There’s a massive difference between theory and practice and Hedone, which was presented to us with a long and insightful prelude, doesn't benefit from it at all. The ideas upon which Acony claims it was built are a lot more interesting than the reality of what has been built from those foundations.
To hear the developers tell it, Hedone – pronounced ‘head-own’, as in hedonism – is a subtle but pointed indictment of modern society; a gameified jab at the YouTube generation. The back-story exists to provide a feasible sci-fi rationale for prime-time bloodsport; clones with no human rights volunteering for deathmatches with live studio audiences. Excited by the notion, the developers have laid out a huge timeline that explains exactly how the Hedone game show came to life in 2020. It's all about a billionaire with no scruples.
The producer giving the presentation, Mario Rizzi, speaks at length about the disconnection that runs through the current generation and how that has lead to desensitisation. He points to Jackass and FailBlog as examples of how the Internet and smartphones are changing our world. I scribble notes as fast as I can – this is interesting stuff and it’s made even more so by his admission that this is the same presentation he gave to would-be publishers. This sounds like a really great game.
Click to enlarge
‘Hedone is more like The X-Factor than Fight Club,’ he says, trying to reconcile the cartoon key-art with the philosophically charged basis.
Before we see the game in action we get a peek of the main menu and a conversation about how the relaxing music and colours are meant to offset the fast, frenetic pace of the game - like a digital green room. The amount of thought that seems to have gone into Hedone is enough to make me swoon.
The conversation then turns to discussing how Hedone will actually make money as a free-to-play multiplayer shooter in a crowded market. Surely the developer that has planned the game down to increases of volume as you proceed through the main menus towards the action - like an athlete emerging onto the field in a deafening roar - must have something special in mind?
Rizzi, who's previously helped launch titles as diverse as Battleforge and APB, starts by describing the differences between free-to-play games in the East and West. The mood is that of a riveting lecture.
Click to enlarge
In the East, he explains, free-to-play games aren't meant to be balanced and actually aren't designed to be so at all. While Western audiences frequently worry that free-to-play games will feature elaborate premium arsenals that will reward rich players with definite advantages, that's what the Eastern audience will expect.
Going on, Rizzi expands on the difficulty of balancing any premium items you might sell, creating a system where items reward those who buy them without overly penalising those who don't.
'90 per cent of players play without ever buying anything,' says Rizzi, before explaining that this tightwad majority is actually the important one, as they populate the servers and generate publicity.
'Only 10 per cent really buy anything, but the thing is that you can't let that 10 per cent grow too much,' says Rizzi. 'If 15 per cent of your players are buying then the free players start to see premium items as a requirement to play, so they stop playing and your remaining players get bored.'
It's at this point that we start to fidget, wondering if this is actually all a distraction of some sort. We've been waiting for an hour and we haven't even seen the game yet, let alone had the business model explained. Might Hedone not be all that it seems?