Last month we saw the launch of two big rollercoaster sim games, the first was the highly anticipated Planet Coaster, the other was Atari’s RollerCoaster Tycoon World, a game that seemed to be shrouded in controversy from the very beginning. However not everything was as it seemed.
We caught up with Atari and RollerCoaster Tycoon World’s final development team, Nvizzio, to see what exactly, if anything, went wrong and whether the way the teams handled the game from the launch of the very first and somewhat disappointing trailer could have been handled a little differently.
For those who don’t know, RollerCoaster Tycoon World was first announced way back in 2014. The game came with promises that the title would be the game PC players were asking for and more. This followed the disappointment from the last RollerCoaster Tycoon game in the series which was made specifically for mobile.
From here things looked pretty promising as a batch of screenshots were released which looked like a huge improvement over the last PC game in the series. Then things seemed to just plummet faster than the world’s highest rollercoaster as an early alpha trailer was released and was met with incredible disappointment.
Since then the game entered Early Access and development was handed to Montreal-based developer Nvizzio who handled the final stages of development and brought the game to market.
“Nvizzio comes from Funcom Games, Canada. At the end of 2014 I acquired the teams and the assets of Funcom Games, Canada, which was the development studio of Funcom here in Montreal,” said Founder and CEO of Nvizzio, Yves Legris. “Those guys had been working not only on mobile titles but also they worked on Age of Conan, they worked on the Secret World, so essentially we had a team that was very multidisciplinary, having worked on MMOs on PC, and also having this strong experience with Unity both on mobile and on PC.
“So when we met with Atari and the beloved IP was being thrust our way, there was a lot of excitement in the studio, everyone was very happy. We also understood that there would be a significant challenge which we decided to embrace with Atari. We knew it would be specifically challenging because we had to take over the previous work that had been done by other developers, but I would say that the team was very excited and our relationship with Atari was very, very strong.”
Ahead of this time however, the game had been through two other studios, Pipeworks and Area 51. However, COO of Atari Todd Shallbetter assured us that the company wasn’t just bouncing from studio to studio, there was method in their madness, and that they were on good terms with all of the members of those studios.
“We leveraged different studios’ competency for different parts of the dev cycle”
“There’s been a good amount of misconception in the market place, in amongst our fans, and obviously our critics, that we had just jumped from studio to studio, and there’s nothing that could be farther from the truth”, he said. “We haven’t really addressed this incredibly directly because we didn’t really feel that it was rocky at best, and we actually did the right thing with the title.
“We started off the title’s development at Pipeworks in Eugene, Oregon, a great studio, a great bunch of guys, we love them. They got the game to a certain point within Unity where they put the concept of the game together, they’d gotten a good code base together, but it was definitely pushing the limits of what we could do with Pipeworks at that time because this game has proven and is, an enormous game.
“So we moved this code from Pipeworks, to Area 51 a small studio outside Seattle, with a bunch of really super talented veteran developers, guys from Microsoft, etc, a bunch of really good guys. And what they did, their task in this dev cycle was to balance the code base, optimise the code base. So Area 51 helped us optimise, refine, and balance the code. Unfortunately, or fortunately, they weren’t really the studio to take this all the way to the market, because this game, again, proves to be such an enormous undertaking, just from a code perspective alone.”
“Then we worked with Yves from Nvizzio, we knew him from the past, and we worked with Yves to continue to build out his team, recruiting some of the top talent in the Montreal dev community to come and join this project, and as Yves said, people were very excited about it.
“So while the dev cycle was long and I think probably longer than we originally foretasted to be, it’s really the culmination of a lot of great work by a lot of great people. We leveraged different studios’ competency for different parts of the dev cycle.”
From here, Nvizzio took the reigns and brought the game to Early Access and eventually to market. However, not only did they have the challenge of working on a beloved IP, they also had a community breathing down their necks, a community who had already been disgruntled by the launch of the early alpha trailer. Could it have been handled better? Shallbetter doesn’t think so.
“If anything we can be faulted for, it’s for bringing in the community as early as we did. Maybe if we were to do it over again, we would have kept some of our secrets a little farther down the road. But that’s not what we did, not what we did at all. We opened up the curtains, we showed everyone very very early on in the cycle what we were doing, and asked them for input.
“It’s a tough position as we’re criticised for not being open, but then we’re open and they they say ‘well we don’t like what we see’ but then we’re like, we’re really early in the cycle so it’s been really difficult. Having a group of fans that’s this engaged as the RCT fans, it’s a double edged sword. You try to be open and they don’t like what they see that early on, or vice versa. So it’s been a challenge in that respect. We always try to be transparent with the fan base.”
So with that being said, we wondered whether the Early Access process was the direction to go?
“Short answer, yes”, said Shallbetter. “Given what the game is, there’s so much to it, so much heavy lifting, and we were able to get such great input from the community on things they didn’t like, things they liked, and be able to deliver on the things they ask. It gave us a lot of great learnings for sure, and it gave us a lot of great input into the game and it helped shape the game. Absolutely for sure, we listened, the studio listened intently, if there’s ever a studio that I’ve worked with, these guys have been flawless in listening and taking commentary to heart. So in that respect, Early Access was the way to go.
“Commercially is it a challenge? Yeah it is because you kind of use one of your good chances in the beginning to expose the game and expose what you have, and maybe it isn’t exactly where you want the game to be. That’s why you put it in Early Access, but in our case you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. You put it on and you put it out there for people to see and to comment, but then you’re criticised because the game isn’t finished.
“It’s a challenge releasing a game in Early Access, for certain. And then you have to give the product to people at the end of this process, the product that they want, and ideally you have people that are pleased with it, and you’re likely going to get people who aren’t incredibly pleased with what comes out at the end, because they’ve engaged with this entire process.”
“we also feel that we were trolled a bit, and we still are being trolled a loT”
So with the community being so involved with the game from the beginning, we wondering why exactly there was so much negative feedback on the Steam Reviews page, surely if the game has been shaped by players from the beginning, it shouldn’t have this much negativity surrounding it. Atari’s reasoning for this? Trolls.
“We were astonished at some of the response that we received. People have this opportunity to come in and make some requests and give us honest and genuine feedback and some people really resorted to, and we’re not really sure about the motivation behind some of these guys, we understand that a great number of fans are engaged, they either like it or they’re disappointed and they’re expressing their honest opinion we understand that.
“But we also feel that we were trolled a bit, and we still are being trolled a lot and people are really taking kind of an interesting interest in making their negative comments heard loud and clear almost as in sports. And I just at this point in time, and this is me speaking personally, I’m not sure how much of it is genuine or how much is just trolling and just hate. It’s hard for us to separate between the two at a time. But that takes us down a whole path of probably another separate article we could talk about this thing.”
It seemed very much like Atari and RollerCoaster Tycoon World had a lot stacked up against it. Not only were people sour over the mobile release of RollerCoaster Tycoon 4, they were also bitter over the game’s early appearance. So releasing the game into Early Access was indeed a gamble, and at times Atari felt as if they were stuck between a rock and a hard place.
“You want to show this to fans so they can get into the project, and literally with that video we were really trying to show people, hands on heart, what we had at the time. This was not a full roll out sales video, this was intended to be a fun, light piece to show where we are with the game, what to expect, and not much more than that. We were trying to show a visual asset that people could see and enjoy and critique, and we expected critique, and we received it on that, for sure.
“It’s such a difficult thing, and I don’t want to fall back on this again, but you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. We tried to be open and transparent and people didn’t like it, there was a pretty strong response which we learned from as well, listen, some of that response we learned from very quickly on what we should be aware of in working with our community or dealing with our community in what we show the community and different stages of development, certainly that was a learning for us as well.
“But people are so passionate about this IP and about this franchise that it certainly takes some extra consideration when planing any reveals of communications or anything else, we’re lucky to have this fan base and we know that and we’re aware of that. The critique we received was overwhelmingly positive as far as shaping the game goes.”
“I think that there was a little bit of bleed over, [with RollerCoaster Tycoon 4] but they’re two different games, one’s for mobile one’s for PC. That for us wasn’t surprising by any means, but it is interesting that people would necessarily compare the two ‘apples to apples’ because they’re two vastly different platforms with vastly different capabilities and different gameplay models.
“You can’t do the same things on mobile that you can do on a huge PC sim. And frankly with that mobile game, while some people didn’t like it, there are millions of people that did like it, we have had well in excess of 20 million downloads, people are playing the game, and the game is doing well, people are still playing the game, building, sharing, doing all the things the game is supposed to do, but we think it’s a pretty unfair comparison to to compare the two.”
“WE FEEL THAT THERE’S SOME REAL TOXICITY WITH SOME OF THE TROLLING”
Of course, the biggest elephant in the room at this point was the launch of Planet Coaster which launched just a day after the release of RollerCoaster Tycoon World. We wondered why, in Atari’s opinion, should people at least give RCT World a chance?
“I’m not the expert on Planet Coaster, so I can’t really say too much. I think they’ve done a nice job with the game, I think the game is visually very pleasing, I think we do things very very well, I think we have a phenomenally easy to use and fun to use coaster editor or builder. I think that it’s a key tent pole within our game. I think our UGC system introduced very early on in the process is phenomenal.”
“One thing we try to maintain, and the central theme we try to maintain is to make this game as fun to play and as easy to get into and get in and build a park. The idea is that this is a game, not a full on Microsoft 1998 Flight Simulator, that really wasn’t what we were going for. We were going for a game that’s fun to play, but also was powerful enough for those users who wanted to go in and create really in-depth and deep sims and play with that simulation factor of it. If you start to look into our sim, I think our sim is unparalleled, especially when you start to get into it. I think our building tools are easy and fun to use, especially the coaster builder, so I think we have strengths, and I think they have strengths probably too, but I haven’t had the pleasure of sitting down and playing with it.”
Negativity aside, Atari seem to be holding their head high and are proud of the product they’ve created, in fact there are a number of players who also agree that what Nvizzio and Atari have made is a pretty great RollerCoaster Tycoon game. They do however feel that the negativity is drowning out some of the more constructive feedback.
“We do see a lot of great positive commentary on the game from our fans, we are messaged all the time, we do get messages, and I’ll be very candid here, we get messages saying ‘wow its amazing how people are dissing you guys and being so critical of the game, we think it’s great, it’s awesome, keep up the good work’, so we do get a lot of that,” said Shallbetter.
“Now on some of these forums and things, we do have a lot of people afraid to step in and say ‘you guys are all just trolling these guys and flaming them for no reason’ because they just get shot down then too. So we feel that there’s some real toxicity with some of the trolling that has really amplified some opinions and muted others, let’s put it that way.
“We think the game that we’ve delivered is true to the franchise, we think that it’s really good, we understand that there’s other things people would like to see in the game, we’re listening, we’re paying attention, we’re committed to the game, we have a big update coming out on December 15, which everyone’s going to be delighted in, I’m not sure how much I can say about that, but there’s a big update with new content, continued optimisation.”
Atari has since informed us that this update is due to go live at some point today, so stay tuned.
To wrap up, Atari were keen to let us know that since launch the game has been improved across the board with performance being one of the main things that has been focused on.
“We’ve [now] brought a game to the fans that performs well, we’ve brought a game that has a super great simulation element to it, we’ve brought the fans a game that has this fun mission system, which is a kind of a nice twist on some of the themes that have been in the games in the past, and some of the things that homebrewers have done, so we’ve tried again to make this something that a fan in 2016 can enjoy.
“One thing we did focus on is that we wanted this to be a communal experience, we want people to share we want this to be something that people spend the time and take the time to build, so that they are proud to share it and they can do that.”
RollerCoaster Tycoon World is available right now on Steam.