If you thought about Crytek in the last few years, the phrases "Crysis," "CryEngine," or "Amazon Lumberyard" probably popped into your mind. The German developer-publisher has mostly been known for developing games and technology with the word "cry" in their names, so without that branding on their products their games might have slipped out of your view.
They certainly did for me, although that changed when I checked the numbers of Crytek's latest game, Hunt: Showdown. It's a PvPvE game with over 94,000 reviews, currently rated at "very positive." For the last four years, Crytek has poured a lot of love and work into this monster-hunting multiplayer shooter, and it's paid off well for them.
The core mechanics of Hunt: Showdown involve teams of hunters tracking, stalking, and killing monsters in the Louisiana Bayou—but you're not the only group on the hunt. Rival hunting teams are trying to kill the beast, and they (or the creatures) might do you in.
We checked in with the team at Crytek to learn how the company has adapted to a games-as-service model, and what it's done to keep player interest high over four years. Interim game director Fatih Özbayram, lead game designer Dennis Schwarz, and technical director Sebastien Laurent shared lessons about working with community feedback over a long period of time.
Game Developer: In four years of live game development, what has the team’s strategy been for ingesting and implementing community feedback?
Özbayram: We were using a service in the days of Early Access to provide a central hub for feedback and suggestions. Nowadays we use a combination of communication tools provided by the platforms our game is released on, plus we monitor feedback on social media, engage with our community via Discord.
Last but not least we have local community representatives for our major communities to have a direct line when it comes to communication. In other words, we started with one channel and now use data coming from various channels to create a sentiment which we review and evaluate on a frequent basis.
Many developers I speak with talk about how players are good at identifying what feels good or bad in a game, but terrible at conceiving fixes/ideas. How has Crytek navigated that contradiction when implementing player feedback?
Schwarz: Players are our most valuable source of research in terms of identifying what feels good and bad about the game. Since we are making the game for them, and because they test the game on such a massive scale, they will always see things we don't.
Our Community Managers speak with our community every day. They are making sure that we can translate the feedback from the community into workable ideas. Of course not everything is possible, and that’s something we discuss with the community as well. They act as a bridge between the development team and the community, and communication goes both ways to help the community understand what we can and cannot do, but also to translate their feedback into ideas we can actively work with.
Community feedback is not our only source. Everything will always be validated with data, and in many cases data is our starting point for development. That’s because community feedback comes from a certain subset of the community and data comes from all members of the community.Going a bit broader, to the process of updating a live game for four years—what do you think your team is doing right in not creating content bloat? How do you make sure that Hunt: Showdown continues to be accessible to newer players?
Özbayram: On the one hand we use data to evaluate our approach and streamline our development. For example, data helps to identify how players engage with our game, and possible pitfalls they experience. On the other hand we monitor closely what our community says about our game -- be it on forums or in reviews as stated previously.
Now the truth is you cannot make everyone happy nor make the game accessible equally to everyone. However the goal is to give every new user a smooth start into the experience. In late 2018 we introduced the so-called "Trainee Mode" that serves as a "protection" up to a certain rank.
While in advanced ranks you permanently lose your Hunter equipment when you die, but in Trainee Mode you keep it all. Our game is a multiplayer PvP game that throws PvE into the mix. While you can help new players onboard with the PvE with a tutorial, things are more tricky when it comes to PvP as it is all skill-based and there is no formula you can apply to have new players succeed. However, we recommend our community to study the AI cast, the world, etc. and use this to their advantage in PvP moments.
Basically, the more you know about the world and the PvE side of things the more likely it is that you will be prepared for heated moments that combine both – PvPvE.
Live games that manage to last for several years also must adapt to the challenges of working with older tech. Four years feels about like when these problems would start to manifest—how has the team grappled with this particular challenge?
Laurent: It's a very good point. We definitely want to keep Hunt visually relevant over the years. Moreover, newer platforms offer features that often require in-depth changes to leverage them fully (for instance raytracing or vendor-specific streaming/loading APIs on the new generation of consoles). Implementing these changes can introduce some stability issues which would be very detrimental to the service that an online game is.
Aside from these stability considerations, changing the visuals can also have an impact on the gameplay, which means they need particular attention in such a competitive title. Taking a concrete example, introducing a new Global Illumination technique could possibly make some areas brighter, giving an unfair advantage if that setting is made optional (or vice versa). The impact of having accurate reflections is even more obvious an advantage.
As a result, the only way to move forward with some of these new features would be to make them mandatory, potentially increasing the requirements on the player's machines. As you can imagine, it is not something that we should take lightly.
So all in all, we are considering what serves the player the best, we are implementing processes to ensure the maximum stability of our upcoming larger changes and we'll monitor closely the evolution of the hardware of our player base to see when we can afford to release such gameplay-impacting features without leaving some of our players behind.