Fortnite may improve our development cycles

So here we are talking about Fortnite again. It is definitely the point of discussion among investors and corporate executives of game studios for the past year, maybe longer. With the meteoric rise of Fortnite and Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) we see a slew of companies jumping to get a piece of this new game mode pie. On one hand we can’t blame them; Battle Royale has become such a rampant success and is so new that the time to experiment and cash in as an investor is right now. On the other hand we could be going about it all wrong. Maybe we should be learning about the turnaround of Fortnite content instead of trying to copy the game itself.

“Because of the size of the investment, each title feels too big to fail. It creates enormous pressure to manage these triple-A projects.” Click To Tweet

The volume and rate of these types of games show us something changing within the development realm. Teams are now required to be more agile than ever and be able to conceptualize and deploy an idea on the flip of a dime. This aspect of development is what I think we as developers are trying to figure out. We are now changing  the speed of design from a conceptualize, build, test and deploy system to accommodate the rising demand of the consumer based on their needs.

Shu Yoshida, president of Playstation Worldwide Studios, recently said in an interview that with some titles “Because of the size of the investment, each title feels too big to fail. It creates enormous pressure to manage these triple-A projects.” By using a system that is more along the lines of how Fortnite is created, risk has a chance of being mitigated. The entire project is not riding on a single production and release and there is opportunity to fix issues while still keeping a project alive and healthy if a delivery were to lapse in the public eye.

We are now changing the speed of our design of concept, build, test and deploy system to accommodate the rising demand of the consumer based on their needs. Click To Tweet

Looking back however, the signs were always there. Over the last five years we noticed declines in sales of the the traditional AAA titles that were once taking the industry by stormActivision started to show the waning demand for the beloved Call of Duty franchise (sell-in is not sales) since the turn of the console generation and Assassin’s Creed (AC) is no longer the monster title it used to be. It could also be due to the buggy release of the AC:Unity title or simply franchise fatigue but we may be seeing another reason; the consumer base for these grandiose style games may have shifted. It is not to say that the demand is not there, it most certainly is.

However the issue comes in when stakeholders begin to wonder why they aren’t seeing more profit on their investments year over year despite the incredible efforts put in by the developers. The traditional method of development is no longer working because the demand has changed. The most recent example is declining sales of Monster Hunter from Capcom. Not because of the game’s quality but because of the lack of consistent and regular content at the scale of games like Fortnite.

With Fortnite we are seeing the player base reaching the point of expectation regarding new content every few weeks. One week it’s Thanos ,the next it’s a shopping cart and then a jetpack. Most recently as of this article there are random events all of which have the player base extremely excited and hungry for even more additions to what was originally a two month project by Epic. What was once a survival horror game has evolved into the largest and most popular online game on the planet today. With Epic being able to read the potential competition, in this case PUBG, and flip an idea into something this successful has developers fighting tooth and nail to copy this formula and inject this game type into their own franchises.

To be able to conceptualize a story that will emotionally impact a player does take time, iteration on a grand scale and lots of failure. Click To Tweet

Does this mean that our traditional development methods are to be thrown into the wind? No, they still have validity and are very much used in single player based games. Single player games are going through a bit of a renaissance period now despite some public opinion. To be able to conceptualize a story that will emotionally impact a player does take time, iteration on a grand scale and lots of failure. With a single player story you get one chance to get it right and failure could mean the end of the project itself such as was the case with Mass Effect: Andromeda. However with such quick turnarounds on a multiplayer title with monthly or even bi-weekly updates, failure on such an update could only cause a temporary dip in playerbase and interest with enough data and knowledge by the team to understand how to resolve these issues in the future. In other words they get another chance.

This still leaves us open to many questions; How can we use this agile development process in other areas of game development? Can we take pieces of what makes a multiplayer like Fortnite work and inject it into something like God of War or Last of Us? Do we build a game with an episodic design similar to Telltale Games franchises but on a tighter timeline? If we do that how will we sell it? How will the player base react? This change can mean a monumental shift in strategy, development and process for a game company. The bigger the company the more difficult it would obviously be to shift to this methodology. Also, these companies have multiple projects already cooking in the oven that already have budgets, release dates and timelines all charging to the finish line using more traditional development systems. Changing this mid stride may lead to some terrible backlash, especially when the idea is not hashed out and fully accepted by the team or consumer base.

Changing this mid stride may lead to some terrible backlash, especially when the idea is not hashed out and fully accepted by the team or consumer base. Click To Tweet

So what does this all mean? Are we going to see changes right away? Of course not. It also means we probably have another year of “traditional” game design being seen in some of the games coming out for the rest of this year and into the next. Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Assassins Creed Odyssey, Darksiders 3 all fall into this traditional production system. These types are games follow decades of development methods that have worked time and time again. They are predominantly single player games with traditional expectations and some of us would not have it any other way. On the other hand if we want to keep making titles like this, both single and multiplayer, it would be a decent time to consider how to do so while mitigating the risk of failure. Yes, it will mean shaking up all the things we may have learned as developers and in some cases going back to the drawing board while looking like a junior in field where you are supposed to be a director. However, that is the fun of game development; always changing, always evolving. That’s why we are here aren’t we? Never a dull moment.

twitter: @_shivadee

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