Interview: Mike McCartney, Executive Producer of "Transformers: Forged to Fight"
Kabam Studios Visit: Mike McCartney Interview (May 30, 2017)
As the rain fell outside the Vancouver BC offices of Kabam, Executive Producer Mike McCartney and I met in Interrogation. That is not a fancy term, it was literally the name of the breakout room we met in for our interview. Styled like the rooms seen in police procedural shows like "Law & Order", it was a slightly surreal experience to discuss a video game as part of me was waiting for the "Bad Cop" to walk in at any moment.
The journey to creating Transformers: Forged to Fight began over a year and a half ago. Transformers was a logical choice for Kabam's next licensed game. McCartney explains "...generally I would say we're interested in working with partners who have globally accessible brands. Brands that people love. Brands that have a history. Brands that we think will fit the types of games we, want to make. And Transformers is certainly one of the most recognizable brands names in the world...it's got a huge roster of characters, a massive allure.". As any Transformers fan can attest, the brand has all of these factors, especially with a live action movie series now on its fifth outing and a toy line that can barely stay on toy store shelves.
With that in mind, Kabam developed a functioning prototype of the game featuring two playable, but rudimentary characters. The idea was to be able to demonstrate what such a game could be. According to McCartney "We built the fighting essentially and the fighting was awesome. We were playing it all the time! We're like 'this is great' and it more or less looked very similar to what it looks like now but with two characters that can't really transform nicely. But all the sort of guts were there. And in the background, we were also designing...what features are we gonna use? What do we wanna do here? What are our goals here?"
Hasbro was involved during the development process, but it was a respectful one. As Kabam developed the game, they stayed in regular touch with Hasbro via weekly meetings and regular visits to the Kabam studios. McCartney speaks highly of Hasbro's creative team. "The creative guys they have are awesome. They know everything. They'll tell you if we're going a little bit too off the beaten path or if yeah, you probably have room to move over there. You can go over there. And if we feel passionate about something and we've argued with them, they went yeah, you know what, you're right.". As time has gone along, the relationship has continued. "We approve everything and Hasbro's always been of the mind you know what, you guys know how to make good games. We'll tell you...if what you're doing fits with our brand but but we want to support you. We want to help you make the best game possible..."
As part of the Hasbro collaboration, Kabam has not been asked to necessarily feature specific characters or upcoming toys. That said, they do share information with Kabam and I sensed that the relationship between the two companies is not creatively dominated by one side or the other. According to McCartney "...the goals we have had with them has been 'Hey, I would love to know as much info, Hasbro, about what your plans are in the future. As much as you feel comfortable telling me as a partner and I'll do the same and there may be opportunities for us to cross pollinate.' And...we usually get a little bit of visibility into their toy releases."
Being a mobile game however, McCartney and Kabam were very well aware of the hesitation around "freemium" games and micro transactions. McCartney was very reassuring in this respect. "...I know there's always this bit of suspicion around free to play mobile but it is really. You can play as long as you want and do everything. We'll make sure you can do everything anyone else can do." Purchasing items in game however, will of course accelerate the process of advancing through the game, but no features are "locked out" to fans who do not make in-game purchases. In terms of aggressively selling in-game packages and items, McCartney says "I mean generally, we're trying not to annoy you. We don’t want people to leave the game because they feel like they're being oversold. We do try different things to see what people respond to. That's the nature of live gaming and mobile gaming in general. And so maybe one day I could see a scenario where we try it, all right let's be a little bit more aggressive this week and see what happens. And oh wow, that didn’t really work. We're not gonna do that again!" Fans who have played Transformers: Forged to Fight have no doubt noticed the absence of pop ups selling items, reflecting McCartney's comments.
With the game having launched over a month ago now, development has not slowed down. The Kabam team knows what characters are going to be added months ahead of time. McCartney explains "I mean our character release we have usually penciled in quite a ways ahead. Penciled in. And then as you get closer to the sort of the front of that plan, things start to get written in pen. So the guys written in pen are always the guys that you're started with and because how long our guys take to build, we're probably building guys that you'd see out in the...later into this year right now...".
Transformers: Forged to Fight has received a lot of accolades for its graphics and game play (including winning a 2017 Google Play award). However there are no plans to move it to other platforms. "No. We're mobile developers so that's not something we've thought about." McCartney says without hesitation. When talking about developing for a mobile platform he says "Specifically it's a challenge more so for android that IOS. Android certainly has many, many, many, many, many more devices than IOS has on the market. I mean, we're talking thousands. I'm not even kidding. So, what we've done is we have our own, sort of custom rendering tech that's built on top of Unity which is...our engine's built out of Unity and I don’t think that's any surprise because most mobile games are built out of Unity. And part of our custom rendering tech allows us to segment devices by performance and so you can look at devices and go that's tier 1, that's a tier 2, that's a tier 3. And then what our tool allows us to do is create custom settings for those tiers. So if I’m playing on a tier 3, I can still play the game. I might not see all the bells and whistles of the tier 1 slot but I still can play the game."
As our interview came to a close, I asked McCartney to tell console gamers why they should give this game a try if they have not done so already. His pitch was a good one "...so the barrier seem to be for those type of people that...say 'Oh well it's on mobile'. So I would say listen, it's not on mobile. It's on a different console. It's the one you carry in your pocket. And we've revolutionized fighting on the mobile platform. I don’t think there's a better fighting game on the mobile platform than us. We are, to my knowledge, one of the only 3d fighters on mobile platform and it works.". He goes on to say "we're just trying to make the best game we can make and this just happens to be the platform that we feel can reach the most people.".
Ben's World of Transformers would like to thank Mike McCartney for taking time out of his very busy day to sit down for this interview.
TRANSFORMERS: Forged to Fight is a new high-definition, action-fighting RPG mobile game developed by Kabam and Hasbro. For the first time ever, Transformers fans and mobile gamers everywhere will be able to build their Transformers team and battle with the most iconic Autobots and Decepticons from nearly every era of the storied franchise’s 30-plus year history.
The game features authentic Transformers action set in a stunning 3D environment, challenging players to assemble the ultimate team of Autobots and Decepticons, including fan-favorite bots from previous and current animated Transformers TV series, Paramount’s blockbuster films, Transformers comic books and Hasbro's line of iconic action figures. As fans assemble their team, they will forge alliances, battle other players and dive into a unique storyline that goes beyond good versus evil.
Download Transformers: Forged to Fight Today! http://www.bit.ly/PlayTransformersFTF