Fury launched in October and hoped to capture an audience through fast-action, PvP combat in a free-to-play/subscription hybrid model MMO. It has not gone quite to plan and last week the company was forced to layoff many of its developers. We caught up with Auran CEO Tony Hilliam and Lead Designer Adam Carpenter to find out how they got to this point and how they hope to turn it around.
Answers by Tony Hilliam (CEO) and Adam Carpenter (Lead Designer)
Questions by Dana Massey
WarCry: Obviously, when you lay off as many people as Auran was forced to do, it has an impact on the game's future development plans. What are your plans moving forward, post-Chosen, in light of the smaller dev team?
Auran: The exact plans themselves are still under discussion. What can be stated is that the development team's goal is to make changes and improvements to the game in a much more rapid fashion. The intention with this is to be able to show visible changes/improvements in the game more frequently as well as mitigate risk from spending significant development time before exposing changes to players.
WarCry: Layoffs cannot be spun as good news and shake player confidence. Why should someone who sees Fury in a store feel confident that the game they purchase will still exist in a few months?
Auran: The primary reason is that the smaller core team staff allocated to Fury means the project is now operating at the break even point in terms of salaries and overheads. The Director's decision to cut back on staff ensures that even without significant increases in player populations, the game can be maintained and improved.
WarCry: One of the largest barriers to entry the game seems to face is system requirements. How has the game been optimized since Beta to allow a wider range of people to try it?
Auran: Performance was definitely one of the major barriers to entry at release. The other two were the lack of a safety net for new players and the overall usability of the game. Ultimately, the game was released too early though there was very little choice given cash flow. Many people wanted to delay in order to improve it, however the funding to do so was not available.
All three of the issues were a major focus for the Age of the Chosen update. Performance has been significantly improved such that one of our players said Fury plays like a 'real game' now. We also found and fixed the GUI lag issue which had been plaguing the game since before release. Carnage was introduced as more accessible game type for new players and changes were changed to the global cooldown and player hit points to give player's a greater life expectancy and thus an increased chance to learn the game. Lastly, all of the sanctuary zones, the new player experience and numerous interfaces were improved such that Fury is much easier for players to get into.
WarCry: Carnage is the new game type in Age of the Chosen. Please explain the rules and why you wanted to add it over other ideas?
Auran: Carnage is a player team vs. player team vs. bot team game type which is fairly simple and focused on mass killing for quick and easy fun. In Carnage, two player teams compete to kill bots, collect their blood tokens and then return those tokens to their base. The game itself lasts 10 minutes and at the end, the team with the most tokens wins.
As for what we put Carnage in front of some of our other ideas, the main reason is that Fury needed a safety net for new players. Something easy in which they can learn the game. With Carnage we have this, and it's proving quite effective as a stepping stone for new players and a fun diversion for existing players.
WarCry: In the expansion you're slowing down combat a bit. Why did you choose to go this route? Was the frenetic pace not one of the game's selling points?
Auran: Fury's pace definitely was one of the selling points. Even after the Global Cooldown and health changes it continues to be. On paper, the 30% increase from 1 second to 1.3 seconds seems like a large jump. However, in normal play you really don't notice it excepting when you are praying for cooldown to finish so you can get a heal off. This creates a real sense of expectation which enhances the Fury's experience. Of course, the expectation is entirely player controlled as they make the decision to execute the previous ability instead of healing themselves sooner.
With the health increase it again improves the gameplay experience by doubling a player's life expectancy and making many more builds viable. With the previously lower health, high damage spike builds were far too easy to create and use. The only real options to countering them were shutdown builds based on charge denial. By changing the health total, many more build options have become equally viable. It's now very feasible to create builds centered on DoTs, non-charge manipulation based shut downs, group survivability, and so on. Of course, we haven't eliminated your classic spike builds. They just aren't the only option anymore.
As far as why we chose to go this route, there were two primary reason. First off were player complaints that the game was merely a DPS race due to a lack of alternate strategies. The second reason is that a players life expectancy at the low end and very high end was far too short. Once you entered combat, your life expectancy could only be a few seconds. This didn't give new players any opportunity to learn the game and made fights between highly skilled players too one sided. By increasing health and the global cooldown, combat is extended giving players more options and strategies, and this significantly improves Fury's gameplay.
WarCry: According to reports out of Australia, the game sold over 100,000 units. For many MMOs, that would be a runaway hit. What were your targets for Fury that made that number force your hand in regards to personnel?
Auran: Fury's sales in Australia have exceeded sales in North America. This is quite impressive given that the North American population is over 10X the size of the Australian population. However, 100k overstates the figures by quite a bit.
WarCry: From a design perspective, what was in your opinion, the single biggest thing that held Fury back from commercial success and if you had a do-over, what would you change?
Auran: There are really two things here and the both contributed equally. First was the lack of advanced planning and design. We didn't have a proper prototype or pre-production phase where the game itself was planned out and we didn't have enough funding to finish the game. As such, only short term planning was done and it was very difficult to develop effective designs in the absence of knowledge that they would be implemented.
The second issue was the difficulty in developing a business model that would support our target market and then when doubts about the profitability in that market began having the strength of conviction to stick that target market. These uncertainties led to often changing decisions after they had been made and a great deal of rework.
WarCry: During a pre-launch interview with us, CEO Tony Hilliam said the game needs roughly 10,000 concurrent players to run at peak efficiency in terms of matchmaking. Unless we are mistaken, this goal has not been achieved. How have you adapted to make sure those that are playing have an enjoyable experience?
Auran: We've pushed back some of our larger plans and instead focused on smaller game types which can generate higher rates of player throughput. In addition, we've made changes to matchmaking which makes groups and team less homogenous while increasing the likelihood that a team's average skill ratings will be more equal.
WarCry: Some of your more vocal players have been disappointed by the changes, which they feel dumb the game down somewhat. What is your reaction to these kinds of assertions?
Auran: Most of the changes we've made have been targeted at making Fury more accessible to a wider spread of players. Fury is a very extreme game with significant amounts of depth. However, the learning curve is quite steep and most people drop out before they are able to understand what the game is. In order to get more player in, the game needs to be made more accessible. Somewhat understandably, the most hardcore players have reacted very poorly and in turn this has generated a lot of press. While a portion of the reaction is due to the changes themselves, another is due to the changes not being explained fully in game as well as an absence of counters within the game. Providing additional feedback and explanations to players, as well as providing additional game play counters are one of our current goals.
WarCry: During the chaos at the time of the layoffs, various reports conflicted on the nature of the compensation those former employees would receive. Can you clarify what actually happened?
Auran: Last Thursday, one of the Auran divisions, Auran Developments Pty. brought in a bankruptcy Administrator as the division was now insolvent and did not have the capital to meet its financial obligations. The Administrator terminated the employment of everyone at the company. All former employees of the company are eligible for Australian government's Geers program which will pay back wages and other unpaid compensation to individuals when the company itself is under Administration and unable to pay them. For anyone who is interested in what the benefits of gears are, the best thing they can do is look as the actual Australian Government's website.
In brief (and copied from the government website) the compensation everyone will receive is:
- unpaid and underpaid wages in the three month period prior to the appointment of the insolvency practitioner
- unpaid annual leave
- unpaid long service leave
- unpaid pay in lieu of notice
- unpaid capped redundancy pay