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2013 - State Of The Inner Sphere


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#1 Russ Bullock

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Posted 16 December 2013 - 07:53 PM

2013 State of the Inner Sphere

The year 2013 has been a year of peaks and valleys as it pertains to MWO and PGI as a whole. Some of the peaks were the development and release of 12v12 which completely changed the feel of MWO and took the action to a completely new level. Other peaks were improvements to HSR, pregame and end of round screen improvements, our first tutorial implementation and even hotly contested features such as Heat Scale and 3rd Person camera when all combined showed a huge increases in player retention and conversion – were talking entire magnitudes of improvement. Culminating of course in an absolutely awesome launch event in San Francisco, in September.

When discussing valley’s it really outlines the incredible challenge it is in gaming and in particular with MechWarrior to satisfy your core customers while also trying to build a game that can grow beyond that core audience to create new players. Some of those same features are undesired by the core audience who see them as counter to what they want implemented into the game. Our biggest challenge there has been in explaining that many features and content are delivered by completely different members of the team then would work on for instance UI 2.0 and usually does not signify in any way a lack of focus or delay on major feature development.

In today’s 2013 summary I plan to provide more insight into staffing at Piranha, their various skill sets, the features they focus on, along with a feature road map that players can expect in the first half of 2014.

Commitment to the MechWarrior brand

There has been some circulating speculation on PGI’s commitment to the MechWarrior brand and whether we really plan to create large features like Community Warfare or if were just getting as much money out as possible while we can. That’s a tough thing to hear when you are as deep in love and committed as we have been to the game. We completely understand where the question comes from; almost 100% from not seeing large features like UI 2.0 and CW live yet.

As to commitment to the brand I have some news to share with the community that honestly we hadn’t decided yet on how or when we were going to announce it, so let me share it with you here now. On Nov 8th 2013 PGI and Microsoft finalized negotiations on an extension to PGI’s MechWarrior license. Whereas before our license ran out mid 2015 we are now ensured rights until mid-2018 and also if certain criteria is met will have until mid-2020 to continue to develop MechWarrior products including MWO. Needless to say this was something I had been working on for a very long time, Microsoft is very happy about how the MechWarrior brand is being re-invigorated with the new art work and gameplay advances. This extended license deal gives PGI many of the assurances we were looking for to justify continuing to spend large amounts of development funds on the game, we know we now have the runway to make the investment logical.

Feature Delivery

I think everyone’s mind logically shifts at this point to “Okay what is the clear and honest update on the state of development and expected delivery of major features such as UI 2.0 and Community Warfare.”

First let’s discuss staffing and give you a little more insight into the effort going into MWO each and every month. This past year Piranha has averaged mid 50’s in employees with 45 full time developers that spend their entire day working on MWO content and features.

Development team:

- There is around 20 total staff working on content from maps, to `Mechs including hero, champion as well as skins and cockpit items. Remember all these staff do not contribute to features like CW and UI 2.0 they also do not drain away from those efforts
- 7 staff under production, developer support (internal QA), marketing and community management.
- This leaves 18 staff, all engineers to work on both live ops and feature development. And right there lies the key, if these 18 engineers could focus solely on feature development things would move much faster but these people have to also manage the live ops so there is always a constant stream of work involved to keep the game running smoothly, rollout patches, update the Patcher/Launcher, database management and other MWO tools. So the end result is you are only getting a fluctuating amount of full time effort from some portion of those 18 engineers to make the forward progress.

With that extra exposure into the staffing actively working on MWO lets now discuss our current rollout plans for features on MWO.

The plan for patches every two weeks is not going to change but I am not going to list off every patch below only the estimated patch where we expect a major feature to be released.

Final comment on staffing: People have noticed that we have been hiring lately and have speculated that perhaps were replacing people that are leaving Piranha. This is not the case at all; in fact we have not lost more than 1-2 staff to other opportunities in the past year which represents an extremely low amount of turnover compared to industry standards. It’s a very simple explanation that PGI is growing to accommodate more development capacity and nothing more.

Roadmap

Dec 17th – This patch you’re quite familiar with but it’s a pretty good one and the best in a while. New Skirmish game mode, release of Sabre `Mechs and the release of the Moon map HPG Manifold. I hope this will give players some interest during the holiday break.

Jan 21st – Cockpit Glass.

Feb 4th – UI 2.0 released. It will be a complete rework of the existing UI along with some new screens with the store and some others. A lot of feedback has been implemented to improve MechLab and future releases will include a lot of user feedback integration. Overall UI 2.0 on February 4th is an absolutely MASSIVE feature release, bigger than anything to date. I don’t say that purely based on functionality that UI 2.0 will introduce to MWO. The reason it is considered in my mind the biggest feature release to date is because of the bottlenecks it removes. Everything relied on its release and back end architecture to build off of.

Feb 4th – Tier 1 weapon modules – Further explanation forthcoming in a Command Chair post later this week.

Feb 4th – Assault mode refresh/improvements – Includes new Base model to replace the resource collector for a Forward Operating Base truck with the additions of turrets. Helps differentiate it from other modes like Conquest.

March 4th – DX11 – it has been complete essentially since the last Public test but we have waited to get the Christmas break and UI 2.0 behind us before releasing. Some further exploration into FPS concerns before release. It is possible upon release some will use DX 11 where others will stick with DX9 for frame rate concerns while we continue to optimize it.

March 18th – Achievement System.

April 1-April 15th – Launch Module – in depth description already in a command chair post.

June 17th – Clan Invasion.

First off the list above again does not even come close to discussing all of the content and features that will be released between now and the Clan injection June 17th 2014 but I think it mentions all of the features that you really care about. Next you can see that Feb 4th has a significant amount of content and you can begin to see how items were piling up behind UI 2.0 and will start to flood out at a much faster pace.

Next we should discuss a refresher on what Community Warfare really means, it has evolved to mean a lot of things, but for most it boils down into being able to compete directly with other units for possession of territory. This roadmap just shared with you does incorporate a significant amount of Community Warfare functionality in systems like UI 2.0, achievements, and the launch module. This will allow players to have any size groups 2-12 which are completely balanced via weight tonnage limits; including clan mechs balanced via both weapon design and tonnage restrictions. Players will also have the lobby like system and of course private matches allowing the first major layer of Community Warfare and competitive play. For many merc units out there in MWO land this is significant news that by the month of April they will be able to have competitive play with other merc units. We have prepared a new web tracker for Community Warfare here – www.mwomercs.com/theplan. You can see the approximate completion level of each of the major features within. More features may be added over time as we discover additional content needs.

The only items really remaining from the Community Warfare pillar are two items, although pretty big ones. They are what we can call “Association” which is further connecting factions and the idea of Loyalty points and “Inner Sphere Planetary Conquest” which of course is competing over territory. I have not listed off dates for these systems because we don’t have as precise of estimates quite yet. But we can for the first time based on the January-April development schedule provide a more accurate estimation then we have in the past. Below are some conservative estimates of the remaining Community Warfare features that I think we can probably beat.

Conservative Estimates:
- Association: July-Aug
- Planetary Conquest: Sept-Oct

Confidence is very high that worst case scenario is the completion of the entire Community Warfare feature set as we currently understand it by Early to Mid-fall.

I imagine of course this is not all great news, ideally you want these features, all of them, much sooner. The difference is, this time they are based upon the UI 2.0 bottleneck which was responsible for at least 80% of all schedule slips in 2013 being removed by Feb 4th.
Of course you may very well still be in a position where you don’t believe the estimates or are unwilling to believe until some more of these dates are achieved and you have the features in your hands. That is completely fair and at Piranha we are just going to be focused on delivering and earning your patronage back into MWO as soon as possible.

Clan Packages

A few quick points on the clan packages in regards to content and pricing concerns people have been voicing. First we need to remind everyone that MWO is committed to never being a P2W product and this new clan program does not violate that commitment. Everyone of course will be able to purchase each of these `Mechs for in game currency of C-Bills making them of Free to all who have put in the play time to earn the in-game currency. Love the Mad Cat and don’t want to spend a single penny?, no problem you can of course do that in MWO. As to the exact timing of the C-Bill versions post June 17th I do not have those answer yet although I am sure they are forthcoming soon.

Next on the subject of the Gold `Mechs, obviously they have caused a fair bit of a stir. These are for the hard core collector who wants something that will live on forever as being extremely rare. It’s purely a collector’s item and we are certainly not the first game to try something like this. If the idea seems ridiculous to you, essentially you can ignore them entirely, they will have no bearing on gameplay, other than be extremely cool. In the world of free-to-play, the people who spend more are picking up the tab for those who spend nothing. Their contribution should be appreciated by the other players, rather than invoke friendly fire as some people have suggested. They really should not offend you the world is full of avid collectors, everyone reading this knows somebody with a $20,000 collection of Magic the gathering cards and single cards worth huge amounts.

As to the general pricing of the Clan packages I think we tried pretty hard to make these packages of very similar value to both the founders and Phoenix packages. In particular I think the Phoenix packages were perceived to be of high value and if we compare directly to them the summary would look something like this:

Let’s assume the extra rewards like premium time equal each other out although Bryan Ekman mentioned that there are aspects of the rewards for Clans that are not defined yet like the group benefits that might boost the value of the Clan packages further. However if we assume the extra rewards are equivalent to the Phoenix packages it really comes down to the `Mechs. In each case you get the two free variants to go along with the Prime variants making an overlord package $80 or $20 per prime variant. With the Clan packages you are paying what equates to $30 per prime variant. But remember our pricing of MC in MWO has a relationship between MC and CB costs. Clan Technology is significantly more expensive, and is reflected in the package pricing. I think though that less people are concerned about the per `Mech math and see the logic involved, but are more concerned about the lack of a la cart options or more ways to pick and choose the money you wish to spend. This is something that were currently investigating, no promises at this point on what if any changes we will be making but I can tell you we will be listening to all polite feedback for creative ideas for changes to the package structure.

I hope this information helps everyone in one way or another. If I want you to take anything away from this email it would be that if we reflect we realize that a hell of a lot of good things also happened in 2013 for MWO and MechWarrior is truly back and growing day by day. Also Piranha is every bit as committed to MWO today as we were 2 years ago. Bright days are just ahead of us and Feb-April is going to see a massive amount of content released and you will really feel the momentum leading into summer and early fall for the completion of all known major MWO features. I hope we can have another party in the fall of 2014 and call it a re-launch or perhaps the launch of MWO 2.0 and see you all there.

Happy Holidays

Russ Bullock
President, Piranha Games Inc.

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