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Interview: S2 Games' co-founder talks about Heroes of Newerth's upcoming launch plans

Launched in near stealth mode in mid-2009, S2 Games' multiplayer-themed RTS-action game Heroes of Newerth has become something of an underground success for the developer, who previously released the two games in the Savage RTS-FPS hybrid series. Heroes of Newerth's closed beta was already popular but the free open beta version of the game has already signed up over 2 million players since its release a few weeks ago.

The big question now is can S2 Games retain enough of the players who have checked out the game for free for its $30 commercial version that will officially be released later this year? Big Download got a chance to chat with S2 Games' co-founder Marc DeForest to find out more about their launch and post-launch plans for Heroes of Newerth.
With the launch of the open beta for Heroes of Newerth, it seems that the game is in the home stretch of its mainline development. How do you and the team feel about the game now that it's almost ready to be launched in a commercial form?

We feel the game is feature complete (as is), stable, and content rich. However, we will operate Heroes of Newerth as a service. This means that the game will never really be finished. We plan to constantly make updates with new heroes, items, and features. As long as there is significant enough demand (which thus far has proven to not be a problem) we will continue to expand HoN's offerings.

Heroes of Newerth has received very little publicity and press from the mainline game media yet the beta has, by your numbers, brought in over 2 million registered players and 55,000 concurrent players. Why do you think there has been so much player support for the game? Is it the connection to Defense of the Ancients or something more?

DotA is an extremely popular game that was missing key features. It was always our intention to try and ease the pain of playing the game. The fact that we are fanatic gamers and huge fans of the genre, we had a good understanding of what would be welcomed additions to an extremely popular game as a stand alone client. We also heavily harnessed the use of social networking and word of mouth advertising. Good games will sell themselves, good games in a popular genre sell that much more.

Another game inspired by Defense of the Ancients, League of Legends, switched to a free-to-play system a few months before it went live. However Heroes of Newerth is sticking with a $30 retail price. Are you comfortable with that business model and how many of the people who have played the beta are expected to pay for the full version?

We have planned all along to offer a one price, play as much as you want option. We are very comfortable with this business model and it appears our players are as well. HoN is a very addicting game and our player population is growing very consistently and very rapidly. These are both signs that people who play the game, enjoy the game. The prices of everything, including video games, are constantly going up. Who wouldn't pay $30 for 100's of hours of entertainment? It's an absolute bargain. We would hope that 25% of testers will continue on to retail.
Can you give us an idea of how many people have already pre-ordered the full version of the game at this point?

Approximately 80,000 accounts have pre purchased to date.

The game is one of the few that will be released on PC, Mac and Linux. How hard was it to get the game running on all three operating systems?

If you make the commitment to release your game on all 3 platforms, it is just business as usual. This is S2's 3rd title and all 3 of our games have been for PC, Mac, & Linux. I'd like to send a shoutout to WhiteDwarf for being as awesome as he is for helping us achieve this!

Are there any plans to release a free demo of the game after the full version has launched?

We will have a trial system and free weekend play. We will work with partner sites to deliver trial keys (very similar to how we operated the closed beta) which will allow players to make an account and play a limited amount of games. We will also distribute trial keys to our paid players for hitting certain achievements in the game. Lastly, we will offer free to play weekends from time to time to allow new people a chance to play.

Will the game's mod and editing tools be released alongside the game and if so how will distribution of third party mods and maps be handled?

We will distribute the map editor and SDK sometime after release with more details to come.
After the game's full commercial release will S2 Games continue to add maps, heroes and other content to the game and if so will they be charging a fee for those add-ons?

As I had stated earlier, we plan to operate HoN as a service adding new content. While we plan to consistently add a lot of content for free, this doesn't proclude us from creating add-ons / expansions. We have no formal details for a paid expansion at this time.

Assuming Heroes of Newerth is successful in sales does S2 Games have any other game projects in the works and if so can you give us some hints about what may be in the future?

We have multiple plans for the future, each viable for their own reasons. Depending on how things play out with HoN and other conditions in the market will determine how we steer the ship. The good news is the future looks very bright and exciting for S2 and all our fans. We hope to continue to develop the deliver high quality products for years to come, including additional variants to the HoN-style gameplay ;)

Finally is there anything else you wish to say about Heroes of Newerth?

We have a very exciting program and direction for HoN being announced soon. We call it DREAM and details will be released in the next couple of weeks. Lastly, I'd like to thank all of our fans. We could not be happier with their support and excitement for our product. I appreciate the chance to chat with you, John and thanks for the opportunity to be on Big Download, I'm a big fan!

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