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

Do AAA teams still want to make multiplayer games?

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I believe if any person were to ask developers from Bungie, Treyarch, Coalition, 343, DICE or Respawn if they love making multiplayer game experiences the answer would be a PR canned “yes”. In other words we will see answers along the lines of “Of course! Our roots are multiplayer shooters” or “It’s in our blood to make multiplayer why should we stop now?”. All valid reasons, most of which lie in stakeholders at the executive level telling the studio head that multiplayer is where the money is, Battle Royale style gameplay is the new fad and we need to work out a long term formula to capitalize on that. Games are a business, and to run a business you need money. All of this makes sense. But does the team even care? Do they really want to make these games? I think many developers in these studios are fed up of multiplayer and maybe want to try something else.

I hear the exact opposite of the canned PR response from some of the coworkers I worked alongside at studios. Click To Tweet

So why would I say this out of the blue? The reason is that I hear the exact opposite of the canned PR response from some of the coworkers I worked alongside at studios. Some have reached a point where the development of the next iteration of multiplayer is more of a scientific process than a creative process. It has become muscle memory with tweaks instead of something built with creativity. To make any kind of title that has a positive impact on the growth of the genre, the company and the community there really should be balance of the two. What I am saying is that the skew with some developers in this case is too much on the scientific side, and I think it is reflected in the multiplayer games coming out today. The games are technically accurate but not really fun.

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It is not easy to try to shift a studio that is grounded in one type of genre, notably multiplayer, into something else. Most recently Guerilla games were able to break out of their Killzone mould and move to their incredibly successful and excellent Horizon Zero Dawn. From folks I know where at Guerilla and moved on to other projects they knew something else was brewing after Shadowfall. The process was difficult, building a new IP and pitching it to a publisher is quite stressful and takes a huge amount of effort. There is a never ending list of titles that were cancelled by developers who worked on multiplayer games. Most recently Clifford Bleszinski showed some amazing artwork on some titles some of which were PVE (player vs. player) based. Although Lawbreakers and Radical Heights were PVP focused games it seemed that initially PVE (player vs. environment) may have been an avenue that was being explored. Once again, developers who built their life on multiplayer style games, such as Unreal Tournament and Gears of War in this case, wanted to try a different approach.

The teams wanted to try something new, they wanted to break out of the mould they were known for and build something different that they themselves as developers and gamers wanted to play. Click To Tweet

This was not the only time something like this has happened. I have sat in pitches from AAA studios where Mass Effect style RPG’s, loot based PVE’s shooters and narrative driven action adventures, none of which were multiplayer focused, all of which were pitched by teams with multiplayer backgrounds. The teams wanted to try something new, they wanted to break out of the mould they were known for and build something different that they themselves as developers wanted to play. Unfortunately all these titles never came to fruition. The teams would find that their project was declined and return to what was originally given to them. Around this time is where you see an exodus of team members; some just not wanting to make that genre again, studio politics or just simply wanted to go on to making stuff they were passionate about in a different studio.

It is the teams that make the magic, the game is result of that magic. Click To Tweet

Without a doubt there is always a growing need for players to want PVP based games. With this in mind young teams that are in touch with these communities, play PVP games frequently and are hungry to make something enjoyable should be given opportunities to build these titles. However I also believe that the realm of PVE based experiences can lie with more mature teams who have proven their worth to the studio and be given the opportunity to build something that they themselves would love to play. A team that is genuinely passionate about a game with the backing of their investors stand a better chance of succeeding than one who is forced into something because of obligation.

Amazing teams are hard to come by and even harder to build. Too often you hear about a studio head sending an open letter or speaking in an interview about an “amazing team who are extremely passionate about what they do”. However, behind the scenes we notice that a large portion of them were contracted where the team is now broken into pieces and sent on their way. The contracts expire and that cohesion that made the title extraordinary in the first place no longer exists. It is the teams that make the magic, the game is result of that magic.

A team that is genuinely passionate about a game with the backing of their investors stand a better chance of succeeding than one who is forced into something because of obligation. Click To Tweet

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I think these teams should be given the chance to build something else, something they want, something they love to build and share with a new community. Building fresh, engaging and fun experiences is always something we want to create for communities. Just because a multiplayer title is successful we do not necessarily need to make a sequel. See if your team wants to make it first, see if they want to have that experience again. If they do then great, go for it. However, if the title is as successful as it was then more than likely they are burnt out. Give them a chance to explore new genres and ideas. Allow them to fail, allow them to see what sticks but most importantly allow them to grow beyond these boundaries of a single multiplayer franchise.

 

Twitter: @_shivadee