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Command & Conquer Remastered Collection was a success - so what's next for the revived RTS franchise?

We speak to the EA producer spearheading the project to find out.

I think it's fair to say Command & Conquer Remastered Collection was a resounding success. EA's nostalgia-fuelled real-time strategy revival was a hit with fans and critics alike when it launched in June - and it saw big sales on Steam. But as its developers continue to support the game with balance updates, tweaks and mod support, the inevitable question is this: what's next for Command & Conquer?

I've seen plenty of requests for EA to continue to work with the developers at Petroglyph Games and Lemon Sky Studios on more remasters of classic C&C games. It seems natural for EA to tackle Tiberian Sun and Red Alert 2 next. But I also wonder whether the success of Command & Conquer Remastered Collection, which, let's be honest, is the first good thing to happen to the franchise in a decade (Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight, Command & Conquer: Tiberium Alliances, Command & Conquer: Generals 2 and mobile game Command & Conquer Rivals all failed in various ways) means the powers that be at EA may now consider the time right to invest in a new, fully-fledged Command & Conquer game.

When I recently interviewed EA producer Jim Vessella, who led the Command & Conquer remastered project, to ask why the developers left in a 25-year-old exploit, I thought it would be a good chance to quiz him on what's next, where the Command & Conquer franchise finds itself, and the future of the RTS genre.

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It looks from the outside that Command & Conquer Remastered Collection was a success. Has it met your expectations?

Jim Vessella: It's been fantastic, to be honest. The reception we received from fans was really meaningful to us. We've been hovering around a 9.0 user rating on Steam and on some of the sites. That's just fantastic to see. The Command & Conquer franchise has had a little bit of a turbulent decade, you could say. We had lost a lot of the trust of the community. There's definitely reasons for that. Our top priority in building the remastered collection was to do this for the fans, to rebuild that community sentiment, try and rebuild that trust. And it's fantastic to see the community come into it with an open mind, and give us that chance to earn that back, and to then see that reflected in the response has been really humbling. It is really meaningful to us on the development team.

On the critical reception side, I'll admit it has exceeded my expectations. We weren't really sure how the greater industry was going to react to the game. There have been quite a few of these RTS remasters over the past five, six, seven years, and there's been a wide spectrum of response. We've seen a couple of games of late not get a positive response. And obviously that makes everybody nervous. So I really didn't know what to expect going into it from a critical standpoint. But to see the ratings come in as high as they did - we've had over 20 90-plus reviews come in from different outlets around the world - that's just phenomenal. And some quotes saying, 'it's one of the best remasters of all time,' from some really reputable outlets. It's just fantastic. And so I think it has exceeded everybody's expectations for threading the needle between that kind of authenticity and staying true to the original experience, but also modernising and updating the right things in the game. It's been great to see that vision is landing well.

And then from a commercial standpoint, it's also been great to see. We had a really strong launch. We were in the top of the Steam sales charts for a few weeks. We got great support from our teams and from Valve going onto Steam for the first time. That has been a great collaboration, taking advantage of the native platform on Steam with the Steam Workshop and achievements. Watching people go for the achievements has been really fun.

So, all things coming together, it's really turned out to be a launch that has exceeded all of our expectations. And that's great for the franchise. It's great for the development teams at Petroglyph and Lemon Sky. It's great for EA. And we really hope that momentum can continue.

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For me, this has definitely rekindled a passion for Command & Conquer. I would like to think it's shown the powers that be at EA that this is a franchise that still has value. But what does it mean for the franchise and what can happen next?

Jim Vessella: It takes time to have those kind of conversations in a company like EA. I think it's the best thing that could have happened for the franchise. So if you were to take a dice roll, we rolled an actual 20 on this project! It's the best thing that could have happened to get the franchise back into the conversation with the rest of the leadership around the company.

I'm hopeful there's now some really good data here, tangible data between the critical reaction, the player reaction, and the commercial impact to try and say, 'hey, is there something else we should continue to do with the franchise?'

If you look at the past decade of C&C, I would say this has put it in the best momentum position we could be, given everything the franchise has gone through over the past 10 years. I love C&C. I would love to be able to do more with C&C. We'll have to see where the franchise can go with that, but it's been really good. The community has been incredibly supportive of the project, coming into it with that open mind. And that speaks volumes. That is meaningful and people are paying attention to that.

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This game has been successful as a remaster tapping into nostalgia, but generally the RTS genre isn't the hottest right now. It seems to me to be difficult for big new RTS games to find success. What's your take on that, and does it mean remasters are the way to go for C&C because they tap into nostalgia? Or does the RTS genre still have hope?

Jim Vessella: As an RTS fan I certainly hope it still has a good future ahead of it. A lot of these companies... Microsoft, Blizzard and everybody has been tackling these remasters as a way to make it back into the momentum of things, with varying success. But it was a great thing for us to do - a way to quickly try and get the franchise back on PC and to try and re-establish that relationship with the community. But it does come down to economics. I know from working on C&C3 and Red Alert 3, those are big investments. They're really big games. They take a really big team. And, if you want to do them well, several years to make. The tools are really complicated. It's really hard to reuse stuff from other genres. For example, when EA tried to do Generals 2 and said, let's just use the Frostbite engine, that became a real challenge. It's one of the things that ultimately didn't work in that project. And so you really need to have the right technology, the right tools, and the expertise of the right team to tackle a full-fledged RTS game, and have it be up to the quality that you know people would expect these days, with games like StarCraft 2 still defining best in class for the genre.

So it's just big. It's a big investment. And the remasters are a good way to find that middle ground of being able to modernise a lot of things, get that classic RTS feel, but get a little bit of a head start by being able to reuse obviously some of the designs and some of the content.

Something I've got my eyes on pretty closely is, Relic is developing Age of Empires 4 in conjunction with Microsoft. And that is one of those projects - big investment, a really veteran team, a big legacy franchise - and I'm really curious to see how it does. If it does really well, then that's a really strong data point for the genre. And that will allow us to look at the genre and how it's doing. Or vice versa. So I'm rooting for that team! Adam Isgreen [studio creative director, World's Edge - Xbox Game Studios], who's a Westwood C&C veteran, is helping to lead that franchise up there. We wish him the best and hope they knock it out of the park - on behalf of the entire genre!

No pressure then!

Jim Vessella: We're rooting for them! We're going to look at how the genre continues to play out. But for us in particular with C&C, this remaster has been a really strong step in the right direction. That's exactly what the franchise needed right now.

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In the meantime, while you wait for those guys to prove out the genre, Tiberian Sun and Red Alert 2 remaster next?

Jim Vessella: Well, it's definitely been requested! We've seen hundreds and hundreds of posts and comments from the community requesting to continue on this path and to look at TibSun and RA2. We've seen several journalists as well as part of their reviews, or other articles, say, 'okay, Red Alert 2 next, right?' Obviously we love to hear that. We love to hear people want to see more of this kind of remaster path we've gone down. But we're focused on the support for the first remaster collection. We're in the middle of doing some of these major patches, trying to support the community, and react to a lot of their top requests, and really get this game into the state where it could continue to live on, with community collaboration in terms of mod support. So we're focused on that right now.

Very diplomatic!

Jim Vessella: It's the truth! It's where we're focused on. It's a full-time gig for the teams to continue to support the game in a strong way. We're still only seven weeks after launch.

It feels longer than that!

Jim Vessella: It does feel longer, but really it hasn't been that long. And we want to continue to support it for a bit. But we definitely hear the requests for more stuff, and we'll have to see how that plays out.

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