From Path of Exile's release in 2013 until late 2015, we struggled to grow the community and were getting worried as the game's popularity started to slowly decline. We tried releases of many different sizes and cadences, before eventually settling into a 13-week cycle with the launch of Talisman in December 2015. Since then, we have developed 19 leagues with this cadence and had a lot of success with it. Path of Exile grew exponentially and allowed us to put even more content into each expansion to meet the expectations of our growing community. I even presented a GDC Talk on this process, which was very well-received within the gamedev industry. I still receive mail every week from developers at other studios who feel that the talk was of great value for their teams. Things were going well and we thought we knew exactly what we were doing.
Then 2020 hit and exposed just how vulnerable our development process was to unexpected events. To some extent, we were lucky that a black swan event (such as a key team member leaving) hadn't caused similar disruption to our schedule before this. We want to preface this by saying that the government-mandated lockdowns were not the root cause of the issues, but they had a significant impact and added to an already high-pressure situation. Due to the way we've been developing expansions, we had almost no wiggle room to manage the additional overheads of lockdown. Even under normal circumstances, some expansions were coming in quite close to the wire. There is a reasonable chance that we may experience another lockdown, or some other unforeseen event that adds extra pressure and we need to create a development plan that has enough breathing room to allow that to happen. After two lockdowns, we delayed Heist's release by a week and it was still not enough to mitigate the combination of constrained resources and ambitious development scope, as Heist was by far the highest-content league in PoE's history. (Adding to this pressure, our country's borders are closed which means our international hiring is frozen for the foreseeable future).
Which leads to the next issue - regardless of how difficult pandemic pressures make development, it's genuinely hard to scope out how long a Path of Exile expansion will take to develop. Some systems that appear easy to create end up taking several iterations to get right. Conversely, some things that felt like they'd be really hard just come together quickly and work the first time. Usually these over- and under-estimates average out during the development of an expansion, but sometimes you get ones that are developed a lot faster (Legion) or slower (Delve) than usual. If you categorise Path of Exile releases into the "good" and "bad" ones, you see a clear pattern of times when development took less (or more) time than expected. This shows that correct scoping and risk mitigation is critical to ensuring a good Path of Exile launch.
Another important topic to discuss is that of Feature Creep. This is when the featureset of a piece of software gradually increases over time as developers think of more cool stuff to add, eventually causing production problems. This is a somewhat common problem in software development (for example, there's a boss in Diablo II called Creeping Feature as a nod to this, over 20 years ago). While Feature Creep sounds like a terrible thing, it can often be great for making a game feel special. A lot of the stuff that makes Path of Exile special was added because a developer thought of something cool and worked hard to squeeze it in a specific release. While Feature Creep can wreak havoc on a schedule (and hence the overall quality of an expansion at launch), it's also important to make sure that developers have a way to still add those special touches that make the game feel like it has endless stuff to discover. We feel that this is best done in the planning phase rather than late in development when such changes can affect the quality of release.
Late in Heist's development cycle, we had a serious internal discussion about how we could restructure our development process so that subsequent expansions are less risky. This discussion resulted in an experiment that we decided to carry out for the next three month cycle.
We have defined a very specific scope for December's 3.13 expansion. It contains everything that a large Path of Exile expansion needs, but no more. I am personally handling the production of this expansion to make sure that no work creeps in that isn't in the planned scope. The schedule that we will hopefully achieve with this approach will likely have everything quite playable and ready for gameplay iteration before our marketing deadline, and in a very stable and polished state by the time it is released.
The positive consequences of this experiment are clear: if it succeeds, we'll be able to deliver 3.13 on-time, with a strong stable launch, plenty of gameplay iteration and solid testing of features. If this experiment works as we expect it to, we'll be able to continue using it for future expansions which will allow us to continue with our 13-week expansion cycle, which we strongly feel is best for the continued growth and long-term health of Path of Exile in the period before Path of Exile 2 is released.
This experiment comes with some side effects, however. You'll definitely notice that the patch notes are much, much shorter than they usually are. That's because we're focusing on getting the most important changes done, and doing them well. I'm aiming for us to try to fit the patch notes on just a few pages, if we can manage it. This does mean that we have had to be careful to pick our battles though - the balance changes we are doing have been carefully chosen to have the largest impact and fix real problems. It's also likely that we'll front-load the announcement to have more of the expansion's contents revealed at once, reducing the number of small teasers we post in the weeks following announcement.
Our goal is that 3.13 takes 50% of the overall development hours of Heist (which means going from a situation with overtime to a situation with testing time), and yet feels like a large December expansion. If you're interested, it's an Atlas expansion (like War or Conquerors) with an in-area combat league and a few other bits and pieces. We'll also be announcing it in a slightly different way than we usually do. Stay tuned!
Staying... Tuned... =) Good luck with next launch, hopefully it will be better.
on Oct 20, 2020, 4:13:12 PM
damage control by the man himself!
and that's what everyone wants to hear! league mechanics that are not tied to the core gameplay of poe, which is mapping, are awful as history has shown
Last edited by DixuMixu on Oct 20, 2020, 4:18:30 PM
here's hoping it's a great one
#1 Autobomber Gear, by Standard
THE BEST Aurabot items in the game, by b0moodc:
keep doing good work i love poe
Sounds like my cup of tea!
I honestly can't remember a League where I haven't burned out after 2 weeks and with recent leagues, 2 weeks is way prior to when the league is actually fixed / playable.
Which is a really unfortunate situation for a game where the economics in the trade leagues is extremely sensitive the first few weeks.
Heistis only barely a real functional league at this point.
Harvest Was alright from the get go except lacking visual clarity on the crafting options which I suggested from day 1 to include Currency Icons. And ofc the incredible OP crafting. And a bit few seed drops
Deliriumsuffered / still suffers from incredible overtuning. Lack of visual clarity mixed with too many on death effects which was 10x worse at launch. including the whole missing vacuming system.
Metamorphwas a oneshot fiesta and bug fest with the bosses living their own lifes and once again, no auto collect system.
BlightHad issues with mob spawns being on top of the destination. Monsters ignoring the pathing and the mobs being extremely overtuned.
LegionActually worked surprisingly well aside from being overtuned and the occasional flashbang
SynthesisWe don't talk about this league
Betrayal Had forts spawning outside of map. NPC's despawning other Npcs without leaving loot. Being overtuned, lack of visual clarity on certain enemies. (I'm looking at you Glacier dude).
DelveHeavy Sulphite imbalance. Progress not shared across characters. Sulphite not shared across characters. Azurite progression not scaling well enough.
IncursionWorked decently well. aside from alva refusing to open up some times.
BestiaryThe nets.... Omg... the nets.... who thought it was a good idea with all the nets. it took players untill level 20 max to realize having that many nets were redundant. On top of throwing the nets. Waiting for Einhar who would then bug out. Oh god... But his voice lines are still golden <3. stupid beast.. he..
AbyssY U ALWAYS GO BACKWARDS AND BUG OUT SO WE CANT ENTER YOU! otherwise it was fine. Oh and ofc a few oneshots from the bats with their marks.
Harbinger Not too many bugs. just not very rewarding even by back thens standards.Garbagebringers. with a few side notes on them bugging out, failing to progress their monster spawning.
LegacyThe perfect league.
TL;DR It's been a long time since we've had a league that felt properly ready within the first week of launch. And it's been equally as long since I personally played for more than 2-3 weeks of a league.
And usually the leagues that aren't completely gamebreaking systematically are those purely based on smaller encounters such as Betrayel, Legion, Metamorph.
And I understand that with greatly intricate mechanics follow system implications.
But I'd much rather wait more weeks or have smaller leagues system wise, in order to have a more enjoyable game experience.
And I will continue to support the game as I have since forever as long as GGG continues to show an interest in providing content.
But damn has it been down hill for a while now.
Last edited by Miqigs on Oct 20, 2020, 4:49:25 PM