MechWarrior Online’s European servers go live, studio head Russ Bullock talks future plans

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The free-to-play Mech-battling FPS MechWarrior Online is finally getting european servers added to its roster. The servers will be situated in Strassbourg, France and should reduce ping times for european players by more than 50% on average. Along with the news, Piranha Games have released an infographic showing off the European audience – which averages higher scores and better win/loss ratios than America. Our Matt also had a chat with president Russ Bullock about the immediate future of the game.

Take a look at the infographic here. Previously, the game had only one data center, located in Montreal, Canada after having moved from Toronto a few years back. Of particular note is the improved ping times for the vast majority of the region. In our interview, Russ mentioned that even in Siberia players were starting to dip under 100 ping. Here’s what he had to say:

“As players get more sophisticated and they learn our game and get better at it, the more even a small 50 or 100 millisecond advantage can become. Even as good as our netcode is, it does become more and more unacceptable for competitive style play. So that’s the two big reasons we’ve gotten round to doing this – as good as this code is, we can’t become a better e-sport game like we want to become if we have the one data center in the US with half our playerbase in Europe.

“And then, of course, the other really big thing becomes, maybe it’s fine for the UK and Germany to connect to Montreal, but it gets far worse as you head into Russia and that’s limited the size of our playerbase.”

Piranha also intends to open Oceanic servers soon, which should further decrease ping times in parts of Russia as well as vastly improve it for Australian players. They should hopefully be in place in time for the Steam release some time in autumn.

Russ also spoke about the impact this could have on development:

“By early August we’re releasing a greatly, greatly improved set of spectator tools onto MechWarrior online. The number of players worldwide that can use those and spectate competitive/tournament play or e-sports events is now much larger. Before we were restricted to North American players who could be excited about this sort of thing because they were the only ones who could play and watch reliably.”

Russ believes the e-sports scene for the game has a significant future, as the playerbase is so passionate about the game. He mentioned that they accept it’s a niche game but have managed to keep a steady and profitable active number of players with thousands of new registers every week. When new features roll out, there’s always an influx and he’ll be interested to see how launching on Steam effects that.

The next big update to the game will be Phase Three, which adds scouting missions. Russ broke those down for us:

“They’re a little bit different. What we’ve done here is the scouting missions take place on the same planet as the invasion matches. The difference is that invasions are 12v12 matches with four mechs each, scouting missions are 4v4 without reinforcements. [It’s] a whole new game mode for collecting the data and intelligence and scouting out intel on the defense and attacking sides.

“Quick example: intel will determine which side in the invasion match gets to know what the other team is fielding, mech-wise. Which side has long-range artillery, because they have intel on where enemy mechs are.

“So with Phase Three we’ll have this scouting and intel, and there’ll be three levels. It’s a tug of war so only one side can have any. If one is on level three, the other side will need to do scouting missions to knock them down to zero before being able to build up their own. This will change in real-time so you may be in the middle of an invasion match and your opponents will get access to artillery dynamically.

“So it’s always important for your faction to be running scout missions and keeping the intel. We’re pretty excited about it, should be a nice, fresh level of depth.”

This all sounds very cool and will really help with player committment. They’ll know that the mission they’re doing is having an impact on other matches right at that moment and then, later on, may come across the fruits of other’s labours while doing their own invasion. It’s all part of an attempt in Phase Three to diversify and improve the faction warfare that serves as the core of the game. Russ gave us a preview:

“Many players would say it’s the largest feature of Phase Three. It’s our priority and we build other features around it. We see three different types of protracted players.

“Casual players mostly play quick matches and don’t pay attention to community warfare, but now we’ve got this call to arms that gives them one match contracts and can get them into anywhere to fill gaps. Then we have the actual mercenary units, that’s an organised group of players who’ve declared themselves as such. They get 7 day contracts to fight for factions. Then there’s loyalists, who have permanent contracts with a specific house.

“That’s going really great. We’ve come up with a number of features that differentiate them besides contract lengths. Permissions and benefits – loyalists now have the ability to dictate where their faction goes to war and with who through a voting system.

“We’ve really fine-tuned the design, really been able to focus the combat of community warfare further. At any given moment there should be a maximum of 10 planets in contestion throughout the entire map. That’s based on some of the fine-tunings we’ve done so that the factions are focusing their efforst and where they fight, all based on player choice. We’re excited to get that out, along with 4v4 scout missions that will more than double the overall depth of community warfare.”

The release date is still in flux, but Piranha hope to have it with players somewhere around the start of Q4. We’ll keep you updated. In the mean time, here’s the old MechCommander intro, because it’s unbearably brilliant: