CA: Total War would be "really stung" by reviewers if multiplayer went
"It would be maybe a tick box feature that would disappear."
Total War developer Creative Assembly believes it would be "really stung" by reviewers if multiplayer - still a relatively new addition to the game's turn-based campaign mode - was removed.
"Reviewing is important," studio director Tim Heaton told Gamasutra, "it's still important."
"And there are some hygiene factors that perhaps you need for some reviews that maybe aren't as strong for players. At the moment, Total War is primarily a single-player game, and we have talked about how valid multiplayer is in the way that we've sometimes done it in the past.
"We actually feel we'd be really stung by reviewers if we just took multiplayer out. It would maybe be a tick box feature that would disappear."
Those first five or 10 minutes playing Total War (and presumably taking in all of the options) are "super important" for some reviewers, acknowledged Heaton - "not hardcore reviewers, but more mainstream reviewers".
Scoring high on Metacritic - 90 per cent - is incredibly important for Creative Assembly. That's why the studio does "Metacritic Analysis" during development. This involves breaking down the game's features and looking at them from a player's and reviewer's perspective. And then scything the chaff.
"If we see one flat line and it's not where we want it to be, we then will cut it," said Heaton. "Well, we'll cut it really late in the day. Teams are really scared about doing 90 per cent of the work and then cutting it. It's kind of like, 'Well, it's nearly finished; I... I've done all the work! Please don't cut it! I'm sure I can make it better.' And we're fairly brutal on that.
"I'd much rather not see a feature in the game but still pay for it than risk... You know, every step of the way, from the beginning to the end, we're talking about a 90 per cent Metacritic [average]. That's our goal. That's what we tell Sega. And we communicate that through graphs, basically, of where we think we are."
"Some of the multiplayer ideas that we've got in development at the moment are clearly going to define the future of Total War."Tim Heaton, studio director, Creative Assembly
Heaton revealed that Creative Assembly sometimes adds half a per cent to the expected Metacritic score "if we think we've done a really great PR job - if there's an individual event that we've done really good". Conversely, "if we think it's f***ed up or somebody's not done their job right, or miscommunicated something, or whatever, we'll see that in our Metacritic analysis". And that's fed to Sega on "a weekly basis".
Multiplayer's not only here to stay, then, Heaton also said "some of the multiplayer ideas that we've got in development at the moment are clearly going to define the future of Total War".
"So," he stressed, "we're not going to cut multiplayer".
Heaton went on to reveal that half of the people who play Total War do so for more than 40 hours. A quarter, he said, play for more than 100 hours.
"So I've heard some stats about Skyrim and other games, and I think we've beat Skyrim on playability, and we see that day to day, direct through Steam," boasted Heaton. "So that's not research; that is real data from our players. It's quite amazing."
Apparently some people at Sega even feel that Creative Assembly offers "too much". "Sometimes a publisher will go, 'Eh, there's 100 hours of gameplay for 40 bucks - maybe that's not the best way to do it,'" said Heaton, to which he replies "it absolutely is".
"If we cut it, a lot of our hardcore fans would be very, very disappointed."
Luckily for Creative Assembly, Total War is "perceived throughout Sega as highly successful". But should that change and "we don't sell games," said Heaton, "we will certainly quite happily rethink that policy".
Creative Assembly currently has two teams on campus in Horsham, West Sussex, UK. There's the "more rock 'n roll" console team, now 70 strong, which is making an action game based on the Alien IP. And there's the "more staid" and established Total War team, now 100 strong, which has just delivered standalone Total War: Shogun 2 expansion Fall of the Samurai.