Community Update #6: Introducing Playlists
August 20, 2019
Hey everyone, my name is Michael Tsarouhas. I am the lead game designer on Insurgency: Sandstorm. Today we’re gonna talk about the brand new “Playlist System” coming in our next update. This system will overhaul the official matchmaking experience in some pretty substantial ways, and while it offers a lot of new opportunities, it will also be a shift in what players have grown accustomed to when it comes to finding a match. We feel it’s important that we are transparent with our community in regards to why we’re making these changes, what these new changes will mean, and what to expect in the future as a result of these changes. You can try the new playlist system tomorrow on our Community Test Environment. Just go to your Steam Library if you own Insurgency: Sandstorm and look for “Insurgency: Sandstorm Community Test Environment,” and download it to play. Also included on the CTE is our new map Hillside (a remake of Insurgency 2014’s Sinjar,) Frontline mode, Galil weapons for the Gunner class, and more.
Why the change?
When we first launched Insurgency: Sandstorm, our intention was to allow for a quick and easy official matchmaking system that would allow you to find the exact game mode or modes of your choice. However, as we continued to develop and add new content for Sandstorm post-release and heard community feedback, we found out there was a bigger appetite for new game modes than we expected. Players wanted something fresh aside from just new weapons, maps, and cosmetics, not to mention a compelling reason to keep coming back to play aside from whenever there was a big update every few months.
This presented a challenge to us, because realistically speaking, we couldn’t have our community be split between a dozen different game modes, and we couldn’t deliver content any faster than we already were. We didn’t want a situation where players are stuck in queues trying to find a match because everyone is split between a number of different game modes, especially in low population regions or during non-peak hours. But we also of course didn’t want players to be leaving because there was nothing cool and new to check out outside of big game updates. Having more game modes available and being added more frequently would put a pretty significant strain on us, requiring a lot more resources and expenses on our end to ensure servers are always available for every mode and ensuring that those new game modes are fun to begin with.
One of the ways we tried to address this is with the Arcade, which has so far featured Team Deathmatch and Frenzy Checkpoint game modes. The intention was to rotate through these Arcade game modes and keep creating new ones, with all of them always being available on community servers when they went away from the Play menu as Team Deathmatch did. However, unique Arcade modes proved to take a significant amount of resources and development time. We reached a point where we couldn’t continue making dedicated game modes like these that offer totally unique experiences so consistently and easily with all the other content we have planned for 2019 and beyond.
This brings us to our creation of the playlist system. With playlists, we can add and rotate through unique content very rapidly, even on a bi-weekly basis. We can keep players from being split up, but also keep them well-fed and interested. We can have an avenue for adding fresh new content, and better take into account player feedback in how we iterate on and add that content.
So how do things work now?
For the most part, pretty much as they always had, but with a better presentation (especially for new players,) a few limitations, and a whole lot more possibilities. The Play menu now looks like this:
First, you can see Community Servers have been given their own dedicated button to improve visibility for those who want a community experience. Second, you can see there’s no longer a “Match Preferences” button at the bottom right. This has been changed to “Region Preferences” which works as it did before where you can select one or multiple regions. Now, you choose your preferences of a match within a Play section itself.
Let’s say I want to play a Versus match. I click on the Versus button, and then I see this:
Now I can see the available Versus “playlists”: Ground Battle, Point Capture, and a limited time playlist called Hardcore Ground Battle (but more on that later). Each one of these playlists may have multiple game modes within it. The Ground Battle playlist will feature both Push mode and the upcoming Frontline mode, and is focused on high intensity action with centralized linear objective combat. Point Capture on the other hand features Firefight and Skirmish modes, with some Skirmish layouts by the way being adjusted to a smaller scale due to community feedback. These two Point Capture modes focus on decentralized objective combat, giving players more choice in how they navigate the map and providing a greater depth of strategy depending on which point is approached for capture or defense. Every playlist has a set of “Features” which includes the game modes it contains as well as any other changes to general gameplay (i.e. the “Limited Equipment” of Hardcore Checkpoint). These are accessed and explained in detail with F2 and then cycled through in separate modal popup menus.
When I click “Find Match” with Ground Battle selected, it will put me into a Ground Battle match on either a Frontline or Push map scenario. In this system, I can’t choose between which of the two modes I want to play right off the bat. However, once that match is over, instead of being kicked back all the way to the main menu, I can vote for exactly what mode and even map I want to play next.
Much of our community asked for a map voting feature in official matchmaking after the match ends. This is going to be an important part of the playlist system. You can see the only available map scenarios are Push and Frontline ones, as this is a Ground Battle match and those are the only modes available in the Ground Battle playlist.
The idea here is to group similar game modes together so that new players have a better understanding of what they’re getting into, and that all players can have some gameplay variety while still being able to direct their own experience through map voting. We understand that there is a loss in a system like this where a player can, for example, no longer queue up specifically to play a Push mode match and play Push mode only. But again, as stated above, we feel like this is the best solution to allow ourselves to add more game mode content to the game without putting a huge strain on our own resources and not splitting up the playerbase. New game modes can have their own dedicated new playlists or be placed into existing ones, and players can vote as they want at the end of every match to play whatever mode they want within their current playlist. And remember, as always, there are community servers with XP gain which can host whatever it is they want, now even more visible in the Play menu right beside Competitive.
One of the biggest advantages of this system is that it allows for a constant flow of new game content not just in terms of upcoming new official modes like Frontline, Outpost, or VIP escort, but other modes as well. These are added and represented through rotating “limited time playlists,” which are essentially an iteration on the Arcade system. In the concept below you can see Hardcore Ground Battle is a limited time playlist, indicated by its hourglass icon.
Playlists like these will typically only last for two weeks at a time, and will usually be derivative of an existing playlist or game mode. Most will utilize our new “mutator system”, which can modify gameplay conditions like movement speed, supply points, loadouts, health, ADS time, gravity, and more. There are a ton of possibilities here, everything from Headshots Only Team Deathmatch to Headshots Only Team Deathmatch with 100 supply points to Checkpoint with 1 supply point at the start and supply gain by player score to Firefight where everyone drops a live frag grenade when they die.
In this particular example above, as promised in our 2019 roadmap, Hardcore Ground Battle features Push and Frontline with the movement speed of Hardcore Checkpoint, but without any of that brutal equipment loss or limited supply crates. If well received, this kind of playlist could potentially become a permanent one. However, we need to take into account server costs and player population whenever making a decision such as that. It’s important to mention again that these modes, mutators, or limited time playlists can be hosted on community servers in whatever way players want. The community server browser has had a mutator filter added to make the process of finding those kinds of games easier. Limited time playlists will also feature new content after an update, so you no longer have to just sit around in queue with your fingers crossed hoping to play a new map like Ministry. Right now we plan for update 1.4 to launch with limited time playlists dedicated to our new map Hillside on all Versus modes, another for Hillside on all Co-op modes, and a third for our new game mode Frontline exclusively.
The Co-op menu is getting the same treatment. Here the official playlists offered will be Normal, Hardcore, and Frenzy. When Outpost mode is added later this year, it will be added into each of these three playlists, so you’ll be able to play both Frenzy and Hardcore versions of Outpost in addition to Normal. Players will vote within a match whether they want the next map to be an Outpost or a Checkpoint one, and yes, as you can see in the playlist description for Hardcore Checkpoint, night maps will eventually be a part of this system too once they are added. Every playlist, be it Co-op, Versus, or Competitive, may feature both day and night, day only, or night only maps in its rotation and map pool. On playlists which support both day and night maps, players will vote if they want to switch to or away from a night map. We intend to include night maps in each of the three main Co-op playlists above, and have the occasional limited time night playlist in Versus as well, Versus and Competitive playlists being more focused on daytime play due to important balance considerations.
Co-op will see its own limited time playlist to feature Outpost once that update releases, and plenty of others as well to follow. Also rotating every two weeks, Co-op limited time playlists offer a ton of fun possibilities. In the example above you can see “Running in the 90s” which will feature more old school FPS play with locked free-aim, increased health, faster movement, and other mutators to help bring back those Quake and Half-Life feelings while still keeping things Insurgency. And if that’s not to your tastes, just wait a couple weeks, and see what we bring next.
We are keeping our ear to the ground in regards to player feedback regarding all of these playlists. If people want to see some mutators applied differently, or have an idea for a new playlist or mutator entirely, we’ll hear it and we’ll consider it. We want to try to keep one Versus and one Co-op playlist always active at any given time, most likely staggered so there’s a change in playlist every week. This will allow us to keep things fresh and interesting in between major content updates.
The Competitive menu will see improvements with the playlist system beyond the playlists themselves. The presentation is now much cleaner, so new players don’t need to read a single massive wall of text to get themselves acquainted. With playlists, we can apply mutators to normal Competitive Firefight, or create entirely new competitive versions of other game modes with their own dedicated ranking.
What will this mean for the future of Sandstorm?
The possibilities really are vast with the playlist system. Instead of waiting every two or three months to see new content, you’ll see it every week on the dot. We already are finalizing our schedule of playlists from now until the end of the year, I can tell you we already have a lot of unique playlists and mutators created and planned. They’ll put a fresh spin on gameplay you’d never expect but suddenly wish you had, just like Hardcore Checkpoint did for many players. We understand again that some players may miss the ability to choose to matchmake straight into a game of Skirmish, or straight into Checkpoint Security. However, this was a move that we feel we had to make out of respect for our long term free game mode content plans going into 2020, maintaining the original vision of the Arcade system, allowing us to add new game modes without splitting the community, keeping content coming outside of major updates and more frequently than every few months, and within what is most realistic internally from a server hosting cost and density-maximization perspective. Keep in mind that these limited time playlists and the mutator system are going to be content that is coming in addition to our other commitments for this year. They are not intended to replace new game modes or other forms of free content. We’re still committed to adding everything we showed off in the 2019 Roadmap and more.
If you have any feedback, please feel free to share. We’d especially love to hear your ideas for new limited time playlists you would like to see both with and without mutators applied. We hope you are as excited about this new system as we are, because at the end of the day what this really means is that Sandstorm is evolving. More new content will be hitting you faster and at a schedule you can plan around, and that’s including all the other free new maps, weapons, game modes, cosmetics, and more coming this year and into 2020.
Check out the Community Test Environment tomorrow by downloading “Insurgency: Sandstorm Community Test Environment” in your Steam Library to try out the playlist system, our new Hillside map, Frontline mode, new Galil weapons for Gunner classes, and more. And stay tuned on our social media below to keep up to date with our development, and get a first look at new game content.
Thanks for reading!