What makes a good multiplayer developer? Some think it’s a team that puts out a game when it’s as close to ready as they can possibly get it, others think it has to do with prompt updates, fixing problems that arise in a timely fashion and keeping an open line of communication with gamers about what they’re working on, and then there are those that want free updates without being gouged with micro-transactions.
I think it’s a little bit of all of those things, and if that’s what we’re using as a bar to measure developers against, Respawn stacks up pretty well. They’ve only been around as a studio since 2010 but in that time they’ve managed to build a team of nearly 80 people and launch the best selling Xbox One game to date. I think it’s fair to say that the XBO probably wouldn’t quite be where it is today without Titanfall.
As a bit of a disclaimer before I get too far, I’ll confess that I know next to nothing about the PC or Xbox 360 versions of Titanfall. I’ve only played it on Xbox One so I can only speak to the work Respawn has done on that particular version.
As anyone who has gone out to a midnight launch for a game will tell you, if it’s the multiplayer you’re dying to get your hands on, you’re really just hoping it works well enough to get a few rounds in. I’ve played quite a few games at 12:15am on their release day that wouldn’t even connect to a server, much less find a game and stay together for its entirety. Titanfall not only worked, but it worked well; matchmaking moved fairly quickly and it felt like the servers were actually ready for the influx of gamers.
Not only did the launch go off without much of a hitch, but the game actually felt like it was ready to be in the hands of the public. It felt like the balance of titan versus pilot combat worked well, and nothing seemed too overpowered right out of the gate. I’m sure the beta played a big part in that, but we’ve seen several games host public betas prior to their launch and still turn out to be a train wreck on day one. There were a few things that could have been better, such as framerate dips and noticeable screen tearing in specific scenarios, but for a new studio’s first attempt on a new franchise in a new location with a new publisher, it was off to an impressive start.
Respawn didn’t stop there. It would probably have been easy to take the good launch they had and just make minor tweaks while beginning the push towards DLC, but they kept going. As time went on and imperfections with weapon balancing, bugs, and game modes did become clear, the California-based studio jumped on them. In fact, they launched their first major patch just a little over a week after launch and there have since been three other comprehensive patches based on what they’ve seen on the backend and user feedback.
As odd as it sounds, sometimes it’s not enough to just fix something that goes wrong at the earliest possible convenience, as bugs are often noticed by the community weeks before they’re fixed. To bridge that gap between noticing a problem and mending it, communication between the developer and the community is key, and this is another area where Respawn excels.
The only thing worse than playing through a new bug or a perceived imbalance is not having a way to voice these concerns to the people that have the ability to fix it. This isn’t a problem for Respawn as Twitter accounts for both Respawn and Titanfall are almost always watched and very active. Some key figures on the Respawn team even use their own personal accounts to do so, with studio founder and front man Vince Zampella, Programmer Jon Shiring, and Community Manager Abbie Heppe sometimes respond to hundreds of tweets each week from the Titanfall populace. For those that don’t have Twitter, the official Respawn forums are also a reliable place to find the right people for listening to feedback.
Paying attention to feedback and squashing bugs is all well and good, but the most recent Titanfall patch really epitomizes Respawn’s support of the game thus far. Not only did it include a wealth of balance changes based on the recent evolution of the way the game is being played, but it also included several new things that really freshen up the experience. New load/title screens, very noticeable and smart tweaks to the existing interface, two new game modes, a new Titan decal system, a wealth of new burn cards for Titans and new voice-overs for Titan AIs were all included.
Several of those additions are the kinds of things other developers have been known to charge for, and might only end up in paid DLC. Not Respawn; they put those changes inside the fourth major update so any Titanfall player can enjoy them, even if they haven’t purchased or don’t plan to purchase any of the paid DLC maps. Gamers have noticed this content and many have created threads on the official forums just to say thank you, something I have very rarely seen in a video game support forum.
I’m not saying Respawn is perfect and they’re definitely not the first developer to keep close tabs on their game post-launch or offer up a few goodies at no cost to their patrons, where we’ve also seen Housemarque adding a ship editor and local co-op for all alongside the Resogun DLC, or Killzone Shadow Fall getting free maps for all, but this is the perfect time for them to show their loyalty to the product and the people who play it, and that’s exactly what they’re doing.
I know it sounds like I’m just stroking their ego here, but after watching some of my favorite developers take ages to fix obvious blemishes in their games, charge a substantial amount for things like weapon/character skins and riddle some of my best-loved games with XP-based micro-transactions, seeing what Respawn is doing right out of the gate is a breath of fresh air. Their willingness and ability to talk to their audience, their tenacity in repairing what’s broken, and their inclination to throw us a free bone now and then are all reasons to be excited about whatever they do going forward.