Futuremark Games Studio went against the grain when it updated is zero gravity FPS, Shattered Horizon, with a huge 'Moonrise' content update pack last month - for free.
The Moonrise update - which added four entire new levels to the game, along with a load of plot additions and gameplay tweaks - was crafted perhaps entirely in response to feedback from users and reviews. That's customer care right there.
In part one of our interview with the highly opinionated Futuremark CEO Jukka Mäkinen and producer Jaakko Haapasalo, we spoke about the developer's extreme response to constructive criticism and other hot topics in the PC gaming world - such as a certain iron-fist DRM system. And they had plenty to say about that...
Tell us how community feedback helped shape the Moonrise Pack, and a little on the most significant gameplay change/tweak brought about as a direct result of that feedback.
Jukka: Futuremark Games Studio is a small team, only 20 people. Gathering feedback from the community is a very important part of how we work. We ran a very successful closed beta for Shattered Horizon and after the beta ended we created a program called the Arconauts that would help us continue to get high quality feedback from players. One of the perks of Arconaut membership is early access to new content. Shortly after we announced the Moonrise content pack our Arconauts started helping us test the four new levels playing on private servers with a special development build of the game.
Jaakko: Testing began at a very early stage, what we call block geometry, where our designers have used basic shapes to rough out the structure of the levels. When the Arconauts first started playing the levels didn't have any textures or lighting effects, sounds were missing and things like collision and physics meshes were incomplete. Bugs and glitches were fairly easy to find but the main role for the Arconauts was helping to balance the levels, telling us which control points were too easy or too hard to capture and defend, which parts of the levels they enjoyed and why, whether one team had an advantage over the other and how the strategies for each levels changed with the amount of people playing.
Level design for zero gravity is a significant challenge and we made several changes based on player feedback. We broke the Deadeye dish in two for example to resolve gameplay issues with cover and movement. At one point we were thinking of letting go of the indoor spaces in Searchlight since they posed a major timetable challenge. But the feedback on the indoor sections was so positive that we finally decided to keep them in, get them finished and in the game no matter what.
We also put out major game update just before Moonrise, which included an addition vocally demanded by the players: voice chat. The specs features for that came almost word for word from the community, mainly through our support and feedback site where the discussion of favourite features was at times very passionate, but always useful.
Why did you choose to release Moonrise for free?
Jaakko: Short answer: because we said we would support Shattered Horizon with free content after the game launched. Now Moonrise is out we're already hard at work on the next content update which will also be free. For a longer answer, it has to do with how we view making multiplayer games. Launch time is not the end of the development effort, but rather the beginning of a fruitful relationship with the player community. We continue to sell Shattered Horizon, and we continue to develop Shattered Horizon. The result is a better game for our customers, and people are always willing to pay for true value.