With players now able to buy theHunter: Call of the Wild 2021 Edition, theHunter: COTW Complete Collection, and the newest DLC Map, Te Awaroa National Park, out on PC and released on XB1 today, February 9, I’ve been thinking more about the game’s success and its continued expansion. I was able to speak with Sacha Karsenty, Product Owner at Expansive Worlds, who was able to provide some insight into the development of the game, its latest DLC map, and the future of the game.
theHunter: Call of the Wild—a hunting simulation game developed by Expansive Worlds and published by EW and its parent company Avalanche Studios Group—was released nearly four years ago, but it continues to have a loyal legion of fans. The game has been praised in reviews and it has sustained its success as it releases additional content for players to purchase on a fairly regular basis. The new DLC content routinely offered includes maps, lodges, weapon packs, and more. In addition to the base game, which includes two 50-square mile game reserves, players now have the opportunity to purchase multiple game lodges, 7 additional 25-square mile maps each with their own unique missions and storylines, and additional weapons, calls, clothing, and more.
In the first half of my interview with Sacha Karsenty, we discuss the game itself and how it was developed. In the second portion, we talk about the game’s success, its DLC content, and what the game’s future looks like.
theHunter: Call of the Wild and its Development
KeenGamer: I have been a huge fan of hunting games ever since I was a young kid. Now, theHunter: Call of the Wild was released nearly four years ago in February 2017. Before then, you had released theHunter Classic in 2007 and theHunter: Primal in 2015. While hunting is something I grew up with and around in rural Ohio, I know it is a bit of a niche market in the video game world. What made your team initially want to develop a hunting game, and what made you want to continue down that route for COTW?
Sacha Karsenty: We’re all fans of the outdoors, so many of our ideas come from spending time there and thinking about how those activities can translate into an experience that fulfills both the outdoors fantasy and makes a great game. Based on those factors, hunting felt like a natural first step for us to explore.
The space we operate in is niche, so we knew it would come with its own set of challenges, like a potentially smaller user base. However, on the upside, there’s a relatively low number of competing games around. We believed that if we made a great game that managed to strike a balance between a fun gaming experience, and fulfilling the real-life hunting fantasy that many people have, we’d be able to create something really enjoyable.
K: There have been a long line of hunting video games that have been released over the years many of which have been quite fun as well as many that were fairly lackluster. Were there any previous games you looked to for inspiration or any games that you looked at to try to avoid some of the notorious pitfalls of the genre?
SK: Yes, definitely, and we still look at what other games in similar categories do. It helps us avoid pitfalls and think about how we can do things differently. When theHunter Classic released, popular hunting games were really arcadey, whereas we wanted to be more true to life. That meant we had to look for inspiration outside of hunting games. In fact, stealth games influenced both theHunter Classic and theHunter: Call of the Wild.
K: If you could, walk me through the process of how developing a hunting game works. Did you think of the locations or the story missions first? Or was there a certain species or gameplay mechanic you thought you needed to have? What was the development process like?
SK: Typically, we use common gaming processes to help develop our ideas. It all starts with a general idea, and then we look at the different game pillars and what direction we think the game needs to go in. When it comes to new reserves in theHunter. Call of the Wild, it’s about balancing what we think is good for the game and what our community wants.
K: I’ve been immersed in the world of hunting my whole life, either through myself, or many of those close to me. I’ve also played many hunting games over the years and for me at least, it is easy to tell which products were kind of put together based on assumptions and which ones took the time to learn about that specific world. I was wondering if your team had a lot of knowledge on the topic or what kind of research did your team do in order to portray hunting in an authentic way?
SK: Throughout the years, we’ve learned through research and from referencing real-life experiences that some of our staff and community members have. It has taken a lot of time to get the game to where it is today. It starts with a lot of research, like reading documents and spending time in nature to listen and record sounds, to speaking with real-life hunters, learning about what gear they use, and more.
K: What was the most exciting part of making this game, and have you been surprised at all by the sort of success and following the game has?
SK: This question probably has as many answers as there are people who have worked on the project. For me, it was definitely the release of theHunter: Call of the Wild back in 2017. It was pretty intense, and marked my first major video game release. I keep that very close to my heart.
Working in gaming, which is a hit-driven business, you never know how something will be received or how popular it will be until players get their hands on it. And although we believed we had something special on our hands, success is always surprising.
K: From what I have read, your team seems to place a very high value on player feedback. I wonder if this has helped the game’s success and longevity and would just like to get your thoughts on this aspect of your team and the importance of listening to player’s complaints and desires.
SK: Our community stands as one of the biggest elements to how we work with our games once they are live. We owe a lot of theHunter: Call of the Wild’s success to the people who support us by playing it and providing us with feedback. Generally, when building on new ideas of what we want to do, it’s extremely driven by what our community requests. To simplify the process; We have ideas of what we think would be nice to do, and then we look at what the community wants. We try to meet somewhere in the middle, provided it fits into our current scope.
Downloadable Content and the Future of the Game
K: As previously mentioned, this game has been out for almost four years. Your team is still releasing content in the form of new DLC maps and weapon packs and more. Some game developers may have already started a new game by now, but you seem to have found success with your constant expansion of theHunter: COTW. Why do you think this model is successful, and do you plan to continue updating this game well into the future?
SK: Coming from the long tail that theHunter Classic had, the plan was always for theHunter: Call of the Wild to be a live game. I think what makes the game successful is related to fulfilling the outdoors fantasy that people have, while still being fun to play. We always keep that in mind when we create content. We have no plans of slowing down and will continue updating the game with fresh content well into the foreseeable future.
K: Particularly with the DLC maps, how does your team decide where you want to go next or what biome might be a good addition for the game? Do you already have a list of ideas you’ve wanted to explore and build, or do those come up more organically?
SK: We definitely have a list of locations and places that we want to explore, combined with what the community wants to see. Our goal is to release two reserves a year, so based on that we think about scope and what kind of reserves we’re able to build and with which animals. That helps us narrow down and eventually decide on a reserve.
K: Once a new DLC location is chosen, how do you go about designing the new map?
SK: As a first step, we think about the location and animals. What’s the flora and fauna like in this specific place? What kinds of biomes are there? And how can we make the map look and feel realistic in the game? When it comes to animals, we think about what kind of animal behavior we would need to create and what species players would enjoy hunting. Early in the process, we’re also thinking about what type of narrative we want the reserve to feature.
K: I know these maps are about half the size of the original two game reserves, but are still nonetheless, “large maps.” How do you decide on the different facts and landmarks to include? I assume they’re mostly based on history or with a realistic component in mind?
SK: We are heavily influenced by the real world, but it’s important to note that the world in theHunter games is fictional and not a direct copy from a real place. However, landmarks, specific materials, buildings and more contribute a lot to how we create a believable video game world. We still want people to be able to tell which part of the world they are hunting in.
K: With the newest DLC Map, Te Awaroa, why did you choose New Zealand for the location, and what were some of the challenges of bringing this particular location to life?
SK: Like with many of our decisions, it was based on community feedback and what we wanted to do as a team. With that in mind, it came quite natural to us. I think one of the challenges we have is that we don’t always have a team member from a specific part of the world to help guide us, which means that we have to do our best to recreate a feeling based on visual and auditory senses.
We did have a team member from New Zealand contribute a lot in this particular case, but even then, nailing down the sensation of feeling that you’re there for real is challenging. This is something we face with every reserve we make.
K: Finally, is there anything else you would like players to know about Te Awaroa or what can they expect from the game in 2021 or other years to come?
SK: I just really hope our players keep on enjoying the game and explore all parts of the maps and lodges. There’s a lot of nice things to see! As for what’s coming in 2021, we’re keeping that a secret for now, but rest assured we have a lot of things planned that we can’t wait to share with everyone.
Note: theHunter: Call of the Wild’s newest DLC map, Te Awaora, is being released on XB1 today, February 9, 2021. The PS4 version of the DLC map will be released Wednesday, February 17, 2021, per the game’s Twitter account. theHunter: Call of the Wild is available on PS4, XB1, and PC.