State of Production #16
January 15, 2021
Hello everyone, my name is Tim Perreault and I’m the Production Director at New World Interactive. The team and I are all back at work after our much needed studio closure over the holidays. This SOP will be a bit of a deviation from prior updates. Instead of discussing ongoing and upcoming development, I am going to reflect back on 2020 both in terms of successes and failures, discuss some of the key learnings we’ve made from both of these, and look forward to what 2021 has in store for Insurgency: Sandstorm and all of us at NWI!
Key Points for State of Production #16
- 2020 In Review
- Lessons Learned
- Looking Forward
2020 In Review
2020 was not the year any of us expected. There were many challenges, successes, and failures. The running theme for the year at NWI was growth. Taken literally, the company grew significantly in size, hiring many key roles throughout the organization even creating entirely new departments, such as our Player Support group, as well as heavily expanding the size of other departments. The growth of the company also helped us mature the organization as a whole; both through the experienced individuals who joined us and what we learned from trying new things.
The year was marked by significant changes to our internal processes, both in terms of how we planned development for the year and how we executed on those plans. What that looked like was a plan to deliver four, evenly spaced releases over the course of the year. After our first release, we also decided that we wanted to include minor releases between major updates that would be more focused on quality of life and community driven changes. This process gave us a strong foundation to rely on as we navigated the various unexpected changes the year held for us.
Sandstorm itself went through a lot of growth in 2020. Some of the growth was evident to the players, updates such as Operation: Nightfall adding night maps with all the associated equipment, and four updates with maps, guns, and new equipment. Operation: Nightfall also heralded the arrival of cosmetic DLC, which is the first time we have done that at NW. The DLC offering turned out to be a successful addition to the game and the revenue helps keep development going.
While it may not be obvious to players, there were some significant changes made behind the scenes on a technical level. We have been developing back end tools and dashboards that help us manage Sandstorm in the live environment and development environment. This includes tools that give our community team the ability to control in-game messaging all the way to additional tools for our QA team. We’ve also started building out more automation in our pipeline, ranging from automated tests to automated deployments of our matchmaking services for testing new builds.
In the State of Production #11 we announced our acquisition by the Embracer Group as an independent studio operating under Saber Interactive. Since then our team has engaged more with Saber and we’ve started to experience the benefits of having access to greater resources. While it did take some time to get our pipelines setup, we now have a number of avenues of support from Saber with our development process and we will be able to continue building those over time.
While overall the year did show a lot of success, it was not without missteps and challenges. While undertaking a large, dedicated bug fixing and optimization sweep, we also undertook an engine upgrade which resulted in less time to spend on bugs and introduced a few new issues. We also ran into a number of design changes that didn’t end up having the intended impact we were looking for that eventually needed to be reversed.
The growth of the studio in size was a beneficial and a driving factor of our success in 2020; however, we did have a significant challenge early in the year, just before starting the majority of hiring, when the entire studio went fully remote. Onboarding new team members in a fully remote environment forced us to reflect on what the culture of our company is and how we can best share that spirit.
Finally, December 10th, 2020 marked the 10 year anniversary of New World Interactive. While circumstances prevented us from celebrating together in person. We are looking forward to our continuing development journey with Sandstorm in 2021. In particular, we continue to welcome your input and ideas, which we always consider in our planning; we’re fortunate to have a great gaming community and sincerely value all of your feedback. We all look forward to sharing the next 10 year with you.
Over the last year, we’ve learned some important lessons from our successes and mistakes. We’ll be applying these lessons to all our future development efforts. Here are some of the key lessons we learned:
- Our new approach to development is working. Throughout 2020, we implemented new processes that have now been proven successful in terms of keeping us in scope and on schedule. We’ll be continuing to refine our process over time, and we are confident moving forward in our ability to deliver on our roadmaps.
- Communication is key. In late 2019 and throughout 2020 we have been doing a monthly State of Production. In 2020 we also started doing more regular Community Blog Posts, and Developer Live Streams. These, and all the other forms of communication and engagement with our community, have helped shape many of our development decisions.
- Keep a tight focus on content that we’re including in a release. We need to be careful to control the scope of each update, ensuring it is the right size for the available development time and leaving sufficient time to test the quality and gameplay impact on all new features.
- Focus on quality over speed. While we have dialed in on an appropriately sized update from a content standpoint, it seems like we’ve been pushing to get them out too quickly. We’re not leaving enough time for testing the quality and the gameplay.
- We must be extra diligent when we make changes that remove access from any feature to players. While the removal of certain features was done in an effort to improve the overall experience, we didn’t always achieve the results we were looking for. Sometimes even if content doesn’t always work well (questionable physics on the drivable vehicles) they still add an enjoyable element of gameplay that our players don’t want removed from the game.
2021 promises to be another great year for Insurgency: Sandstorm, building upon what we’ve done in 2020 and applying key learnings from where we have the opportunity to turn out some stellar updates. From a high level, I’ll touch on some changes you can expect to see coming next year both in-game and from our studio.
We understand, more than ever, that we need to take our time with releases. The quality of an update is as important as the breadth of content being delivered and we need to give equal time to the development of new content at a high bar of quality and to addressing bugs or other issues in the game. Accordingly, we’ve decided to reduce the total number of releases coming in 2021.
Instead of four major updates in the year, we’ll release three updates. Each release will still have similar content to what you’ve grown to expect, including new guns, new maps, new cosmetics, but with the extra time in development, we’ll be able to test, polish and fix bugs more thoroughly. We’re going to continue putting out minor releases in between our biggest updates and, in addition, we’ll be doing a special update early this year… more on that in the coming weeks.
The minor update for 1.9 Operation: Cold Blood will be coming in the next few months; our team will start determining what to focus on based on community feedback and the most desirable features. Our roadmap team will then evaluate and narrow down what can be implemented in the time we have available.
The end of our mapping contest is coming to a close on January 28, 2021. We’re all excited to see what has been created. For those of you who aren’t entering a map, remember there is a public judging element to this contest. From January 28 until February 5, the public can play and rate the entries to help narrow down the top contenders that will then be scrutinized by our judging panel. For full details check out the post here.
We continue working with Saber Interactive on the port to bring Sandstorm to consoles. They have brought a lot of experience to the table in terms of console development in general and porting in particular. We know people have been waiting for a long time, but we want to make sure when we release Sandstorm that it will be an experience we are proud of and that you enjoy.
Finally, last year, NWI announced that we would be opening a new studio in Montréal, Canada that will operate under the name New World East. This year we’ll be recruiting for the Montreal location with an eye towards opening an office as soon as the world is back open for business. We are all extremely excited about the upcoming significant growth of our team with the new studio. We will be adding many experienced developers that will support both Sandstorm and our other new projects.
While 2020 was not the year any of us expected, it has turned into a banner year here at NWI. I’m honored to have been a part of it and to have shared part of that journey with you. I am excited for what 2021 has in store for us and I hope you are as well. That’s it for this month’s SoP, we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming in February. Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.