As you read this, Bungie is readying Halo: Reach, the most significant new title in the Halo series since 2007's Halo 3. Last month, the Kirkland, Washington-based developer wrapped up the beta process for Reach, in which 2.7 million unique players gave the game a test on the Xbox Live service.
Gamasutra recently got a chance to speak to Bungie's community director Brian Jarrard and multiplayer design lead Chris Carney about the developer's approach to the beta process, what use it makes of the data it accrues, and about interfacing with the community during the beta process.
The team feels that multiplayer is an indispensable part of the gaming landscape in 2010, and here Jarrard and Carney share their thoughts on how Bungie -- widely recognized for spearheading multiplayer innovation with services like Forge, which allowed its community to interact with Halo 3 in ways unlike any other console shooter -- sees the evolution of the form.
You guys recently finished the beta, and it was tremendously larger than what you've done in the past.
Chris Carney: It was big.
Brian Jarrard: Yes, absolutely. It was probably several orders of magnitude larger. If you want the real nitty gritty, for perspective, the Halo 3 beta was approximately 800,000 people over its lifespan, and we surpassed that in the first day of Reach. We saw a total number of unique players at 2.7 million, which was pretty awesome for us.
Is having so many more people primarily to get a broader data set, or is it just to include more of your community? What's the thinking behind that?
CC: I think part of it is there was just more availability in this beta, because anyone who bought ODST could have access to the beta. We also had a lot of codes that we were giving out to a bunch of folks, so it was just a bigger population that had the ability to play the beta.
BJ: And we didn't really know what to expect. We just knew that we could conceivably have several million people if everybody with a copy of ODST decided to play, but I think our goal was just we had hoped to have as many people as possible, which could really allow us to put all the server backing stuff under real stress.
The first day of the beta, we actually had some hiccups with some of our servers that sit between the game and Xbox Live. That's the kind of thing we only could have discovered with a million people hammering it at the same time, so we were really fortunate to be able to put things through their paces at such a very large scale.
I suppose it's also much later in the generation compared to when you did the Halo 3 beta.
BJ: Oh, sure. I'm sure the install base alone has grown enormously since back in 2007 when we did that.
How has players' expectations of multiplayer evolved over the current generation? We're at a very different spot now, with many multiplayer hits on the market. First of all, did you expect the multiplayer to take on such a dominant role in establishing player base?
CC: Yeah. I mean, for us, we've always been focused on multiplayer in the studio. Single-player's absolutely a huge part of the game, but I think maybe, because we're competitive people, we always like playing multiplayer against each other. So as we developed Reach -- we'd all played a ton of Halo 3 -- we were asking ourselves, "What cool things do we want to do with multiplayer that we weren't able to do with Halo 3, or where do we want to take multiplayer?" That really helped form the framework around which creation of multiplayer is based.
BJ: I hear you saying, Christian, just regarding general multiplayer itself and how it's become more and more prominent and I guess necessarily required in this day and age to have a game that stands out. I think, for us, that really kicked into full swing with the release of Halo 2 and the advent of Xbox Live. I think ever since then it's become more and more necessary and expected by gamers to have these types of experiences.
Using Halo as an example, what we've seen is -- I think the universe and the story and the characters and the campaign experience really captivate and draw people in -- but, honestly, it is the multiplayer that really keeps Halo going strong. I think multiplayer gives all games that have had great success the long tail and the long lifespan that, years ago, you just wouldn't have because you'd have the campaign, you'd play mods, and generally that was it.
So I think the whole marketplace has shifted. I think, as a result of Halo and a lot of other games that have made interesting, cool headway into online experiences, you just have to do it now. Fortunately, like Chris said, even back from the beginning that's always been a real pillar of all Bungie games. I think the studio is always trying to find ways to keep pushing the bar and leading that charge versus trying to react and tack it onto a game.