Splitgate, a year later: CEO talks move beyond “Halo meets Portal” and target Triple-A interview
Capturing the zeitgeist and making a splash in online multiplayer is the first difficult step for any budding live service game – the next is trying to retain that audience. 1047 Games’ Splitgate made that first move, and while initial success stunned the studio to some degree, the indie arena shooter earned its big break. A full year later, Splitgate is in the midst of its “Beta Season 2” and trying to maintain a player base.
While Splitgate hasn’t been the same talk of the town since reemerging via a console release in July 2021, 1047 and its CEO Ian Proulx still have high aspirations. With seasonal updates bringing complete redesigns of old maps, a complete backend overhaul, and significant new hires for the studio, the light at the end of the tunnel is what Proulx dubs “Splitgate 1.0”. What Splitgate has in store are tangible goals, the biggest of which is turning Splitgate into a triple-A title that’s more than just the original Halo meets Portal elevator pitch.
The Halo Infinite Effect
While the free-to-play Splitgate originally launched in May 2019, it became a hit when it released to consoles more than two years later, and it turned out to be perfect timing. Arena shooters were on players’ minds, and Halo Infinite was conducting a technical test around the same time. But Splitgate had months before the wide release of Infinite Multiplayer, and the playability of 1047’s game with fast movement and portal traversal left a lot to be desired when switching to Infinite.
“Yeah, you’re not the first to say that,” Proulx said. “A lot of people have told me that they are kind of spoiled [using portals].” But despite the comparison, the near release of Halo Infinite is something Proulx has invited. “I think Halo is good for us in the long term. I think it’s good for the genre. Having some competition is a good thing. I think it gets people talking, it gets people comparing. I think they are absolutely very different games in terms of pacing, health, maps and of course, most importantly, the portal which is our main differentiator.”
Related: Splitgate increased player count on PlayStation following the release of Halo Infinite, the studio says
But as Proulx acknowledges, the competition comes from everywhere, from games like Call of Duty, Apex Legends, Valorant, and even non-gaming media. “Each is now competing with the other’s time.” An unfortunate similarity between Splitgate and Halo Infinite is the difficulty in maintaining their larger player bases from launch, with the former having declined by over 90% since launch. But luckily for 1047 Games, looking at Halo Infinite just gives the studio more lessons to learn from.
More specifically, Proulx shared with us conversations the studio had with Halo content creators and learned what to take away from these live service launches from the perspective of audiences and players. As it turns out, the main problem is that players want their games to move fast. “People don’t like six-month seasons, right? You know that, people are now used to three-month seasons with regular meaningful updates. And I think both Splitgate and Halo struggled with that for different reasons.”
Grow a studio
A three-month content season isn’t on the cards for the current iteration of 1047 Games – but Splitgate is on the way. When Gamepur last spoke to Proulx, the headcount at the studio was 87, with the studio’s “magic number” target at around 150. Among the new hires are engineers, but also some notable artists from Halo studio 343 Industries, such as environmental artist Shawnell Priester and Jihoon Kim. “We have a very high bar; If we get 150 of the absolute best people in the business to work on this game, we’re going to move faster than just about any company out there,” Proulx said.
A growing studio only means better results, and there are some clear benchmarks Splitgate needs to meet as 1047 expands its staff. Coming back to season length as a progress indicator, 1047 “couldn’t do a three-month season to start” with “a team of 20 people with four engineers.” With a larger staff, Beta Season 2 is aiming for four months in length. “That’s really good for an 87-strong team.”
Related: Splitgate developer 1047 Games remains independent and has $100 million in funding
When Splitgate first launched a year ago, observers and journalists were quick to bet on potential game publisher takeovers as takeovers become the name of the industry game. But according to Proulx, a takeover was never in sight. “The goal is not to be acquired. The goal is to compete with the big dogs. We want to finally get this company public, and of course we’re still years away from that. But we want to be a multi-game studio with multiple hits across multiple genres. We want to be the next big thing,” Proulx said.
Instead of announcing such a move, 1047 Games announced that the studio has over $100 million in funding. Independence was essential for the studio, but the question was how to use it. “We could now throw money into marketing and push growth. We could pump out features and sprint as fast as we could.” Instead, the focus was on scope and refinement. “What does Splitgate with a $100 million budget look like what Splitgate with a $3 million budget didn’t look like, right? It’s a different scale. We’re not thinking about throwing money into marketing right now.”
The Road to Splitgate 1.0
Related: All Splitgate Beta Season 2 changes explained – map remasters, game modes, matchmaking and more
The focus is now more on improving the core of Splitgate, from its progression systems to its visuals. Proulx pointed to a map called Abyss, which was reworked for Beta Season 2 after the game was updated to Unreal Engine 4.27. With improved textures, more foliage, and eye-catching water effects, 1047 Games wants this remaster to be a template for future Splitgate maps. “It’s really day and night,” Proulx said of the Abyss before and after. “And we’re trying to take exactly what we’ve done and do it on every single map. Everything about the game should have that wow factor that Abyss currently has.”
But the beating heart of any live game is progression, certainly one of the main incentives for any player to stick with a game – and one on which Halo Infinite has publicly faltered. Discussing Splitgate’s “game outside the game,” Proulx conceded that he also doesn’t think 1047’s progression and challenges aren’t particularly well done at the moment. “What you’re seeing is that both Halo and Splitgate can’t move fast enough yet. They need the other bells and whistles alongside good gameplay.”
In that regard, Proulx revealed another important take, especially someone with a background in the mobile gaming industry. “That’s what he lives and breathes: progression, retention, how do you keep people coming back if the game is fun? How do you build a system that makes someone want to log in all the time?” Beta Season 2 included badges and a complete overhaul of challenges. And a big step towards more concrete progression is the addition of Pro Tiers, comparable to Prestige in Call of Duty. Pro tiers provide an XP boost and give the satisfaction of replaying those early levels. “I just think fast, then slow, and then fast, then slow progression keeps things fresh.”
What’s next for Splitgate?
In a way, this progression style is what 1047 Games is hoping for with the overall development of Splitgate. When asked if the studio would like slow and steady growth or another massive influx of players like last year, Proulx explained that they’re looking for “a little bit of both.” While Beta Season 1 didn’t bring much growth, there are “enough parts” for Season 2 to resume that growth.
And after that slow grind, ideally, comes the fast progression. “[Splitgate] 1.0 is when we anticipate the massive explosion. We prepare for success. And we absolutely expect to hit a lot bigger numbers than last summer.” And by 1.0, the studio certainly wants players to see the game differently and do away with Halo comparisons. “If you actually compare the two games, sure, they’re both arena shooters. But aside from the graphics and some modes, they don’t really play alike. So I think establishing a unique art style that we are will clean up most of that.”
It’s all going to come down to the attitude that Proulx doesn’t want to rush into and get the “best of the best”. Besides the above hiring, 1047 Games also hired a creative writer. Additionally, the studio plans to bring the game to new platforms in beta, and still aiming for three-month seasons as the gold standard before the 1.0 launch. But now Splitgate has its foot in the door. “When we were an indie game with zero marketing budget, Halo meets Portal was a great way for us to describe the game and reach people right away. But we graduated beyond that.”
https://www.gamepur.com/features/splitgate-ceo-interview-halo-meets-portal-talk-triple-a-aim Splitgate, a year later: CEO talks move beyond “Halo meets Portal” and target Triple-A interview