A month ago, we submitted a list of questions for the Ubisoft representative responsible for communication on Might & Magic, Irina Kassina. Since then, a few things have happened, but there is still a need to get something cleared up. So, without further ado, here is our Q&A with the M&M production team:
Might & Magic Community Developer Irina Kassina
There has been near-total silence on the game from producers and developers alike for the past five or six months, a mysterious and worrying phenomenon unprecedented of post-launch periods in the Heroes series. This has caused the Community of fans, who consider the game to be a failure, to become absolutely furious and now something even worse has happened: they have given up. Most of the forums are in fact quiet because the fans have abandoned the game. Also, hardly any fan made maps are being produced, unlike the situation after the release of Heroes V.
Taking even a cursory glance at the rage evident at the game's official forums, we observe a considerable disconnect between the game's developers and its customers. Very few posts are made by the producers and/or the Community Developer, nor can we trace any activity worth mentioning on the fan sites. This is very different from the situation of Heroes V, during the production of which the producers frequently volunteered their opinions. We therefore feel that harsh criticism is warranted and well deserved, and that the Community has need for answers to the following questions:
CH: 1. What is your reaction to the knowledge that most of the fans have already abandoned the game and will you do anything to rectify this situation?
Answer: "The opinion of the members of the various communities is very important to us, but they represent only a part of the whole of Heroes players. We gathered a lot of feedback on the game after the release on the forums, websites, the Facebook page and also through the post-launch survey that was answered by more than 20.000 players. One thing that really comes across is the fact that not everyone plays Heroes the same way or for the same reasons. A vast majority of players completed the single player campaign, played some skirmish maps and moved on to other games, just as they did on the previous instalments of the series.
That being said, we agree that the post-launch support for Heroes VI has been disappointing so far. We had to look for a new developer to take over the patching duties, and that made things more complicated (and slower) than expected. But this period of uncertainty is now over and we are back in the saddle, working to improve things.
In any case, we consider Heroes VI to be our baby. Sure, it was born with flaws, but we'll use any opportunity to make sure he eventually turns into a fine, healthy young game."
CH: 2. As the current M&M Community Developer, can you tell us the reason for the lack of Community activity from the producers and yourself? What is the cause of this silence and will it be improved upon?
Answer: "Over the last 6 months Community activity was not as high as we'd like to see it. While we've organized some events after the launch of the game, shared with the Community some interesting news, communicated about patches, our planning, a few Q&As have been made by the team and so on, I would agree with you that Community experience could be still more exciting. For instance we'd like to see more maps created by the Community and it is something we are currently working on (Map Editor will be improved along with the patches' releases). It is only one part of our plans, more will be revealed pretty soon.
It is important to notice as well that communication channels change all the time, but our engagement to take into account fans' feedback remains the same. The forum VIP was created exactly for this purpose and it is of a great value for us as opinions explained there are really representative of what the whole Community would think about different matters.
There is a team dedicated to the Community as well (Community managers, forum managers, moderators, customer support and Community developers) which is striving to create a solid link between players and developers. As I'm working with the production team, it is easy for me to get the information you are looking for (when there is an answer ready to be revealed of course). So, feel free to challenge me about anything related to Might & Magic.
The M&M production team is always eager to know what's your opinion about different stuff and to give you a better insight into what's going on in here, we are working on devs' diaries, Q&As (like this one), gameplay videos. Basically all of this is done in order to keep in touch with you."
CH: 3. You have made several design decisions intended to streamline the game and attract a wider audience, but despite Community managers trying hard to maintain activity, we see no evidence of such an audience. In light of that, can you tell us in general terms how well the game has sold? Has it exceeded your expectations, done "OK" so far or proven a flop?
Answer: "Despite a changing PC market, Heroes VI performed well, and even exceeded our expectations in some areas. Without delving into specific figures, it was the strongest launch of any Heroes or Might & Magic game, but has not yet reached our original expectations."
CH: 4. According to the Amplitude Studios website and apparently-former H5 and H6 writer Jeff Spock's Twitter comments, several fairly notable members of Ubisoft's production team left the company midway through Heroes VI's development to start up their own independent studio. What was the reason for their departure? Do you think it has harmed Heroes VI?
Answer: "Production on Heroes VI spanned 4 years and in such a long period there will always be some turnover and internal changes. That doesn't mean these seats remained empty – Ubisoft being a big company, one person leaving does not have the same impact as it would have in a small development studio. It's always sad to see talented and energetic people leave, but sometimes in life you meet opportunities (in that case, creating your own company) you just have to pursue.
In any case we wish them the best and their project looks very exciting. As for Jeff, he's an independent writer, so while he's indeed not the lead writer on Might & Magic anymore, he's still working with us on some unannounced projects."
CH: 5. Given the previous question, we are wondering what it is like to work with a Might and Magic brand under Ubisoft. What are the guidelines dev teams are instructed to adhere to and how free are they to follow their own ideas and communicate them to the world?
Answer: "As you know, the Might & Magic IP spreads to several games, which can be developed by different companies. That’s Nival on Heroes V, Arkane on Dark Messiah, Capybara on Clash of Heroes, Black Hole and now Limbic on Heroes VI, etc. All these games were developed in close partnership with Ubisoft producers and experts who work within the (appropriately called) Ubisoft Partners studio.
We soon realized we had to really give a "framework" to the studios and precise guidelines about the world of Ashan and its denizens, and validate the designs they create. This approval mainly touches upon art direction, but game design as well. For instance, a Vampire creature shouldn't attack with Fireballs, even if a game designer suddenly feels this would be awesome. That being said, we're always open to new ideas brought by developers as long as they are consistent with the IP. And while we have documents describing what the "high-level" game design of this or that Faction should be, they are just guidelines and we've always welcomed discussion with the developers if they are against a feature or want to bring something new to the table. And they are free to discuss these ideas with the Communities if they wish to do so, as long as it doesn't clash with the established PR plan."
CH: 6. There were a lot of rumours about Black Hole before you announced their substitution with Limbic Entertainment. Now, it seems to spread to other media. We wish to give you a chance to comment, but mostly we want your assurance that you will continue to improve the game: what are the plans for future support for Heroes VI?
Answer: "We cannot make any official comment about Black Hole. What is important is the fact the patching plan is underway with Limbic, and we haven't forgotten the promised towns creens as well, which will of course be released in a free patch. We have plans beyond that but it's too early to give the specifics."
CH: 7. The fan sites have a fairly general consensus as to what can be done to salvage Heroes VI. What do you think are the most important new/changed features needed for the game to evolve and survive?
Answer: "From what we've read, there are actually a lot of different opinions as to what could improve Heroes VI, so it's far from a "general consensus".
On the low-level changes, our plan is firstly to work on balance itself: make the abilities more relevant, reduce the power of Healing/resurrection spells, make the Core units more vulnerable, increase the damage of the spells. This should be seen in the future patches. In the long run, we also want to promote the differences between the Might and the Magic heroes, and between the Factions themselves. We know a revamp of the Skill System, Sim Turns and RMG are important features for the Community, so they are high on our "backlog" of features to add in the future."
CH: 8. The Map Editor is being worked on. That's good. But fans also want a Campaign Editor in order to make bigger and story-based sequence maps with carryover heroes/artifacts. Given that Heroes VI is based heavily on campaigns, is there any chance of ever getting a Campaign Editor released?
Answer: "We cannot promise anything but the Campaign Editor is one of the features we'd like to add to the editor somewhere along the road. You can bet Julien is bringing this subject back to the table at every meeting."
CH: 9. Given the mediocre success of Heroes V and the thoroughly unimpressive release and post-release stages of Heroes VI, the Community strongly questions Ubisoft’s commitment to the Heroes series – it looks like you want to move on to something else already. To what extent are you focused on Heroes VI and shepherding the game to a more satisfactory state?
Answer: "Heroes V has actually been the most successful Heroes game of all times in terms of sales, and proved to be a very popular game. It sold more than Heroes III for instance. Might & Magic is an important brand for Ubisoft, and we have no plan to abandon it. That includes Heroes VI and the Heroes series as a whole. H6 was meant to be the flagship of the Might & Magic brand for 2012 and beyond, and while it was not the game we dreamt it to be (not yet, anyway), it still paved the way for more Might & Magic in the very near future."
CH: 10. Do you have any plans, vague and unofficial or otherwise, for direct sequels to the Heroes series beyond Heroes VI, or other games in the M&M franchise? If so, roughly when do you intend to realize these plans (near future, distant future)?
Answer: "At the time you'll be reading this Q&A, we'll have launched the Beta for Duel of Champions, a card game in the Might & Magic universe developed by the teams at Ubisoft Quebec. While the Beta is for the moment only available in France, the game is already generating a lot of feedback and enthusiasm in many communities worldwide. And it's only one of the many projects we are working on, some big, some small, all bringing something new and exciting to Might & Magic. 2012 and 2013 are going to be busy years for us."
CH: 11. How would you evaluate your current relationship with the VIP fans? What would you say is their opinion of the game and your handling of its development? Do you think there is any point to communicating with the VIP fans or have they failed in their role?
Answer: "You have to remember that making a game is a collaborative effort between us, the development studio and the VIP fans. The VIP fans have been the representatives of the Communities and always acted as the voice of the rest of the fans. Now the constraints of game development meant we could not always implement their numerous feedbacks, much to our regret. In any case, we have no intent to close this forum and we'll continue to work with the VIPs as much as possible on the future projects of the Might & Magic brand."
Celestial Heavens would like to thank Irina and the rest of the team very much for their time.