Al “Rafter” Corey, Executive Producer & Marketing Manager at Cornered Rat Software, has written the first in a series of developer diaries about Battleground Europe, also known as WWII Online. For those not in the ‘know’, Battleground Europe is closing in on a decade of gaming excellence and in this business, that’s a LONG time. Now -that’s- devotion. Read on!
Cornered Rat Software (CRS) has been in a constant state of development and production for the MMO game WWII Online (AKA Battleground Europe) since the summer of 1999. The game has been in continuous live operation since the summer of 2001. Any way you look at it, the team has been designing, developing, producing and supporting the title for ten years.
The team that develops and supports WWII Online is small by any measure, with less than 15 people and fewer than that serving a dev role. A few members have been with CRS since 1999 and most have more than 6 years on the project.
Continued motivation for a small team working on the same project for a decade is a unique challenge in the game’s business where most titles are shipped within 2-3 years from the date of pre-production and teams come together and break apart on a title by title basis. How does Cornered Rat keep team members excited and committed to the project? As with most things it is a mix of many factors.
One bite at a time
Each major development cycle is bite at the apple. The team approaches each feature set or tech re-write as another opportunity to move the big vision forward but focuses on a singlular set of goals. Having to pick and choose areas of the game to advance or improve as steps towards attaining the bigger goal allows the team to focus on the tasks at hand instead of being overwhelmed by the size and scope of the project as a whole. Keeping the team focused is one of the primary responsibilities of the Senior and Executive Producer.
Let the cool creep in
There are many factors that influence the planning and development of features and tech for an MMO with the longevity that WWII Online has enjoyed. Some are business related. Tech life cycles are another (graphic engines, net code etc) influence. Still others are related to the feedback from customers and non-customers. No matter what the influences are that dictate future development, allowing for the cool to creep in from members of the team are vital to on-going success and morale. Features that are instantly recognizable as cool additions to the game and championed by one or more staff are almost always allowed to slip into the development cycle when possible. People like it when they see their own pet feature added and get a sense of contribution not always found when carrying out goals assigned from elsewhere.
Keep the dream alive
Having and keeping team members who buy into the dream of producing the best WWII MMO possible is the only recipe for success. Many of staff came to the company from the player community and that almost gurantees that they have a passion for the game and the future promise of where it is headed. The players themselves also provide much of the fuel that keeps the passion burning. Having thousands of voices urging the team on can be a great source of inspiration.
Cornered Rat is about to release one of the largest updates to the game in several years with upgrades to graphics, objects and gameplay. The development cycle has been underway for more than a year. These lengthy cycles can drain a small team because it can feel like they have been working on the same features and content for so long. Keeping dev cycles to 90-120 days is preferrable but in some cases tackling tech and feature sets that become a priority require more work than can be completed in 120 days. Each of the methods mentioned above are employed during this kind of cycle and have contributed to the morale and dedication the team has shown to the project.