Dauntless' console launch did not go without a hitch. The co-op monster slayer stepped from PC out to Xbox and PlayStation last week, promising true cross-play across all three platforms. But while it delivered that handily, it was also met with an influx of players that seemed impossible to anticipate or prepare for.
We talked to developer Phoenix Labs' director of marketing Nick Clifford to get an idea of what launch day was like, and how the studio dealt with a sudden influx of players from three platforms flooding their servers. It's what developers within the studio are calling "the best problems" to have.
"We made a forecast, and then within a couple hours, completely obliterated it," says Clifford. "And had to scramble to kind of accept our new reality."
Clifford reiterated what assistant producer Ian Tornay explained in a Reddit AMA last Friday. Within the last week, Dauntless' player count has skyrocketed to 7 million players. Despite the studio's best attempts to forecast load, through bot and swarm testing to see what high capacity load looks like, few things ever prepare you for the reality of an online launch.
"The thing that the Redditors of the world will often forget is that it's not just as simple as 'buy more servers,'" says Clifford. "There's a ton of other services operating behind the scenes, everything from login, to matchmaking, to finding a hunt, to your inventory system. I mean, there are hundreds of workers running around behind the scenes, making sure everything inside of Dauntless works."
Things have since stabilized, with login queues rarely stretching beyond five to 10 minutes (something I can anecdotally vouch for). Despite appearances, Phoenix Labs never actually shut down the Dauntless servers, instead using login queues or turning off logins for a short time ("about 45 minutes") to fix the game for those already in the game.
"We take a philosophy that it's better to offer the service to 100,000 people or 200,000 people at a great quality than open it up to 500,000, but everybody's having a really bad, buggy, degraded experience," Clifford says.
Dauntless uses Google cloud services, as well as a few other partners, to deliver that experience. It's a jump from the old days of massively multiplayer games, and possibly a vision of the future. Clifford says they've had Google employees, both on-site and off, helping Phoenix Labs triage issues.
"They've kind of taken to us as a case study, which is interesting," says Clifford. "We're introducing problems to the Google services that they didn't even know they had. We're getting the white glove treatment from Google, which is awesome."
Oddly enough, cross-play has "just worked," Clifford tells me. Beyond the initial work to get the groundwork laid out, it's been one of the smoothest operations for Phoenix. "From a service standpoint, it doesn't' really introduce any additional load or problems to the game space," says Clifford. "The build you play on Xbox is the build you play on PlayStation, is the build you play on PC."
With parties teaming up and icons from different systems in the same squad, fighting the same behemoth, it's impressive to see in action. Phoenix is already looking ahead, reiterating that development is in the works for Nintendo Switch and mobile. Clifford says they also plan to roll out more content, with "two to three" expansion packs planed for every quarter for the rest of the year alongside the seasonal hunt passes.
Now that Dauntless' "best problems" are behind it, only the future lies ahead. With E3 coming soon and the jitters shaken out, Phoenix Labs seems ready to start looking at where Dauntless can go from here.
"This is the first brick to go down," says Clifford. "And we're gonna keep building the castle."