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Hyenas developers discuss Sega's claim it's been a "challenging title"

And the stigma of free-to-play.

What's happening with Hyenas? Announced a year ago but still without a release date, Creative Assembly's team-based sci-fi extraction shooter was playable publicly this week for the first time at Gamescom in Cologne, following a somewhat eye-opening summation of its status last week from Sega top brass.

I played a brief match of Hyenas on the Gamescom showfloor and found it a bright and breezy shooter with fun PVPVE moments and some promising zero-G sections. But my time with it was too brief to really leave with much of a lasting impression.

It's good news, then, that Hyenas will soon be available to play more widely, via a Steam beta test you can sign up for now, with access going live on 31st August. It's from that, I think, that people will finally be able to decide for themselves what is working and what is not - and this is Creative Assembly told me it is waiting for as well.

A new slice of gameplay from the upcoming Hyenas.Watch on YouTube

"It's the scary but also the good part to say, 'I think I can predict the issues players will raise, but I'm probably wrong. And also in what order do they want them [changed]?" associate game director Christoph Will told me.

Right now, players can pick from a roster of heroes to launch a three-person team into a spacestation on a mission to swipe valuable loot, eliminate waves of AI enemies, and extract themselves successfully - all while two other teams of three attempt to do the same.

I can see the potential of the gameplay loop - it's competitive Payday in space - and the fact you're collecting a growing vault of pop culture items including licensed music is a fun idea. Will tells me that feedback from players here in Cologne has been positive - and yet there are still questions from the upcoming beta that need to be answered, including how the game will ultimately be monetised.

"You need to start with the gameplay before you whack a business model on top."

"We're going into beta, dropping the NDAs, seeing the audience reception, seeing what work we need to do and understanding from players where we need to take the game and what product we need to release," product director Alex Hunnisett told me.

"You need to start with the gameplay before you whack a business model on top, and Sega has been supportive with those discussions," Hunnisett continued. "It's difficult because you don't know what you don't know. We've had conversations about different models we can take. We've had those with beta as well - what's resonating, what's not resonating."

Creative Assembly originally said Hyenas would not be free-to-play, but Sega last week said the company was now reconsidering the game's business model. I asked Hunnisett if there was a stigma around saying a AAA game is free-to-play still, despite the huge success of shooters such as Apex Legends and Fortnite.

"It is challenging," he said. "There is, as you say, stigma. Different models work for different games - Fortnite being free-to-play means a lot of people play it, including us. But then there's a bunch of people who say, give me a full-priced product and never ask me to pay again - so maybe that's not the product for them.

"It's challenging but you need to own that to look at the audience that's coming in to find the model that speaks to them."

Sega described development as "challenging" too - and at Gamescom, Hyena's developers did not disagree with the description.

"I think it's fair," Hunnisett said. "It's a new IP, a new genre for us, that is challenging. I think Christoph turned around and said 'if you ask 10 game developers if what they're doing is challenging, nine would say yes and the other one would be lying'."

"When you push these kinds of technological and creative boundaries - I think our zero-g is better than anyone else's on the market and I don't think anyone else is doing anything as cool or fun with it - but getting there of course you throw away a lot of work because you try something and it's not the thing you [ultimately do]," Will added.

"It's the 'kill your darlings' thing which all game developers have to do. But that's why we're here today - you have to go through all the things that don't work to find the ones that do."

So, that's what's going on with Hyenas.

"Play as much as you can of the beta and tell us whether you like the experience, and then we'll go from there," Hunnisett concluded.

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