Hi-Rez COO, Todd Harris

We’ve already praised SMITE after playing the closed beta, and wanted to find out more. We managed to get some questions over to Hi Rez Studios’ COO, Todd Harris. But he’s quite a busy man, so we tried to pick out just five questions to ask, covering a few widely very varied aspects of their upcoming MOBA. Here’s how it went.

Firstly, hats off for the idea of turning the MOBA into a third-person, more action-like game. How did this idea come about, and how much was it inspired by what Hi-Rez did to the MMO with Global Agenda?

We do enjoy our third-person action PvP combat. We actually started SMITE as a prototype battleground mode of Global Agenda. We used Global Agenda character classes and NPC robots in a arena setup with defined lanes. It was a fun game but we thought it would be much better with spells and abilities instead of guns, and with the theme of mythology. So we switched the theme to gods and SMITE was born!

You’ve chosen to go with the free-to-play model once again and currently only skins require players to put up actual cash. Will it remain this way (ie. Not “pay-to-win”)? And do you feel is free-to-play the future for PC games?

Yes. Free-to-play but not pay-to-win. This model has worked well for us with Global Agenda, Tribes: Ascend, and now SMITE. And in terms of multiplayer games I think free-to-play is now the present as well as the future. Many of the best PC multiplayer games of 2012 and anticipated for 2013 are free-to-play.

There’s been a small amount of objection by some religious communities in regards to SMITE’s use of certain Gods. Were you aware you were getting into a somewhat sensitive subject when you began development? Are there any Gods you feel cannot be included, and how do you decide where the line is drawn?

SMITE players have actually been very appreciative that we are including gods fromdiverse cultures and traditions. In fact our inclusion of god lore is prompting some players to learn more about other traditions and religions. Unfortunately I think games are an easy target and some people unfamiliar with games object to character portrayals that would be acceptable in other forms of expression like literature.

All that said, we realize that religion can be a sensitive topic and our intent is not to offend. We basically look across world literature for gods that have a storied history of intentionally involving themselves in active combat – since that’s the focus of SMITE. All the gods included in Smite famously struggle against other deities or fantastical creatures; that’s why the context of battle makes sense.

E-sports! You’ve pushed Tribes: Ascend as an e-sport, especially at the recent North American Star League finals. However, it seems the MOBA live-streaming community has an eye on SMITE. Is this something you’ve planned for? Will you provide the necessary tools, such as a quality spectator mode, so that the game has a chance within the world of e-sports?

We will. Our goal is to build games we feel are fun and accessible but also balanced and competitive. Then if the community and teams and sponsors see e-sports potential we support that community with tools as best we can. With SMITE we do believe there is strong spectator appeal as well as player appeal. We have a Beta version of spectator mode which we will improve. We have also been recently working on the Ranked Match system.

Being third-person, it seems you’ll also be attracting people very unfamiliar with the MOBA genre. It can be very unforgiving (especially within the chat box) for somebody who’s new. What are you doing to make SMITE as accessible as possible to everybody who wants to play?

We do see the WASD controls and third-person camera view bringing many new players to the MOBA genre from a background of MMO PvP battleground play. We prioritized features like auto-level and auto-item so players new to the genre can focus on the combat and map awareness without having to worry about item building. We included a practice mode to try out any new god in a safe environment. We brought over the quick-key voice call-out system (from Tribes) to support and educate new users about team tactics – I can easily call when the enemy is missing from my lane for example. And we do have additional features coming to support the new user experience.

You can read all of our past (and future, when it occurs) SMITE coverage here.