Moon Rover Devs Talk About Vision, $70 Pricing, Game Pass, Exclusive Games and More

In an exclusive talk with SegmentNext, Moon Rover games devs discuss what they aim to achieve with their first game and some general topics.

A new gaming studio from industry veterans feels like a usual news these days. However, some of these studios eventually end up making great games and experiences for fans and Moon Rover is looking to achieve the same.

The new studio has been founded by people who have worked with Ubisoft and DICE on games like Far Cry, Mirror’s Edge, Battlefield and The Division. So they have a lot of experience under their belts and now, they want to make something special for the fans without any external constraints. While talking about the motivation behind making Moor Rover, CEO Julien Wera said:

We’re really grateful for everything we learned at fantastic studios such as Massive, DICE and Ubisoft Stockholm. I think we’d all reached this point in our lives where we wanted to take control of our own destiny, and build something new without having to carry the baggage of the past, to shape a healthy culture from the ground up. Simply said… It was time. Once the idea started forming in our heads, we couldn’t think about any other option, and so we ended up making the leap.

Moon Rover executives

So that’s basically the prime motivation of most of the new game studios, a healthy culture and taking control of their destiny!

The creative director of Moon Rover, Jamie Keen explained further that they want to craft immersive worlds without constraints or any “baggage”. They also believe that to create search immersive, emergent experience, they don’t really need an army of people:

At Moon Rover, we believe in crafting worlds. Rich, wondrous worlds for our players to bring to life and write their own stories in. Worlds filled with unique, fleeting moments that only they will see, giving them one of a kind stories to share with friends.

We also believe that it doesn’t have to take an army to bring these games to life, but rather that we can prove that we only need a village. It’s very important for us to keep our studio atmosphere as human as possible, to build a workplace where you can know everyone, understand what we’re all working on together, exchange freely with each other, and for everyone to be themselves.

We’ve worked on big game franchises such as Far Cry, Battlefield or The Division in the past, and those are great, but they come with a lot of baggage. When you work on a sequel from a successful series, you don’t want to break what fans already know and love, and so you’re less likely to take risks and innovate on the formula. Striking out on our own allows us to take more risks and try more things without having the expectations of an existing studio or franchise weighing on us.

Now, the question is what sort of game the developers at Moon Rover are going to develop? Moon Rovers’ first game is a co-op action game in Unreal Engine 5 and being planned for both PC and consoles. The game, ofcourse in early stages of development however, it’s been labelled an “ambitious” project. According to Julien Wera,

Our first game is an ambitious co-operative action game built around a new IP and designed to generate unique, emergent gameplay stories that players can truly make their own. We’re developing using Unreal Engine 5 and aiming for a release on PC and consoles.

We are still very early in development, focusing on finding the fun in the gameplay before we expand on the world. It will still be a while before we can show anything to the public, however our intention is to open up to fans for testing and feedback early during development, so we can build this game together with the community.

So Moon Rover wants to keep the fans engaged for feedback right from the start and it will be interesting to see how they plan to achieve that. The narrative design of the new IP from Moon Rover will deviate from the traditional ways of story-telling. Instead, devs hope to achieve and “emergent” experience for the players. The narrative director, Christofer Emgard explains:

We will put a lot of effort into the world building and overall context and setting to ensure that players come not just for the gameplay but to explore a rich and evolving storyline filled with mysteries to ponder and solve. The main challenge lies in providing a meaningful narrative for players in a co-op space where they will be busy taking on enemies, overcoming challenges, and chatting with each other. When combined with emergent and dynamic gameplay there’s little room for the classic, linear storytelling tools that are often employed and here we aim to innovate and evolve on existing best practices.

The goal is to create a fertile soil (in terms of context and fluid narrative) for personal stories to emerge, while still providing enough of a story framework for players to always have a clear sense of purpose and direction.

For such an ambitious project, it’s natural to think whether Moon Rover will be looking for partners to achieve it as it can be hard to manage the whole system without proper backing especially when you are just starting. This however, can also create problems for the developer if the new partner’s goals and values don’t align with the developer. On this topic, the CEO of the company shared that they could be open to partnerships in the future but they wouldn’t want to compromise their vision:

We are building our first game on our own for now but we are open to working with the right partner to bring it to life in the future. What matters for us is to find a partner with whom we share the same values and the same goal of crafting groundbreaking emergent games and growing those games alongside the player community in the long run.

At Moon Rover, the developers want to conserve the human side of game development and maintain a healthy environment. They don’t want the team members to feel like just a COG in the wheel and want to give everyone autonomy at what they do.

We talk a lot about the importance of acknowledging the human side of game development, making sure everyone in the team has autonomy and impact and doesn’t just feel like a cog in a very big machine, and to a certain extent that comes with keeping the team to a certain size. Fortunately, today’s tools and technology available to developers, combined with clever systemic design, allows us to make ambitious projects without having to grow to the multi-hundreds people teams that many big publishers have as their baseline formula.

While many companies these days are offering remote jobs, CEO of Moon Rover thinks that since they are just starting, it will be crucial for everyone to meet each other in person as making a game development company isn’t just programming and designing, it’s more than that.

Because we’re at the very beginning of the Moon Rover adventure, we think it’s important for everyone to meet very regularly in person, and that’s why we’re focused on local hires for our first cohort of employees. When you join a new studio at that stage, your responsibilities include more than just programming, game design or art, they include the building of a culture and really, being part of building the company together. Later down the line we’ll open to more remote colleagues as we build things up

Despite preferring in-house only team members, Julien explained that they aren’t worried about acquiring good and experienced talent because of the freedom and the vision they have:

It  means that for experienced developers they get to work on a big project without suffering from the burden of bureaucracy that comes from a big organization, and for the more junior talent coming out of school, we offer the opportunity to join a team where they can have real impact.

Moon Rover has decided to use Unreal Engine 5 for its first project and they seem quite contended with the choice for their mutliplayer title. Ben Keen, technical director at the studio explained how UE5 can make life easy for a new developer as developing a new game engine from the ground-up can be a huge ask. They are still exploring if MetaHuman will be any use to them but they are impressed with what the technology from Epic Games has to offer:

UE5 provides us with a superb, high-quality baseline from which we can build our game. For contrast, and speaking from experience, the process of creating a game engine from scratch is a long and painful one that we are very familiar with. Using UE5 allows us to focus our time and effort on the parts of the game that we think are most important, without having to implement everything from first principles.

We’re going to need to evaluate MetaHuman more closely to see if it’s a good fit for us, but we are definitely open to it. The results that people are seeing with its latest version are pretty phenomenal

New developers usually explore the subscription services like Xbox Game Pass for exposure of their new games. When we touched the topic and asked if Moon Rover would be interested in the service and what they think about it overall, the reply was:

As a player, I think services like Xbox Game Pass or Playstation Plus are great as they make me discover many games that I might not have played otherwise. As an independent developer, they offer us new ways to access a large audience, which is particularly important when making a multiplayer game like ours.

I’m not too specifically versed in the economics of these models, but many of the games I’ve worked on in the past have had the opportunity to appear on some of the subscription services available today and if anything the impact on their success was only positive.

While the technical director abstained from commenting directly on Microsoft making an attempt to buy Activision Blizzard, he was able to share his views about platform exclusivity in the industry. According to him, there are both pros and cons about making a game exclusive to a certain platform however, being a developer, since they want their games to played as much as possible, they would release their game for both PC and consoles.

Purely from a developer standpoint, I think there are advantages and disadvantages to platform exclusivity. For a start, it’s significantly easier to create a game and only have to ship it on a single platform. Beyond the complexities of platform submission and publishing and the like, simply being more familiar with the target hardware can help a lot. It also can be the case that you’re able to deliver more impressive or well-optimized games when focusing on a single platform. It’s possible to get more from the hardware, as you are able to focus on pushing the boundaries of that single platform, rather than making a game that needs to work well across multiple, often quite technically distinct, platforms.

That being said, we developers usually want to reduce the amount of barriers for players to enjoy our games, and we prefer when the community is as large as possible and able to play together without hurdles.

As of now we are targeting a multiplatform release for our first game, and if the offer of a platform exclusivity comes up we will make sure to carefully consider the benefits and risks before taking any decision.

While talking about $70 games which most publishers have opted for in recent times, CEO Julien Wera expressed that there is a lot of variety now when it comes to pricing in the gaming industry. While there are $70 premium games, there are great Free to Play games as well. So there is something for everyone based on their wallet:

I think the range of pricing in the games industry is broader than it’s ever been. On the one hand some very high quality premium titles see their price increase, while on the other we also see very big AAA games being available for no upfront price, from Apex Legends and PUBG to Genshin Impact and Fortnite. And all of that means there’s more choice for the players who can then vote with their wallets on what they think is the right choice for different types of games.

A co-op action game in Unreal Engine 5 with a heavy emphasis on the narrative does sound great however, it’s too early to reach to any conclusion until we have seen anything concrete. We wish best of luck to the talented developers at Moon Rover for the future.

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Ali is a passionate RPG gamer. He believes that western RPGs still have a lot to learn from JRPGs. He is editor-in-chief at SegmentNext.com but that doesn't stop him from writing about his favorite video ...