The Nanifesto – being both indie and AAA
The last few years have brought a lot of change to the games industry. Much of that change has been fantastic, while other changes have been examples of companies not handling disruptive innovation. We see AAA teams comprising of hundreds of developers, and we have indie teams with only one or two people. This is about how there is an emerging pragmatic and practical segment in the industry between AAA and indie, and that it is starting to show an impressive pedigree of titles.
Behaviour is no exception to the disruption: traditionally a work-for-hire studio that has worked on many titles for others, both indie and AAA, most of them still secret but ranging in top console titles like Shadows of Mordor. Now we’re starting to make our own games, our way, building on our 20 years of experience of delivering quality, on-time, and on budget. This is no bloated exaggeration. If you know how hard the work-for-hire industry is, you’ll know just surviving 20 years is a mark of achievement.
We like mentioning it though. It’s important to be proud of what you do and it brings us to the next step for us as a company to (re)take the steps in making our own games and fill a gap that is somewhere between indie and AAA.
In fact, you can think of it as a mix of the values of both. The indie transparency and freedom mixed with the production quality of AAA – while having a scope which doesn’t require 100s of people to achieve.
The Eternal Crusade of a Warhammer 40,000 Massive Online Shooter
Eternal Crusade is the first of such games for Behaviour and it has a long history already, having been incubated for more than 3 years by rabid Warhammer 40,000 fans with massive aspirations. We certainly haven’t abandoned our aspirations, but how games are made has changed drastically.
Multi-hundred people teams trying evolutionary steps rather than revolutionary are becoming obsolete and carry too much risk in time, resources and investment. Small agile teams, which involve their customers in the direction and development of their games has shown itself to be a new way forward as they can respond early if they are going the wrong way instead of when they ship the game. Is this a universal blanket approach? Not at all, but it seems more pragmatic looking at the last two years.
With this in mind, we drastically reigned in the scope for Eternal Crusade at the beginning of 2015 to decrease risk and make a successful launch feasible within this decade. We also switched to Unreal Engine 4 in the middle of the race along with other middleware. This reflects a mindset of not being afraid to adopt middleware, and resisting the urge of trying to do everything yourself, of focusing on creating value for the customer instead of re-implementing physics-based rendering … again. Why not have a 100-person engine company take care of that for you?
You launched how often again?
Our story is heavily influenced by this gameplay-focus mindset, having essentially launched the game twice already.
First we launched a Founders program, during which we had the core “shooter” element of the “massive online shooter”. That’s been running 24/7 since last summer with 25,000 people; and it continues to evolve with more classes, weapons, tuning balancing and finding the real fun for the shooter component. Our surveys, focus groups and interactions with the Founders have been crucial in finding the fun. Shooter no fun? No point making it massive... it’s that simple.
So we took the next practical step: having already chosen a state-of-the art engine, we started using the massive developer framework of Steamworks – launching on Steam Early Access and grandfathering the Founders Program. The reception, with a high approval rating, and with the help of our friends spreading the word-of-mouth all over the internet warmed our hearts. And we attribute that to the way we’re making games and involving our customers. It was our second launch and now the third is coming, adding the “Massive Online” parts, before the fourth which is consoles.
How is that different from other Founder or Early Access programs?
It’s that mindset again, where you are involving your customers in the development process and direction of the game, responding to change and delivering that change to the customer on a regular basis. Iterate and patch often, fail early, correct your direction early. We made up a bit of a joke and called it the Nanifesto (because the authors have “N” in their names and we’re known to not take ourselves too seriously). The fact that one is a Viking and brings an axe to work might also have something to with the motivation to write this article.
New stuff is continuously added in updates that are large and small, hotfixes to major patches. Our highest rate was three times a week (including server hotfixes). But we’re at a new point now: adding the “massive” elements to our “shooter”, the progression, personalized loadouts with 1000s of weapons, accessories, items and visual customizations.
We’re taking it from just being a basic lobby-shooter which was the proof of concept, to find fun in the shooter, to characters with deep RPG elements, multi-faction territory conquest in a persistent world and the social element of joining a match as a War Party to bring carnage to the world of Arkhona.
We’re adding four playable factions which is something that has never been done before in a Warhammer 40,000 shooter. Space Marines and Chaos Space Marines are already in, with the Eldar being added currently and finally the massive Orks soon after. If that doesn’t spell annihilation and apocalypse, we don’t know what does. Prioritization is all affected by feedback. We look back often, re-order what to do, ask and listen. They want factions. We bring factions.
You have some examples of you listening?
20vs20 matches in what we call Outposts. It allowed us to bring the shooter to the players much sooner before adding the next layer, the real persistent universe with tens or hundreds of thousands of players battling for your faction in territorial conquest. We’re up with new game modes, new maps and approaching 80 player battles on maps internally iterated on based on data and player feedback. We mean it when we say apocalyptic: Big battles which are fun. Will it work? Our players and data will soon tell us.
Whether Planetside 2, Destiny, Defiance, Crossfire or Battlefield comes to mind after reading this, you’re right in all cases. We, as many other games, are a hybrid chasing our own idea of fun. We think Massive Online Shooter describes that well. As an online game, we plan to have free expansions every 3 months post launch to bring people back without having to “pay to not play with your friends”.
In addition, a ‘no pay2win’ in-game store is present, as the best gear is always only available through play. Our strategy is that what we have in the store is something players really really really want but don’t ever need. Like real life. And that’s how our players like it.
Players can join us in Early Access now for $40 USD and don’t have to spend a dime more ever. Although we would really, really appreciate it if people did because we’d like money for food on the table. That mindset again: it’s not paying to test our game, it’s not paying for half a game... it’s paying for the entire game as well as being part of its development and direction for the next 10 years.
Over the next months you’ll see Eternal Crusade continue to evolve as a massive online shooter during Early Access until its launch in summer 2016 (yes yes, according to conspiracies that probably means September 29th) on PC, XBOX ONE and PS 4.
Will we follow the Nanifesto to the letter? Not a chance.
It is however a great tool to remind everyone of our principles and why we strive to achieve them. If you don’t have one, feel free to use this one for laughs but also see the grain of truth in them and we believe the more of them we get right, the higher the chance of us making a fun game.
And remember, fun might actually translate to financial success as well.