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Psyonix: "We see Rocket League as a platform, not as a franchise"

VP of publishing Jeremy Dunham on Nintendo Switch, cross-platform play and why we won't see a Rocket League RPG

Today, Rocket League is two years old.

The car football game has been download 10m times, with over 1m additional copies sold at boxed retail (as of March 2017). It has over 33m registered players (as of today), with 1.6m players every day, 3.3m players per week and 6.1m players every month. The developer estimates that around 70% of the game's owners have purchased some DLC for the game.

It is impressive and the game is showing no signs of slowing down. Its non-violent gameplay that's easy to follow is making it a popular esport (more on that in a later piece), while at E3 both Rocket League and developer Psyonix found themselves once again centre stage - this time surrounding the game's appearance during Nintendo's press conference and the news the game is coming to Switch.

"It is a bit of a passion project for us and we want to make sure it is done exactly the way we want it to be done," says Psyonix's VP of publishing Jeremy Dunham.

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Psyonix VP of publishing Jeremy Dunham

"Nintendo has been very open with giving us whatever resources that we need, answering any questions that we have, allowing us to do cross-network play, which is a big deal and very important to us and they had no problem with that at all. That was the very first question I asked them. I said: 'If we are going to commit to doing this, would you guys allow us to do cross-platform?' And they told me that if it is important to us, then we will do cross-platform. There wasn't even any hesitation."

Nintendo's lack of hesitation around cross-platform play means that Switch owners can now play against Xbox and PC owners, but not PlayStation. Sony has been unusually reticent about letting its players compete against Xbox and Nintendo owners.

Jim Ryan, who leads sales and marketing for PlayStation, said the company has a responsibility to its young players to protect them, which it wouldn't be able to guarantee with cross-platform play. However, Dunham tells us that he believes he can alleviate those issues.

"We have had multiple conversations with them over the years," he says. "They allowed us to do cross-network with PC. But Xbox wasn't permitted and now Switch isn't permitted. We are hopeful that will change. We believe that whatever their reason, or reasons, are, we can address them. We have done whatever we can to make this as secure and as open and easy for people to connect cross-network as possible.

From our vantage point, they tell us whatever they need from us to make it possible, and we will do it. We have already taken a lot of the steps in general to make sure it is as non-intrusive as possible. You can turn cross-network on and off. You can't communicate with each other across network, you have to use our quick chat icons. So that is taken care of. You can't gather any user data from another platform. We already have the security measures in play, we've taken all the considerations.

"Cross-platform play is inevitable. How long inevitable actually becomes reality, I don't know. But we think we are getting there"

"We don't share data between platforms. And there's no way that they can get in there and data mine anything from us, because it is all our own system. We handle the matchmaking and we handle the servers, it is all on our side, so we think we're covered. We are huge believers in cross-network play. Especially now that Minecraft has made the announcement that they want to do the same thing that we've been doing. It is inevitable. How long inevitable actually becomes reality, I don't know. But we think we are getting there. The key is for the community to really get behind the idea."

The Switch version of Rocket League has been specifically created for the platform. It runs at 60fps docked, and the firm believes it can do that undocked, too. It uses the Pro Controller, but players can also use the Joy-Cons separately. It has two-player split-screen in tablet mode, and four-player on the main TV.

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Rocket League on Switch is due this year

"We tried to get it as close to the other versions as possible," Dunham said.

"In the very beginning, when we first released Rocket League, a lot of people were asking us about mobile versions. They wanted it on Vita or on mobile. But the need to play multiplayer over the internet on those platforms was a concerning problem for us. But now that we have two years of experience with the system, and we all own Switches ourselves and we know what it is about, we are not too worried about the online experience. We have enough tools and safeguards in place to make sure that if you are playing Rocket League on-the-go multiplayer, via the internet, then we will be able to handle that situation just fine and keep all players happy."

He adds: "That's what is cool about the console and one of the reasons we wanted to do it. Although it may not have the power of an Xbox One or a PS4, it does have that very unique aspect to it."

Dunham says the game is ahead of schedule in terms of development. He let GamesIndustry.biz goes hands on with the game and asked us what we thought. We told him: "It feels like Rocket League."

"That's our favourite sentence," he says. "If people tell us it feels like Rocket League, then we're happy."

Rocket League's move onto Switch is just one way in which the game is expanding. The company has recently broadened out into merchandise as well, from clothes and posters to toy cars and stickers. There's even the prospect of maybe Amiibo in the future.

"We have been a bit critical of our own ability to keep up with merchandise requests," says Dunham. "There are a number of types of things that people have asked us for that we just don't make, or aren't available. So we are trying to find the right partners to team up with make those things. For us, we are not looking at it as a major revenue stream. It's more a way to let the fans get access to things that they like about Rocket League."

Rocket League is moving onto other platforms, and may move onto others in the future should fans want it (although Dunham is hesitant about mobile due to the challenge of touch screens). There's esports championships, merchandise, DLC and boxed versions, too. So where else can it go? Is there need for a Rocket League 2?

"Rocket League is a game that, as it expands, it is still the same game. It is not Rocket League Karts or Rocket League RPG. We don't want to exploit the brand"

"We look at Rocket League as a platform, and not as a franchise for us to make very different versions of," Dunham says. "Rocket League is a game that, as it expands, it is still the same game. It is not Rocket League Karts or Rocket League RPG. We don't want to exploit the brand. We want to reward the players, that's how we look at it. Our vantage point is that if we are going to make a new game, then it needs to be a new game, we want it to be its own thing that's built on its own merit and its own expectations. It will have its own team, its own philosophies and it will be a separate thing.

"We do have a team internally that is dedicated to coming up with new game ideas. We have several game ideas that live and die in a few weeks, and others that last even longer and we are exploring. For us, what is great, is that we are in no hurry. We don't have to get something out just for the case of our financial security. That's been the biggest benefit of Rocket League. It has given us the creative freedom to take our time and come up with something else."

Indeed, Rocket League's success has transformed Psyonix. The company has just moved offices to accommodate all the extra staff, and is no longer a company that is staggering from project-to-project to make ends meet.

"When we released the game two years ago, the company was 36 people big," Dunham says. "Entire departments that exist now didn't exist then. We have created a publishing department with PR people and marketing people and community teams and customer support... all of the elements that make a games business run. And then we have an online services team. Now we are approaching our 90th employee. We are actually moving into a brand new building, because we have run out of space."

He concludes: "And in terms of our philosophy, it has actually helped focus us more. Before we were a company that would build a game like Rocket League on the side, because it was something we really cared about, while paying the bills by doing development work for other larger publishers. Now, because Rocket League has been so successful and allows us the flexibility to choose our own destiny, now we can say that we are a company that wants to make community-focused games. In fact, our position from leadership is 'community first'. It is the company motto. Every decision we make is whether it is something the community wants. It is not business first, or designer first. Then we start building pieces around that concept. Before we didn't have that kind of focus. We were trying things out here and there and going project by project."

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