The CEO of Hi-Rez, developer of Global Agenda, Tribes Ascend and the upcoming MOBA, Smite, has offered candid feedback on the ups and downs of the US studio's history in the hope of addressing what he describes as "misinformed conclusions" about the company.
"Some players will look at the Hi-Rez history of game development and arrive at misinformed conclusions," co-founder and CEO Erez Goren wrote in a post on the Smite sub-Reddit called "What will Hi-Rez do with Smite?".
Goren revealed that Hi-Rez's first game, 2010's Global Agenda, "lost a lot of money".
"It was not a total loss since we did build significant technology and platforms that would help us develop our next games (Tribes & Smite). We continued to fund Global Agenda for more than a year after it was released and losing money, we continued to create content and new features but no matter how much work we did the user base kept declining."
Free-to-play shooter Tribes Ascend, released in April 2012, didn't fare much better - despite superb review scores.
"We created Tribes Ascend since we love Tribes," Goren said. "We made it F2P so everyone can have easy access to it. We didn't think Tribes Ascend would be a financial windfall but it was worth a risk to try.
"Tribes Ascend ended up being break-even at best. It's very possible we made some mistakes in how we monetise it, but our priority was to get as many people to play as possible (without losing too much money in the process)."
Hi-Rez has endured criticism from the Tribes Ascend community for a lack of updates and new content. In July Hi-Rez confirmed no new major updates would be released for the game in the next six months. "Tribes received exceptional reviews, we kept adding new features and content, but just like Global Agenda the user base kept declining no matter what we did (that happens to 99 per cent of the games)." Goren said.
"Some people have asked for us to provide more tools for community content creation, but our infrastructure and development platform does not support that ability well and the cost and time to develop those features is extremely high.
"Contrary to the belief that we were 'milking' Tribes to support the development of Smite, if we didn't develop another game that could support the studios the company and the Tribe servers would have closed down."
Apparently publishers looked at Tribes Ascend for a potential release in China and on consoles, but it was deemed "too niche and difficult as a mainstream product (their words, not ours) and they were not interested in publishing it".
"We would have had to significantly change the gameplay which our current Tribes user base would disagree with (for example, much much slower movement, reduce or no skiing, instant fire, etc)," Goren explained.
"Tribes Ascend ended up being break-even at best. It's very possible we made some mistakes in how we monetise it, but our priority was to get as many people to play as possible (without losing too much money in the process)."Hi-Rez co-founder and CEO Erez Goren
The upshot of the development and release of both Global Agenda and Tribes Ascend was a $30 million loss. More specifically, $40 million was spent running the company ($30 million of which was Goren's own money made with "previous companies I started") and $10 million was generated in revenue, split evenly between Global Agenda and Tribes.
"Yes, my wife thinks I'm crazy, but what does she know about playing and making video games," Goren said.
Now onto Smite, Hi-Rez's in-development MOBA. Goren described it as "very unusual" because its player base is growing each month. Crucially, it's also profitable.
"This is allowing us to grow the Smite team and deliver weekly updates and content (from 15 people initially to about 80 people now)," Goren said.
"In addition, many outside publishers were interested in Smite and we are fortunate enough to have made a deal with Tencent who is the most prestigious partner we can have for our type of game.
"Given everything we know, Smite should have a long and successful future which is why we are very excited as a company and continue to work our butts off to make Smite the best MOBA game in the world."