Those features and updates could be anything from new gameplay content, to audiovisual enhancements, to leveraging a platform’s user interface in new ways. In our connected world, consumers have become used to accessing new entertainment, regularly, regardless of their region or language.
And this increases pressure on developers yet again. Alexander Prokhorov, studio head of Allods Team – part of the Russian studio collective My.Games – knows this all too well. His studio develops online games that attract some 25 million players, including Warface for PS4 and Xbox One.
He says: “The gaming audience is very socially active. A player expects that changes and updates to the game occur simultaneously on all platforms where the game is released. Players don’t like it when a part of the audience, depending on the platform, receives content of different quality or at different times. So, it is important to support all platforms equally.”
Speaking about his own experience with post-launch updates, Team17’s Coales says a staggered release can be beneficial. The Stir of Dawn update for Blasphemous earlier in the year debuted first in certain territories on Steam, Switch, PS4 and Xbox One.
“[This] raised questions from a lot of players on the other platforms,” he says. “However, it meant that we could fix some bugs that had slipped through and launch a ‘perfect’ version of the update on all the remaining platforms.”
In order to achieve consistency during development and updates, Moran says it’s important that developers maintain build parity as much as possible: “Unless you deem it necessary, avoid branching your builds. Easier said than done, this takes some clever implementations to get right, but will pay off in the long run by making it much less time consuming to maintain parity.”
Of course, every game is different. That’s why overcoming the challenges of developing on multiple platforms frequently comes down to having the time to do adequate quality assurance and testing.
“One of the biggest hurdles becomes the amount of platforms on which to test,” says Ubisoft Quebec’s Marc-Alexis Côté, senior producer of Immortals Fenyx Rising and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. “This can become very stressful in the final stretch of producing a game, when you need to test every change on all platforms. We are also starting to support cross-progression, so every new platform adds complexity.
“On Immortals Fenyx Rising, a lot of engineering focus was put around making the Anvil engine that we share with Assassin’s Creed more scalable, meaning that it can support a wider range of platforms than before. With the multiplication of platforms to support in this cross-gen era, we have also come to understand how beneficial it is to automate tests where we can.”
Testing games is arduous, often requiring the same actions are repeated hundreds or even thousands of times. This is why automation is being leveraged by many software companies, both large and small.
Jon Wingrove is programmer and technical director at Runner Duck Games, the four-person indie studio in Manchester behind playful real-time strategy game Bomber Crew. This released for PC, Mac and Linux in 2017 and consoles in 2018. The team has just released its follow-up, Space Crew, and Wingrove says they have turned to automation to help with their workflow.
“We’ve set up a good automated build delivery system, so that our changes are delivered to QA for all platforms, without too much manual process,” he says.
Runner Duck, IronOak and Muse Games all work closely with the British games publisher Curve Digital. On the issue of testing, Tsao says the publisher’s support has been a big help: “With QA, we are fortunate to be working with Curve and Testronic, and they have done a lot of the heavy lifting for us in terms of testing.”