We value his insights and his enthusiasm to fix things if they’re not working as well as they could, and as we continue to get to know Wargaming the relationship only improves and gets stronger.
Prochazka: Coming from Riot Games, I joined Wargaming as Chief Human Resources Officer in January of 2016. In mid-2017, my responsibilities grew to cover not just the HR role, but also Wargaming Alliance which oversees our 3 party publishing efforts and several other aspects of Publishing. In terms of how this impacted the product and our relationship with SEGA/CA, the relationship is stronger than ever. We have brought on board a new Product Director for the game, Sergey Laptenok who comes from World of Tanks, in addition to more support in Art, UX/UI and Community leadership.
So it sounds like both you and Tim have dual roles and are balancing two hats. How do you manage that?
Heaton: In my role across SEGA studios I’m able to apply some of the learnings from the successes we’ve had at Creative Assembly and continuing to run the studio really feeds into that. Equally, the team at Creative Assembly are now so strong that they’re probably happy to see me get on a plane and give them the space to get on with the job.
Prochazka: I’m very grateful that Wargaming asked me to develop and lead our third-party publishing efforts. As a life-long gamer, this journey started with me sharing my opinion “as the HR guy”, but after a while Wargaming saw I could help in broader areas within the business. I’m happy to share that, since February, I am now fully dedicated to Wargaming Alliance and have transitioned away from supporting HR at a day-to-day level. When I was wearing both hats, my days included a lot of context switching but, similar to Tim, I was able to juggle both because of the hard-working teams who make everything happen in Global HR and Wargaming Alliance.
For each of you, what were the key takeaways for Total War: ARENA from a studio, product and publishing standpoint pre-OBT?
Heaton: One thing we learnt is that F2P and live service games require a very different skill set, both in development and bringing the game to players, so the partnership with WGA and the integration in the Wargaming F2P network is a great fit. On the development side we’re lucky to have a very engaged community for ARENA, in fact, we’ve had over 12 million battles played in Closed Beta. They’ve invested a lot of time and through them the data and insights have helped us refine and enhance many elements of the game.
Prochazka: While Wargaming has launched several PC F2P titles in the past, each one is always different from the last. For Total War: ARENA, we had a new engine to integrate into our platform. Additionally, Total War: ARENA has a much different moment-to-moment gameplay experience, than our core-titles, so we created a customised strategy for the product. Learning the best way for Creative Assembly and Wargaming Alliance to work together, share design feedback, etc., was something that we found the right balance on.
What’s next for Total War: ARENA and the relationship between SEGA, Creative Assembly and Wargaming Alliance?
Heaton: We’ve just launched in Open Beta, and while we celebrate that, we are always looking ahead to the next milestones. We’re well into development of new content and have already announced a Japanese faction, which was another much-requested addition, and in the nearer future we’ll be adding to the Barbarian commander line-up, as well as looking to support the community with more clan and party features.
We are over a year into the partnership with Wargaming Alliance, we’ve built good relationships and processes and while ARENA has our full focus right now, there is more to explore with this relationship given the strength of SEGA IPs and the well-established Wargaming F2P platform.
Prochazka: Our first priority is continuing to focus on Total War: ARENA and scaling its success. I can say that our teams are all big fans of the Total War universe and also even some of the old school SEGA IP’s. I look forward to meeting the SEGA Japan leadership soon to discuss how we can continue to work together and expand the Alliance.