As part of our commitment to open development we release monthly updates to the game even though we are still in Pre-Alpha. We release these updates at 10:30 AM on the last Thursday of the month (except when there are conflicts with holidays). For the last 21 months we have been on time, to the minute, with those releases and we have had zero unplanned downtime. More importantly though our community has been given the chance to help shape the direction of the game. As they play each update they submit feedback (and bug reports) to our official forums. We then review that feedback, correlate it with tracked data, and then commit to responding to it. We allocate roughly 30% of each monthly development cycle to direct response to player feedback and game play. To date that has added multiple features to the game that have improved the experience including swimming, jumping, and use based skill advancement.
On a Quarterly basis we provide our backers with a month by month schedule of what will go in each release. When the release comes out we reprint the list of content we promised. We then cross out any content we missed and we explain why they were missed. We then add in all the unplanned content we added to the release and provide explanations about what those additions are and why we added them. We feel it is very important to communicate in this way so that our backers can clearly see that we are being totally open with them. This has led to an unprecedented level of support from our community that cannot be understated.
After the Monthly release we follow up the next week with live Post Mortem via Google Hangouts where we answer questions posed by our players live
Here is an excerpt from my post about Release 22 (live on September 24):
Thank you for being a loyal backer and follower of Shroud of the Avatar. Release 22 access for all backers at First Responder level and above as well as DragonCon attendees begins this Thursday, September 24 at 10:30 AM Central Time (16:30 UTC).
Release 22 feels like a turning point for,us. We are starting to gain real momentum on being able to tell the story through new scenes added each release. This release in particular is important for the story because one of those new scenes is the Island of Storms which is our homage to the beloved starting experiences of Ultimas where questions answered determine your path. We are also expanding the breadth of our sandbox experience with new ways for players to engage with the world (fishing) and each other (musical instruments and emote teaching). This expansion in two axes is exemplary of the kind of game we are trying to make while at the same time very illustrative of how challenging it is to do so.
We also continue to remain dedicated to being responsive to all of your feedback and our analysis of gameplay data. We will continue to make iterative changes to the game to make it better, even if it costs us time. In Release 21 that dedication led us to move to a use based advancement system and in Release 22 we finish the bulk of the work to complete that change over. Going forward we can now balance the game based completely on use based advancement, no more lingering hidden player levels to hinder this progress. That responsiveness also led us to pull in PVP Loot and Ransom this release because we felt that the PVP experience was not even close to where it needed to be and it had been too many releases since we had expanded PVP play in any meaningful way.
Release 22 also brings us to the culmination of this entire quarter’s creature work. As you remember we first began with the Troll in Release 20 to see how big we could make creatures and how different we could make the experience of fighting them. This in turn led us to solve technical challenges, like them turning around properly and their head tracking their current target. This in turn led us to solve turning and head tracking. It also got us cool features like trajectory based knockback so these big creatures could knock us off tall things to better soften us up before eating. In Release 21 we started solving problems around combat with flying creatures with the Phoenix. Now we come to Release 22 where all that learning combines into our largest and most complex creature yet: the Dragon! We still have more polish on these large creatures to get them to the quality standard we all want but they are already inspiring to see and fight.
We also were finally able to make some time for a round of optimizations that have greatly increased performance in our worst areas. Some say Ardoris is even playable while looking up from the ground! We plan to get even more performance improvements in Release 23 when we hope to upgrade to a newer version of Unity 5. Speaking of Release 23, tomorrow I will be posting our Fourth Quarter Schedule Update as usual. It will show the roadmap for the next three releases after Release 22 so everyone can see how we plan to finish out 2015 (spoiler: we don’t finish the game).
I want to express a huge amount of gratitude to our Dev+ backers who tested all of the below on the QA server and found lots of bugs. They also provided editorial feedback on this post so they are a big reason that this post actually matches what is in the game and that it is easy to read.
After this preamble I list the content delivered as described above. If you are curious to learn more about this process I encourage you to register on our website so you can get our weekly, monthly, and quarterly updates.