During an E3 special of the Forza Monthly broadcast show live from Los Angeles, CA, Turn 10’s Dan Greenwalt, the Creative Director of the Forza franchise joined Community Manager Brian Ekberg to discuss the future of the automotive video game racing series and its ambition of “player-centric design.”
For Greenawalt and his team, Forza isn’t just about products, but rather about communities and building products with those communities. It’s the biggest investment developer Turn 10 Studios is making when it comes to its next installment into the Forza Motorsport franchise, which is currently in its conceptual phase. With Forza, Greenwalt wants to bring together the automotive and gaming communities, both of which he described as “outstanding.”
“Forza is in a great position to build communities that bring cars into the next decade,” he said, noting that Forza Horizon 4, the latest installment into the shared open-world racing game series from British developer Playground Games, has now surpassed 10 million players globally across Xbox One and Windows 10 PC. “Community is how we’ll change our products,” Greenawalt mentions, echoing a “player-centric design” for the future of the franchise. One example he gave was the new anti-griefing system implemented into Forza Horizon 4 with the Series 9 Update. Another was the staggering number of updates released for Forza Motorsport 7 since its release, which exceeds 30.
Greenawalt calls this “responsive design,” by reacting to the needs of a myriad of communities and listening to their emotions and motivations rather than specific requests. With Forza Motorsport, the first entry into the franchise, the developer didn’t have a date to ship, not did they have a full team, but there was a lot of consumer touch. Those same aspects apply today. Turn 10 Studios doesn’t have a timeline on when it will ship its next game. It has also actively expanded its team, including talent who has worked on blockbuster games like Red Dead Redemption 2, Grand Theft Auto V, Assassin’s Creed, Madden and Star Wars Battlefront. Turn 10 is also using the opportunity to bring players into the studio, interviewing them for their feedback, ideas and suggestions.
With Forza, Turn 10 wants to build the “next generation of car lovers.” Its been using Forza Motorsport 7 as a test bed for features that it wants in its games moving forward, including those like Forza Race Regulations and Experimental Drag. The genre-defining penalty system scales very well into esports, allowing Turn 10 to better adjudicate races on a much faster level instead of relying on manual reviews. It also trains players, enabling them to move up in skill level and overall racing craft. In the case of dirty drivers, it’s important that they aren’t removed from the game, but rather separated from those who wish to race competitively and with professionalism.
Turn 10 has made several changes to its development approach since the release of Forza Motorsport 7. Teams have been recognized, with areas like UI, gameplay and multiplayer now organized into feature teams that focus on a specific set of players, an initiative that sees teams building and iterating new features with a community. Whilst some members of Turn 10 Studios remain focused on updating the ambitious Forza Race Regulations adjudication system in Forza Motorsport 7, which is currently in active beta, the weight of the team has shifted onto the next project. As teams have reorganized, they’ve moved onto this future installment into the Forza Motorsport franchise.
Over the last year, Turn 10 has reworked its tools and development pipeline, and now it’s in the creative space of the process. That means concept and pre-production, with a player-first mantra being taken towards how the team builds the game. Greenawalt wants the player at the centre of everything the developer does, he calls it “player empathy,” describing it as “empathy for each other at the studio, thinking of everyone as players first, falling in love with everything we do, bringing players in – showing them a great space.”
Greenawalt also spoke about the feature iteration process being used at Turn 10 Studios. The team works on something overtime and integrates it at the end of a sprint before testing it. Then it becomes a unit, a feature to work on. It’s iterated upon as feedback comes in. If its not good, it gets ditched, but if it’s good, the idea is expanded upon, and perhaps some cool new ideas will also be discovered in the process. It’s how the developer aims to build a community with a player-first approach, but as noted already, it’s still early days for this process and the team aren’t ready to begin integrating any timelines into the procedure just yet.
Looking back at Forza Motorsport 3, which released in 2009, it was crucial that Turn 10 Studios had a date, called it well in advance of its release and successfully hit it. Both Forza Motorsport and Forza Motorsport 2 slipped off their original planned release dates, which was “very hard” for the team. But Forza Motorsport 3 had the process to call the release date and hit it. This same formula was used throughout each entry since then, but for the successor to Forza Motorsport 7, the developer will pick their date when the features are ready. Turn 10 wants to “design the fun” of this game with their players, and once they’ve found it – “something to take us into the next 10 years,” as Greenawalt describes it, the team will then enter production and figure out its landmark date.
Greenawalt also spoke about sectioning groups of the community into “cohorts” as one of its “many exciting ideas” for approaching this new game. It’s looking at various clusters of players and their motivations for playing Forza, as well as other games. Some of these groups exist already in the Forza community, and they’re oftentimes the easiest to reach, but Turn 10 still aims to get to them in new ways. Whether it’s through user research surveys, interviews or in-studio feedback sessions. Some of these communities are in the world of motorsports, others in the broader gaming landscape, including hardcore folks who are into competition. “Can we attract an esports pro into competitive racing?” It’s a question asked by Greenawalt, who aims to bring in competitive gaming teams from other genres into the Forza Racing Championship, which is Microsoft’s official esports series played on the Forza Motorsport franchise.
Another example of iteration mentioned by Greenawalt includes this, say you do three days of work, then you put down the pencils, play it and give feedback. Then this cycle is continuously repeated and iterated upon. “You have to iterate, have to find that fun – it’s not a mining process,” he says. With Turn 10 continuing to grow physically, there’s more excitement and passion than ever before for the team. Part of that also comes from the new Project Scarlett console hardware that was announced by Microsoft during its Xbox E3 2019 Briefing. “Scarlett is part of a suite of things coming out of Xbox that are great for our vision to shape the future of automotive entertainment,” Greenawalt said.
xCloud is another of those innovations which opens a lot of doors for the Forza franchise, including both Motorsport and Horizon. The latter also benefited massively from Xbox Game Pass with its latest installment having launched day-and-date on the monthly subscription service and since surpassing 10 million players. “It’s an incredible time to be a racing gamer and developer,” Greenawalt notes, before adding that Scarlett will be at the heart of everything it does. “Scarlett is so powerful, we’ve been involved in it for such a long time,” he says. The minimum spec of Turn 10’s highly-robust and expansive ForzaTech engine also continues to be lowered, allowing the game to always reach new players and make the most of the hardware it’s being played on.
Greenawalt puts it quite simply. Turn 10 are “building a franchise that can be played by anyone, everywhere, wherever they want – it’s really how we’re looking at it.” He wants to bring these automotive gaming experiences to as many people as possible. Whether it’s through real-time rendering of uncompressed 4K pixels, as seen in Forza Motorsport 7 and Forza Horizon 4, or through an on-the-go experience like Forza Street. Historically, Turn 10 has always been a very secretive studio located within the heart of Xbox and involved in a lot of the technology happening within Microsoft’s gaming division. But now, it’s changing for the new world by being open to the community and building the game with them.
Greenawalt has been at Turn 10 Studios since the very beginning. He’s overseen the launch of every installment into the Forza franchise. He’s been at Microsoft for the Original Xbox, the Xbox 360, Kinect, Xbox One, Xbox One X and now Project Scarlett. Today he’s more fired up about his career and coming into work everyday than ever before because of that touch with fans. “It’s cool,” as he says. Whilst Turn 10 remains hard at work on its next installment into the Forza Motorsport franchise, the team still had a brand-new experience to showcase at E3 – its LEGO Speed Champions expansion for Forza Horizon 4 developed by Playground Games, yet another testament to the overall appeal, reach and success of the Forza franchise, as well as Greenawalt’s ambition of bringing communities together.
Alan is the co-founder and co-owner of FullThrottle Media. As someone who enjoys spending all his free time playing video games, he delivers the latest in news stories, reviews, and feature articles to the website, as well as videos on his YouTube channel and livestreams over on Mixer.