Interview: Quick Hit Football's Brandon Justice

By Pete Haas 2009-05-13 11:14:18 discussion comments
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EA Sports won't be releasing a new version of NFL Head Coach this year but gamers looking for a front office/coaching simulator will have an intriguing alternative: Quick Hit Football. The online football sim goes into beta this summer and Blend Games had a chance to talk with Brandon Justice, the game's Director of Design.

Tell us a little bit about the structure of Quick Hit Football. You run the front office and call the plays on game day but you're not actually controlling players on the field, right?

Correctamundo. We could have gone that route, but decided early on that we wanted to make a football game that everyone could enjoy. I mean, there are roughly 20 million fantasy football fans out there, and even more folks who watch it on Sundays (and Mondays, and occasionally on Thursdays), but the number of folks who play "twitch" games is much, much lower.

You have to stop and ask yourself why that is, you know? When we really got down to it these people eat, sleep, and drink the sport, but often find the complexity of modern console football titles intimidating, and it shows in the sales numbers relative to American football's considerable fan base.

The thing is, we didn't see any reason why we couldn't build a game that would allow folks to hit the field, make the calls, and have a great time doing it. As such, we focused on allowing you to build a roster with your type of players, develop a playbook that fits your style of play, make all the calls on game day to help coach them to victory, and manage that team after the game to solidify your team's place in Quick Hit history.

Want to create a team with a punishing running game and a balanced defense? You can do it.

Want to add in the Wildcat formation to keep opponents guessing? Super-simple.

Want to quickly find a tricky play to your favorite receiver with seconds left on the play clock? We make it easy-peasy, baby.

I read on your website that "QHF lets you manage a team your way for as long as you like." Doesn't this create balancing issues? Wouldn't a team that's been developed over the course of a year have a significant advantage over a much newer team?

Actually, not as much as you'd think. High-level teams will definitely present a challenge to the rookies in our community, but we know that a big part of the fun in any sports games is the ability to stay competitive.

To that end, we're really working hard to make sure folks have as much fun as possible when they're stalking the sidelines. Smart calls, a few favorable bounces of the ball and effective coaching will always give you a fighting chance, but beyond this, Quick Hit will feature an intelligent match-making system that looks at the skill level of the coaches currently seeking games and help pair teams of comparable skill together to keep things level.

But we aren't stopping there. Our design team has done a pretty clever job of finding several ways to simulate the parity that exists in big-league football on the field, and we'll also be doing some cool things with handicapping that will help incentivize players of lower skill levels to take the risk against the big dogs, which should help round out the package in a cool way. I'd tell you more, but the big wigs would have to gang tackle me...

EA currently has the exclusive rights to create NFL video games. Is QHF still an NFL-oriented game, though, in terms of the rules? Does it use, for example, sudden death overtime?

NFL license or not, Quick Hit Football is going to be a fully featured pigskin product that really shows our dev team's love for the sport and for games in general. We have guys here who have played pivotal roles on just about every major sports franchise on the market, and the results so far have been pretty awesome.

And while we feel football isn't about rules or refs or regulations, we're going to take what we feel are the best aspects of the game and wrap them up in a package that gives our Coaches a unique blend of the stuff they have come to expect, as well as things they've always wanted but couldn't get out of the "No Fun League." This means features like a full suite of penalties, more plays than you can shake a pom-pom at, and the finer points of football AI that die-hard fans demand -- but we're also keeping our minds open to things like the option of college-style overtime, improved stat tracking for guys at low-love positions like the O-Line, and much more. Now, if only we could get the NCAA to let us help out with that playoff thing...

Another EA-related question: they've trimmed back the amount of games they release for the PC, presumably because of sales. What made you decide to create a sports game exclusively for the PC?

Well, the fact is that lots of publishers are cutting back in the PC space right now, but games like Mafia Wars, Runescape, and OGame have gone a long way to show that there's significant interest in free-to-play products, provided the quality is there. Beyond that, it comes down to a question of accessibility and reach. One of the coolest things about Quick Hit Football is the fact that anyone with a flash-enabled PC and a web browser can fire the game up and hit the field. When you think about it, the PC is really the most ubiquitous gaming platform there is.

That means we've got an opportunity to provide an awesome experience to tens of millions of football fans that might otherwise be unable to enjoy what we're doing. When you couple that with a desire to lower the barrier of entry for folks who love football, but aren't yet high-def gaming gurus, we think the space has few rivals in terms of overall potential. Just look at what comparable efforts in the area of affordability and accessibility have done for the folks at Nintendo with Wii...

If Quick Hit is a free-to-play game, how will it sustain itself? Are you planning on having in-game advertising, microtransactions, or something else?

Quick Hit will generate revenue through a variety of ways, including in-game advertising and a robust micro-transaction model, but it's important to note that as gamers, we really appreciate the need to make sure these aspects don't take away from the core game play experience.

Our advertising approach has been structured around the highly successful NFL model, where commercials will be run between quarters and at halftime and different aspects of the game will be sponsored. The ads will really be integrated in ways that make sense to fans of sports content.

The micro-transaction system will place a premium on items that enhance game play while paying close attention to game quality. We hate it as much as you do when games nickel-and-dime folks for meaningless aesthetic changes, and we're definitely sensitive to avoiding balancing pitfalls that often accompany these models and those two things really drive our philosophy for Quick Hit Football. Our model is pretty unique, and we think our take on it will really resonate with sports fans.

Can you give an example of a micro-transaction players can expect?

Well, one way they will be used is to expand your team's capabilities. Let's say you've decided to revamp your team's initial offensive style from a run-heavy group to a high-flying passing attack. You'll be able to purchase new players like a speedy wide receiver, a pocket-passing QB, or maybe pass-blocking tackle to help facilitate the change. Or perhaps you want to expand your playbook and add some "wildcat" plays to your playbook to keep the defense guessing. Thanks to microtransactions, we'll allow you to do both. We've also got plans for more directed ways to temporarily influence on-field performance that we'll be revealing in the coming weeks, but I have to keep 'em under wraps at the moment. Let's just say that Coaches in Quick Hit will have a big influence from the sidelines...it's going to be pretty cool.

In online sports gaming, there's always a few sore losers who will disconnect before a game is over so they don't take a hit in their win-loss record. How will QHF handle this issue?

Yeah, there's nothing worse than putting a whoopin' on someone only to have them pull the plug on their connection to avoid a loss. We struggled with the same issues on games we've worked on in the past, and learned a lot from the solutions we created. In that sense, Quick Hit Football will really benefit from the pain you guys have gone through in the past, and we're pretty excited about our fix to this problem.

Not only will we offer valuable game play incentives to our Coaches to hang in there, but we're also planning to allow people who stick it out the opportunity to finish out games regardless of what their opponents chose to do, which should go a long way towards keeping folks honest. The AI in the game will take over if your opponent abandons the game so that you can continue to play and earn fantasy and coaching points. We'll have more details here as we get closer to launch, as well, but let's just say that we plan to put it on the cheaters and the quitters like your boy [NFL Commissioner Roger] Goodell gets after character cases.

One of the features being touted in this game is the online community. How will players be connected to each other socially in the game? Will they be able to watch games they're not participating in?

Since we're an online-only game, helping Coaches connect is obviously a big part of what we're all about. We're still nailing down the exact options we'll offer at launch, but things like leaderboards, leagues, tournaments, contests, friends lists, an integrated chat client, competitive groups, Coach profiles, Coach activity updates, Facebook integration, public and private forums, and a host of other ideas are in their early stages.

Additionally, it's important to note that unlike traditional annual console games and PC releases, we're a "live product," which means we'll be able to address bugs and add features as we go, so getting feedback from our Coaches on what they like, dislike, and can't wait to see in the product will be a big part of what drives the design and development team. We'll also have regular chats, blog updates, and forum Q&A sessions with our developers to give Coaches inside access to the future of QHF. In that sense, the community is as much about connecting coaches to each other as it is to making sure they have a direct line to us as developers, which we really think will be an ace in the hole with regards to product quality.

As for a spectator mode...umm....that's a really cool idea, isn't it?

When do you think the beta will begin? Have you set an exact date yet?

We’re going to be heading into a private beta this summer and will be offering key codes to some lucky registered users to get in and start experiencing the game before we head into open beta on 9/9/09, which coincidentally is the day before the NFL season begins – wink, wink.
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