The initial design for XenoThreat was put together by Luke Pressley and I (Tony Z). We both have a strong working knowledge of the current state of the game and, after a few iterations, the final pitch felt solid and realistic. There was a good amount of documentation for how the event would be run, including a high-level breakdown of how to play it, what enemies should spawn, how the rewards worked, and how to test the screen overrides. This was all maintained throughout development, which worked as a quick reference for QA and other departments.
After a somewhat clunky start, the feedback loop on XenoThreat ended up being a pretty well-oiled machine. The process of gathering feedback from the PTU via the Player Experience Team and Feedback Reports, getting bugs in with the appropriate labels, and reviewing and triaging new bugs each day to get priority calls ended up being a very clean process. We made a call later in the process to have QA enter tracking tasks in JIRA as soon as the Feedback Report came in instead of waiting for internal reproductions. This allowed for more rapid iteration, so sometimes the developers were able to address the feedback even before QA got a chance to enter a proper bug for it.
Regarding the event itself, there were a number of features that were positively received. The shared income pool, social style distribution of tasks and gameplay types, and work-together nature of the cargo unloading were immensely popular with the community. This by itself was a huge part of the positive reception. Also, when everything was working smoothly, the entire feel and look was stunning. We are very happy with how the balance of design, VFX, and SFX came together. We created a strike-team dedicated to making the combat feel great, which made quick iteration more viable. The narrative that went along with the release was also quite cool, and the XenoThreat commander was effective and intimidating.
Other aspects of the event we found successful were large in-game income opportunities for players (all phases), FPS pirates populating the wreck sites (Phase 2), and team-oriented payout style (Phase 2). Many players appreciated the bonus of getting paid very well for doing the event in all phases – this further incentivized continued play and added replayability. Although there were some issues with the FPS AI characters, their general presence made going through the wreck sites more interesting for players and added to the varied style of gameplay. There were some detractors who wanted more income per-box in a more individualized payout system, but there were far more who liked the team-oriented style of payout, with many saying it encouraged cooperation.
While it was unfortunate we weren’t able to launch it at the end of the year, the decision to delay the event until 2021 benefited it massively. The difference between what we would have released before Christmas and what we did release are night and day when it comes to stability, performance, and quality of life. It was a great decision by the executive team.