An insider's view of the Titanfall launch
Community manager Abbie Heppe shares the pressures and pride of launching a AAA title
Titanfall is out in the US and is hitting UK shelves this very minute, and Respawn's Community Manager Abbie Heppe has been part of the dizzying process.
She took some time out of the launch party madness to explain how the team was coping with release week, how Respawn has prepared for this moment and why no one at the office is booking any long holidays just yet.
Q: You've already released in the US, how has launch week been for you so far?
Abbie Heppe: It's been crazy busy. We have a team that's up at Microsoft that's monitoring servers as they go live all over the world. Between providing updates to the community and monitoring launch it's crazy but it's great. It's really wonderful to see all the team's hard work finally become something that's real and in the wild.
Q: And these days, especially with a game like Titanfall, there's plenty of work to do even after release…
Abbie Heppe: Yeah, you never really get to say 'alright, we're done! Finished! Good-bye!' We're looking at DLC and updates and fixes, monitoring feedback, and it's true, you don't really get to just ship a game and be done with it anymore so everybody is still pretty busy.
Q: How important were the Titanfall betas in preparing you for this week?
Abbie Heppe: Doing beta was incredibly helpful because it let us get ahead of a lot of issues in a couple of ways. We did some fixes right after beta, we did a few little weapon balances as well. And then from our side it let us look into things like people using a certain graphics card are going to have an issue, so let's proactively reach out to that company and let them know so that they can provide an update. So it let us get ahead of a lot of customer support issues as well which is really helpful.
That said when it goes into the wild there's always things that you can't anticipate which is why we send our network engineers up to Microsoft. And while we're all sort of on high alert luckily things have been pretty smooth which is great and when they aren't we make sure that we provide those updates to the community right away so that people know we're working on it.
But yeah, a lot of moving parts so its pretty crazy. There's a tonne of people in the backend that are there to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Q: You mentioned Microsoft there, has the whole development process been quite collaborative given that you were working with an unreleased machine?
Abbie Heppe: From a technical perspective our engineering team worked with them to make sure that we have everything we need as far as developing on Xbox One. You're right, wherever you're working with hardware that isn't out yet there's always challenges. Especially to be the first game that's using Azure, and to run a game on, it comes with it's own sort of technical hurdles. So yeah, we really worked closely with them the whole time to make sure that it would support what we needed out of it and run as smoothly as possible.
Q: Did releasing just on PC and Xbox One, and not other platforms too, help streamline development?
Abbie Heppe: Absolutely. I mean we're not a huge team, there's about 80 on the dev side, so we're still under a hundred people when all is said and done so being able to focus on one platform, because PC development is not too far off, is great. It really let us focus, it really let us build this game to be what it needed to be and get it out without taking years and years, that we don't really have, to ship a game.
So absolutely letting us focus was great, and it's not excluded from future projects that we might do, that we would broaden what consoles we release on, but for this one sure.
Q: Talking to Microsoft executives they see Titanfall very much as a system seller, did you always feel like that was the case? Did that add pressure?
Abbie Heppe: There's always pressure in game development, I mean the team at home puts a lot of pressure on themselves to perform. I mean whenever you're an independent studio and your future is uncertain of course. But we hadn't originally intended to be an exclusive because it didn't exist when the company came around, it was something that happened throughout the course of development.
And we didn't know what the reception to the game was going to be like before we announced it at E3 last year so it's sort of become this revelation over the last nine or ten months, like 'wow, people seem to really like this, potentially it could sell a lot of Xbox Ones,' but our goal is just to make an awesome game that people like. We've been a bit overwhelmed by the reception.
Q: In the old days you released a game and waiting for the feedback, but with the beta and the awards at game shows that must help you to know you've done something right?
Abbie Heppe: Yes, although it's scary because there's such high expectations placed by that and you want to live up to all of those and we had people saying 'this is so overhyped' and 'they're paying for all of this attention' and we weren't, we were just taking the game to shows and letting people play it. And they enjoyed it, and they wrote about it and that was wonderful but it sort of adds to the tremendous pressure and at the same time it's so wonderful and encouraging because we spend all the time working on something and hoping that people are going to enjoy it and love it and to get that kind of feedback is what pushes you through those last crazy, hectic months.
Q: We spoke to Harvey Eagle earlier and he was excited about the possibilities when it came to Twitch and Titanfall, is that a community of Twitchers one you try to involve or does it just happen naturally when the game is released?
Abbie Heppe: A little bit of both. We do work with them ahead of launch, they'll be invited to events to play previews, we were happy to provide them with codes when we did the beta, but there's more these days than you can actually interact with at this point, its so popular.
But it's really cool, we work with Twitch closely to make sure that we're giving them information that people can start streaming, especially during beta, they help us out. We're really excited that they hit launch on Xbox at the same time that we did.
But yeah both, because we don't pay for that content, it's stuff generated by the community, and if they don't like the game it can go just as horribly wrong. So being able to have something that we genuinely love and makes for good video content is awesome because you get that kind of amazing support from the community.