How For Honor Made Testing a Celebrated Player Experience
To keep the game balanced as they regularly refreshed it with meaningful content, Ubisoft Montreal initially tried test servers (accessed via an entirely separate version of the game), but instead found success with Testing Grounds, an in-game testing environment. During a digital presentation at the 2021 Game Developers Conference, Associate UX Director Audrey Laurent-André and Project Lead Programmer Laurent Chouinard discussed why For Honor’s test servers didn’t work, and how they ended up creating Testing Grounds.
During For Honor’s development, the AAA industry was starting to shift towards live games – games that are regularly updated with new content, seasonal events, and more. The first challenge they faced was managing balance as they added new Heroes to the game, which was already difficult to do with 12 playable characters at launch.
The thing is, balance isn't something that you achieve once and for all, for all of your players. It's something that evolves with changes and your content. Also, your players are going to find new ways of playing your game, and finally, balance is not felt the same, depending on your player skills.
The Problem with Test Servers
Unfortunately, an average of just 1.6% of For Honor’s active players came to play on the test servers, and there weren’t enough players at any given time for matchmaking. Players weren’t invested enough to know when test servers were going to happen, and they had a limited time frame in which to download a specific build. Because progression wasn’t shared between the test server and the main game, players were giving their time for free without progressing their characters or gaining currency. Furthermore, test servers were PC-only.
The team wanted to create a huge test server to remove as many barriers as they could, and had the perfect opportunity to do so.
Creating Testing Grounds
“At that point, the only remaining option is the main game, and that's how the Testing Grounds were created.” In For Honor’s world map, players choose their activities; events happen regularly, allowing players to access limited-time game modes with special parameters. “So we designed the testing ground to behave like an event,” Laurent-André says. It would contain specific balance changes, game mode changes, or event system changes that would stay contained within that activity. A player can choose to test for a limited time, and it would work within For Honor’s progression system. In a nutshell, it would be like any other game mode.
Testing Ground Benefits
The success of the first Testing Ground wasn’t just a fluke. On average, all Testing Grounds are played by almost a quarter of active players, with steady attendance between 21% and 26%. Testing Grounds also improved community sentiment on social media.
“It was still positive, even when players are disagreeing with the changes that we propose,” Laurent-André says. “We realized that Testing Grounds attract a volume of players comparable to our seasonal game mode events, but with less marketing investment,” says Laurent-André.
Jul 27, 2021 at 01:21